April 20, 2015

Hari Kartini

Kartini, in the middle with her jonger sister Kardinah and half sister Roekmini, 
in Semarang, Indonesia, 1900 (KITLV)

Tomorrow Hari Kartini or in English Kartini Day is celebrated. Kartini Day is an Indonesian holiday commemorating the birth in 1879 of Raden Adjeng Kartini, one of the country's national heroes and a pioneer in the emancipation of Indonesian women. Throughout Indonesia women wear their national dress, sarong and kebaya, to symbolize their unity, and the nation enjoys parades, lectures, and various school activities.
Kartini was a freedom fighter for equal rights. Not just for women, but for her people to be able to study and in that way grow on the social ladder.

In 2013 I had the honor of celebrating Hari Kartini with a Batik Statement Fashionshow. I used that day to honour Batikmakers, like Maria Paulina Carp, Lien Metzelaar and Eliza van Zuylen. What I didn't know was that Kartini made Batiks herself.

Batik made by Raden Ajeng Kartini, around 1900 (images found online)

As daughter of a Regent, her father was Regency Chief of Jepara, she and her sisters learned how to make batik from regency's batik makers. Possessing the skill to make Batik was the same as embroidery in Europe, noblewomen could show their patience which was a attractive quality to possess.*
The Batik I found online and in the book 'Batik Belanda' by Harmen C. Veldhuisen is surprisingly modern. A Kain Panjang, 250 cm by 102 cm, with on it two kind of flowers, European carnation (anjers) and a more 2D flower which was pretty common in Batik Belanda {Batiks with an Indo-European influence} in that time, in a fine, lined brown and white background. Small butterflies are also placed in a repetitive pattern. In the book 'Batik Belanda' is noted that she wore this batik when visiting Dutch friends. One theory why she made this for her unwearable kain, is that it was her way of 'rebelling' against feudal culture.
In other books and articles is noted that she wore strictly batik keratonan, Batiks Kraton, so batiks for royalty. On the pictures she is often wearing parang motif. Parang motif sometimes referred to as the keris or sword pattern by outsiders, the Javanese call the Parang motif 'lidah api', or tongue of fire. Parang are one of the most powerful of batik motifs with their strong parallel diagonal lines.

A photo of Raden Adjeng Kartini making batik with her sisters Roekmini and Kardinah in a garden from around 1898 was brought to the Netherlands by her brother Kartono. The image was used in the book 'De Batik-Kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en hare geschiedenis' by G.P. Rouffaer and H.H. Juynboll, many other publications about the Dutch Indies and as a 'schoolplaat'. 
A 'schoolplaat' was a drawing or photo used in schools to visually support different subjects. The names of Kartini and her sisters weren't added to the schoolplaat, only "Teekenen met was voor de Batikweverij Java"/ "Drawing with wax for the Batik workshops Java". This image formed for many schoolchildren the idea of how women in the Dutch East Indies lived. Which is far removed from how most lived their daily live in the Dutch East Indies.
In the same year, 1898, De Nationale Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid, The Dutch National Exhibition of Women's Labor, took place in Den Haag. Kartini had close connection with the Dutch women movement and made a contribution for the exhibition consisting of different Indonesian crafts like woodcarvings, painting and batiks including works from her own hand.
She also wrote an essay about the Art of Batik. This paper explaining the technique was according to the book 'Feministische Openbaarheid' not used for the exhibition. This didn't sit well with Kartini and she was very happy when she got the news that Rouffaer and Juynboll were going publish it in their book about the Art of Batik. However, in the actual book 'De Batik-Kunst in Nederlandsch-Indië en hare geschiedenis' her text was used, but not as an article. It is unclear which text belong to her. In the preface they praise Kartini knowledge and expertise, but her paper was only partly used and also her input on feminisme for the 'Nationale Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid' got lost.

In an article online I read a description of these events. Not only was her article with the title 'Handschrift Jepara' present at The Dutch National Exhibition of Women's Labor. It fascinated Queen Wilhelmina who read it at the Java booth, the part of the exhibition about the Dutch Indies...

Design by Suze Fokker, the beehive represents diligence and labor (yikes!)

Design by Jan Toorop. There was a lotery during The Dutch National Exhibition of Women's Labor and the Grand price was jewelery. The design is at least tougher... 

