Sri Astari Rasjid: Bringing Out the Warrior Within Us

Sri Astari, Aku Diponegoro, Photography, 2014
Sri Astari Rasjid, Armors for the Soul, 165 x 100 x 5cm, Aluminum Cast and Stainless Steel Mash, 2011
Sri Astari, Petruk Can Do Everything Superman Can Do, 120 x 120cm, oil on canvas, 2010
Sri Astari, Aku Diponegoro #3, Photography, 2014
Sri Astari, Bajang Ratu Is, Photography, 2014
Sri Astari, Abandoning Verility, Stainless Steel Screen, 280 x 150 x 30cm, 2002
Sri Astari, Yang Terhormat Ibu #1 & #2,
Sri Astari, GARBA PERFORMANCE AT THE PENDOPO
Sri Astari, YTH 16
Sri Astari, YTH 12
Sri Astari, Armor for Change, Stainless Steel and Aluminum.
Sri Astari, Life’s offering 1000 x 60cm cast aluminium, 2014
Womb of the World, painted brass, 308 x 245 x 113cm, 2015
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An inspiring woman as well as a prominent artist, Sri Astari Rasjid creates empowering imagery for both women and men. An attentive observer of the social and political issues in her native Indonesia, Astari continually challenges stereotypes and cultural constructions.

 


TEXT : Naima Morelli
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

 

In the works of Sri Astari Rasjid, we can find an unconventional reading of Javanese traditions, and an assessment of how its symbolism and values can still be relevant to the fast-paced modernisation of Indonesia.  An example is her re-configuration of the kebaya – the traditional Indonesian blouse-dress combination. In Astari’s work the kebaya becomes ‘armour for the soul’ – hardly a surprise from a true cultural warrior in the landscape of Indonesian contemporary art.

 

Sri Astari Rasjid, Armors for the Soul, 165 x 100 x 5cm, Aluminum Cast and Stainless Steel Mash, 2011
Sri Astari Rasjid, Armors for the Soul, 165 x 100 x 5cm, Aluminum Cast and Stainless Steel Mash, 2011

 

In the painting “Petruk Can Do Everything Superman Can Do” (2010), the Javanese puppetry character Petruk is depicted as a flying woman, holding in her arms a surprised Superman. This fierce ethos is also apparent in her latest photographic series “Aku Diponegoro”, in which Astari herself impersonates the Javanese prince, Diponegoro, who opposed Dutch colonial rule.

 

Sri Astari, Petruk Can Do Everything Superman Can Do, 120 x 120cm, oil on canvas, 2010
Sri Astari, Petruk Can Do Everything Superman Can Do, 120 x 120cm, oil on canvas, 2010

 

Javanese traditions are central to your work. Are you still surrounded by tradition, or is your work a way to keep traditions alive in your life?

I grew up in India and Burma and had to re-learn Indonesian as a child. This experience of living overseas in different cultures has been extremely enriching for me – it also had the effect of making me think about my own identity. It definitely had an impact on how I see my own culture, and helped foster my interest in exploring tradition in my art. In my everyday life Javanese traditions are all around me. They still play a central role in the lifestyle and decisions of politicians, regardless of their ethnic background. For instance, official inaugurations and events are always preceded by ritual ceremonies.

 

You studied visual arts at the University of Minnesota, and at the Royal College of Art in London. Did you have mentors along the way? 

My professors at the art department in Minnesota were important mentors to me. Also, during my many visits to the US and in attending international forums, I have been fortunate enough to meet great artists such as Frank Stella and James Rosenquist. Studying in the West affected my way of thinking about art history and art-making. It played a big role in my process and practice on both a technical and conceptual level.

 

What is your artistic process like? Does it vary depending on the medium you choose?

Certainly my process varies depending on the medium, but I enjoy equally the conceptual and the practical parts of art-making. I can’t ignore the fact that our lives are deeply influenced by the rise of new technologies. These are opening up a range of new, interesting possibilities; today, as artists, we have so many media available to us. Personally, I am always open to discoveries and lately I have been experimenting with photography. However painting is still the medium closest to my heart. Within the realm of painting I like to use many different techniques. I might print a background with silk screen and then paint the figures on top. I also often work with found objects that for me have a personal, social or political significance.

 

Sri Astari, Aku Diponegoro #3, Photography, 2014
Sri Astari, Aku Diponegoro #3, Photography, 2014

 

Can you tell us about the genesis of your 2014 photographic series “Aku Diponegoro”?

