Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rastika, RIP

I have just been informed by a friend from the town of Gegesik that the great pelukis kaca (painter on glass) Rastika from Desa Gegesik Kidul (Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia; pictured above in a photo taken in front of his sanggar in 1993) passed away this weekend.

Rastika is considered to be one of the key figures in the revival of the craft of lukisan kaca (reverse painting on glass) in Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s. His colourful and lively work was grounded in a deep knowledge of the wayang kulit tradition, the product of a long apprenticeship with the Gegesik puppeteer Ki Maruna.

One of the breakthroughs he is associated with is the transformation of lukisan kaca from an art form for mystical symbolism and the depiction of individual wayang figures (wayang ijen) to the representation of scenes from wayang kulit, above all the Bharatayudha (or Prang Jaya as it is known in the Gegesik wayang tradition). For this he drew upon the bramakawi illustrated manuscript tradition, of which Ki Maruna was probably the last living master. Rastika also applied his technical mastery of the medium to the depiction of everyday life, including a series of paintings commissioned by Kompas.

Rastika was a regular participant in national festivals and exhibitions and his work was highly sought after by collectors. With the rise of lukisan kaca prices in the late 1980s he was able to support other artists around him in Gegesik,particularly in the field of wayang, gamelan and topeng.

He will be missed by many.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wayang in the British Museum

It's been a long time since my last blog post - almost exactly a year in fact - and I think it is high time for me to get back to blogging. This inactivity has been due largely to pressing other needs, but also on focus on non-Indonesia matters.

The last weeks though have seen me return to the world of wayang kulit through a series of visits to the stores of the British Museum, where I have been looking at shadow puppets from Java, Bali, Thailand, and Malaysia with visiting puppet experts, including Professor I Nyoman Sedana (pictured above looking at a nineteenth-century Balinese bark cloth-on-rattan figure used for cremation ceremonies) from ISI Denpasar.

Alexandra Green, the museum's Southeast Asia curator, and I have an exhibition proposal on Asian shadow puppets under consideration and we are hoping to develop an AHRC bid around this. The visiting experts (five of them so far) have been working with us in developing a research methodology in how to work with shadow puppets in museum contexts.

Alex has been thinking about the history of collecting in relation to this -- why are certain figures chosen over others - as well as the history of cultural interactions which take form in shadow puppets. (She has some fascinating insights into the use of Indian trade textiles on the Raffles figures from early nineteenth-century Java.) I have been thinking about how puppeteers imprint their dramatic imaginations on these static figures from another time, and what sorts of historical and practical information can be evoked in the encounter with museum objects.

There is still a long journey before us....