In the history of writings, a French feminist, Helene Cixou, once considered that women had no history when compared to men. Women were silenced as only men were acknowledged to have their stories. Only men were deemed worthy to write. It was a notion that was then played by her followers that the discipline of the past, which clearly in English is stated as ‘history’, refers only to the stories of the men (his)-story. There were no (her)-story.
Helene Cixou emphasized that for women to be existing in the history, there is only one thing to do: write and write women!
How about the world of painting? It is not much different from the history of writing above.
Paint! Paint women!
Though both in the history of writings and in the history of paintings women were considered subordinate, the awareness to rise above shows an optimistic reality. The women in the world of painting are still bound by the impression of being a thing of beauty and therefore they are more worthy to be an object of painting rather than be a painter-subject. It cannot be denied that in this particular world, the men have more possession of the women body as an object of beauty.
Philo Art Space is now presenting two women painters, Nana Tedja and Utin Rini, under the theme Nature Body-ness. They paint what have become their object of attention and their own desires. Painting in two different styles, Utin Rini with her expressionism and Nana Tedja with her realism, both convene in similar concern which is the women issues and their world. But a common concern does not consequentially merge their paintings into a single theme.
Nana Tedja, as we can assume from her paintings, is more open in presenting the problems of today’s women in their relations with their own humanity, which then open up a challenging question: how far are we with the struggle of women?
The narration of Nana’s paintings depicts women who are awaken from their path in culture that place them in particular space and time. It is not a coincidence that a woman would face a unique challenge when put in an intersection. The modern cultural construct places men as progressive subjects that when they are faced with an intersection, it does not give them any significance to just walk forward. A woman, facing the same intersection, is confronted with a rather serious psychological issue that she must overcome, mainly her existence which is already embedded in the domestic domain. A public domain competition, is giving women a rather problematic standpoint, as they are not truly accustomed or trained for it.
Cultural analysts are optimistically in agreement to state that there are different emotional stages in women and in men in facing the same reality of progress in time. Cultures are a construction of subjects with more masculine characters and therefore between men and reality, it is easier to find the objective space. This objective space enables men treat reality or nature as things to be described, even to be challenged, while women see reality or nature more as parts of themselves to be understood.
The division of men and women space into public and domestic dominions has given a unique pattern on their sexual relationship. Women obtain various discourses which are also more depressing, while the men are obviously dominative. But especially for Nana, such condition is no longer too problematic. Public domain of today is melting and the domestic domains are no longer under the feminine domination.
In her painting ‘Glorious’ we can clearly see Nana’s description on today’s reality specifically the existence of the world of urban people. Space and time has almost totally done away with gender division but symbols of civilization such as gold, money, justice scale, trunk, bag, and so on. All are now within a packaging of competition triggered by information technology. Both the urban men and women move in unison as if they are programmed by the same rhythm, which is productivity for capital. It is an optimistic depiction of a civilization, though we might pause to really indulge in it and dive into it to see that such condition would truly happen without any hindrance?
Nana seems to be progressive-thinking but she is also not blind with what are behind. The rapid progress in human’s life as a result of reflection, science, and contemporary technology still gives us a problem; that if the passion to go forward is pushed hard, there is a hidden danger to us. That human may lose their feeling of spiritness, their original wildness, their beauty in playing and being one with nature. Human that are uprooted from their nature would be a human that are uprooted from their on humanity. We can see this plainly in the emerging of modern human who, some, no longer give concern to their origin in nature. Modern human reject their humane social relation when they enter and are trapped in the constraint of competitive relation in exploiting nature.
Nana strictly suggests us to see back to nature in her own way. In ‘Green Guardian’ she palpably shows the togetherness of nature and women. It is a classic interpretation that categorizes nature to be a feminine aura and therefore a woman’s body as its representation. Nature produces life through her wombs, hence provides all the possibility in the world. Women become a figure who is concerned about all things living and growing, and they care for them gladly. It is no surprise that related to this concern and care, Nana presents us with the painting ‘Blessing in the Days’.
Culture and nature, no matter how they seem to be almost torn apart by capitalism exploitation, are not contrasted by Nana in their connection to the sexual relations of the human man and the human woman as a dichotomy. Though it is quite a clear problem that modern cultural subject points to the responsibility of the exploitative masculine attitude, we need to delve into the depth of the values of humanity that are apparent in men. ‘The Mask’ and ‘Fantastic Jacko’ paintings confidently greet us with the hope of the depth of masculine value that would bring us comfort though the presentation of ‘The Mask’ is hideous and frightening.
On the other hand, Utin Rini points at the basic concept that we have stated in the beginning: the history. The work ‘Rewriting the Past’ challenges us to criticize trough two figures of women presented by Utin that remind us to the characters in Michaelangelo painting, ‘Creation of Adam’. The painting depicts two male figures, one an older person floating that extend his index finger to a male figure that was reclining who also extend his index finger making those two fingers almost touching each other. What Michaelangelo meant with the floating male figure was personification of God while the younger male was Adam. In short, the painting told that the history of theology especially the Christian theology was built by males. Where were the females, then?
In feminine discourse, such history is important to be questioned. Where is women constructs the question of whether women need to make their own story as ‘herstory’?
Paint, paint women!
Utin seems to not intentionally paint the history of women opposite the dominant masculinity; her way is more to understand the world of femininity itself. Nature and its entity as a woman merge in its longing to be intimate again with nature body-ness or with earth whose intimacy has been spread thin as a result of exploitative competitions. Human exploits nature. That is a fact that happens everywhere. Ironically, the exploitation that makes human worry is actually for the sake of the very human to have a place to live, food to eat, and to have the most comfortable social relation. Nature exploitation has contributed to the complete relations rift.
Utin paints the body-ness of women and the body-ness of earth as an entity which is in their serious endeavor to be rejuvenated. She decides to re-enter her understanding of her own body-ness to experience deeply the externality dimension or the social-culture of the body-ness. There is an apprehension in the painting ‘Great Renewal Rite’; on how the body of women are deemed petty or even dirty every time women are on their ‘period’ (menstrual cycle). The rite is produced each time in each generation and is immortalized without any awareness of their importance; that the life itself, bios, comes biologically from the complex process in the women body; without any acknowledgement on how reproduction takes place. The women body, often considered frail and small, harbor a great power to ensure the continuity of life.
Nature body with its femininity is a secret to the greatness of humanity that has been etched into the history of civilization. Women, to Utin Rini, seem to have a rather pitiful view of themselves as far as the secret of this wealth is not realized and cultivated by their own. There is no winning recipe to get out of this situation apart from for women to be aware and to be an active agent of preserving this secret treasure and utilize it with their own way – as depicted in the painting ‘Blue Luxury’. Only nature can give the answer to life’s problems, and it needs a form of relational awareness, a ‘synchronization’ of whether a woman could see and recognize her own face in the mirror of nature?
There is a notion that emphasizes the attitude that women must fight; at least to fight against their own self and be aware of their own potential and to be ready to reach for a win every time. The painting ‘Awareness’ tickles us with various symbols of such self-battle. This is also connected to the painting ‘Justice, Cursed and Blessed’ – a reflection of the return of women social body-ness issue.
To Nana Tedja and Utin Rini, happy exhibitioning!
Tommy F Awuy