“Aku Diponegoro” has been an important part of my ongoing exploration of photography. I created the work for the exhibition “Diponegoro 2015” at the National Gallery in Jakarta. The show was dedicated to our national hero, Diponegoro, who played an important role in the Java War. For the series I travelled to Mount Bromo in East Java, to shoot in the beautiful landscape. I dressed as Diponegoro and rode a horse to symbolize the warrior hero within us all, men and women. I also visited the historical site of Trowulan, the capital of the ancient Majapahit Kingdom, where the Gate of Bajang Ratu is found.

Sri Astari, Bajang Ratu Is, Photography, 2014
Sri Astari, Bajang Ratu Is, Photography, 2014

 

This empowering imagery has been present since your earlier work. Do you feel there is a need for young men and women to see more of this kind of image and – in this sense – do you consider yourself a feminist artist?

My work is a reflection of my thoughts on politics, society and culture and deals with both female and male issues. As such, I don’t consider myself a feminist artist. With my art I try to deal with the human condition in general and I hope it may be able to inspire others.

Sri Astari, Abandoning Verility, Stainless Steel Screen, 280 x 150 x 30cm, 2002
Sri Astari, Abandoning Verility, Stainless Steel Screen, 280 x 150 x 30cm, 2002

 

You have just been appointed as the Indonesian Ambassador to Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia – any thoughts to share about this new phase of your life?

I might be the first artist to represent Indonesia as an ambassador. Given this responsibility, I will try my very best to promote Indonesia through my cultural diplomacy, which hopefully will enhance bilateral opportunities for tourism, trade, investment and cultural exchange.

 

Sri Astari, Yang Terhormat Ibu (“Dear Mother”) #1 & #2, Oil on canvas, 2015
Sri Astari, Yang Terhormat Ibu #1 & #2,

 

Can you tell us a bit about your recent retrospective exhibition “Yang Terhormat Ibu” (“Dear Mother”) at the Koesnadi Hardjasoemantri Cultural Center (PKKH) in Yogyakarta?

Just before leaving Indonesia for Bulgaria, I put on this retrospective exhibition featuring selected works from my journey of almost three decades in the arts. I was interested in showing how culture and traditions have not only been an important source of inspiration for myself, but have contributed to the rise of contemporary art in Indonesia. I hope the show has made a contribution to the discourse of contemporary art internationally.

 

Sri Astari, GARBA PERFORMANCE AT THE PENDOPO
Sri Astari, GARBA PERFORMANCE AT THE PENDOPO

 

About Sri Astari

Born in 1953 in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sri Astari Rasjid briefly studied English Literature at the University of Indonesia (1973). She went on to study fashion in London in 1976 and honed her art education and technical skills at the University of Minnesota, USA in 1987 and the Royal College of Art in London in 1988. For the past 30 years, Sri Astari Rasjid has been creating work that deals with Javanese cultural issues within a modern cultural framework. She was one of the recipients of the Philip Morris Indonesia VI awards and was also one of the winners of the Millennium Painting Competition at the Winsor & Newton Awards (1999). More recently, Sri Astari was awarded the Kartini Award in 2015.

Having started her career as a professional artist in the early 90s, Sri Astari actively takes part in exhibitions in Indonesia and abroad. Sri Astari has exhibited multiple times in the National Gallery of Indonesia and, as a feminist artist, she was also part of the “Kartini: The Power of Women in Art” exhibition in Yogyakarta in 2011. Prior to her shift towards the international art scene, Sri Astari also held solo exhibitions such as Recollections, Bali (1999-2000), Wings & Excursions, Bali (2000-2001) and His/Hers Exhibition in 798 District, Beijing (2008). In 2013 she participated in the Indonesia National Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale Arte and the 56th Spoleto International Festival in Italy. The following year, Sri Astari also exhibited in South Korea, Hong Kong and Art 14 London in the UK. In early January 2016, Sri Astari was also appointed the Indonesian Ambassador to Bulgaria.

Sri Astari, YTH 16
Sri Astari, YTH 16

 

Sri Astari, YTH 12
Sri Astari, YTH 12

 

 

Sri Astari, Armor for Change, Stainless Steel and Aluminum.
Sri Astari, Armor for Change, Stainless Steel and Aluminum.

 

Sri Astari, Life's offering 1000 x 60cm cast aluminium, 2014
Sri Astari, Life’s offering 1000 x 60cm cast aluminium, 2014

 

Womb of the World, painted brass, 308 x 245 x 113cm, 2015
Womb of the World, painted brass, 308 x 245 x 113cm, 2015

 


Naima Morelli is an arts writer and curator with a focus on contemporary art from the Asia Pacific region. She has written for ArtsHub, Art Monthly Australia, Art to Part of Culture and Escape Magazine, among others, and she is the author of “Arte Contemporanea in Indonesia, un’introduzione” a book focused on the development of contemporary art in Indonesia. As a curator, her practice revolves around creating meaningful connections between Asia, Europe and Australia.

 
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