Wauw, do I prefer that last version of events... I can't believe that they didn't see at the time what her written words and presence meant for the world. And that it was only a few year later that her writing would make such an impact.
Kartini's dream was to study in Europe. When she finally got the news she was invited by telegram to follow her dream, it was one day too late. She just accepted Raden Adipati Djojo Adiningrat's, Regent of Rembang, hand in marriage. Her wish was very strong, but her love for her parents was stronger. She didn't want to disappoint or embarrass them. She was married on the 12 November 1903. Kartini's only son was born on 13 September 1904. A few days later on 17 September 1904, Kartini died at the age of 25.
After Raden Adjeng Kartini died, Mr J. H. Abendanon, the Minister for Culture, Religion and Industry in the East Indies, collected and published the letters that Kartini had sent to her friends in Europe. The book was titled 'Door Duisternis tot Licht/Out of Dark Comes Light' and was published in 1911. It went through five editions, with some additional letters included in the final edition, and was translated into English by Agnes L. Symmers and published under the title 'Letters from a Javanese Princess'.

I bought that book in 2013 to prepare for and to get inspiration for the Batik Statement Fashionshow. Her letters are very nicely written and the empowerment just pops off the page. She is one tough cookie!
I remember reading her strong words standing in this dull box of a working place waiting for costumers. Can't help but wonder if she helped me to quit the slumber I was in and start following my dreams again.

"We will not, we cannot believe that our lives will be only commonplace and monotonous 
like the lives of thousands of others before us, 
and as will be those of thousands of those who come after us!" 
- Kartini to Mevrouw Abendanon on 4th of September 1901

Have a great Hari Kartini everyone!
Celebrate the words Kartini gave us and make sure to never stop fighting for equality for all!

For my sources and to read more see:

- Book 'Letters from a Javanese Princess' by Raden Adjeng Kartini
- *Book 'Batik Belanda 1840 - 1940 Dutch Influence in batik from Java' by Harmen C. Veldhuisen
- Book 'Femitische Openbaarheid. De Nationale Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid in 1898' by Maria Grever and Berteke Waaldijk
- Book 'Vertrouwd en vreemd. Ontmoetingen tussen Nederland, Indië en Indonesië', article 'Nederland en de mythe Kartini' by Berteke Waalwijk
- Wikipedia
- Article 'Tracing the Motifs of Kartini's Batik' by Agoeng Wijaya and Edi Faisol
- Article 'Sporen van Aletta leiden naar Kartini' by Dineke Stam (in Dutch)
- Article 'Militair-historische context bij de collectie batikdoeken' on collectie.legermuseum.nl (in Dutch)

** Revised with slight edits on 30/4/2021

April 13, 2015

Nothing is forever*

Still from 'House of Cards' episode 7*

Juggling with my time, I noticed that it is clear to me what I want to do with my time, I just don't have the time to do them all. Or at least not as much as I want to. So my blogposts will be less frequent, but I think it is more important that I can write a nice post once in a while, than not posting at all.
A subject that is bugging my mind lately is very intertwined with my own work as an artist. It is a subject I already wrote about previously, but I think it is interesting and helpful, probably mostly for myself, to write about it some more.
Ephemeral Art, or as I call it Temporary Art.
When I get the question: "What do you do?", I answer: "I'm a visual artist". People mostly pause and then ask me: "What do you make?".
When I start my process of explaining what I visually make, you have to remember I'm trying to create with words an image in peoples minds, who I just met, of what I make with my hands. In other words, what I make without using words and is meant to look at, I have to explain to someone who is looking at me mostly with a 'What?!'-face.
After explaining that my work is temporary, I never use Ephemeral and in Dutch 'tijdelijk' is the best translation of "temporary", I tell which materials I use. "I make installations on location using wall-paper and organic materials. With the organic materials I make carpets using things like rice, beans and lentils."
The number of times people reply "like Mandalas?" is uncountable (just as much as asking if I glue the materials...).
I never really know how to reply to that. I mean do I look like a Buddhist monk to you?
Not everyone that makes Ephemeral tapestries makes Mandelas. But I noticed at the same time that a lot of so called 'Ephemeral artists' do use the Mandala form to create their works.
So I thought before sharing temporary works of 'art' I discovered, saw and adore.
I will start with: What is a Mandela?

Mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the Universe. In Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Mandala means 'circle' or 'of essence'. In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.
A mandala is made of coloured sand. Historically, the mandala was not created with natural, dyed sand, but granules of crushed colored stone. In modern times, plain white stones are ground down and dyed with opaque inks to achieve the same effect. Before laying down the sand, the monks assigned to the project will draw the geometric measurements associated with the mandala. The sand granules are then applied using small tubes, funnels, and scrapers, called chak-pur until the desired pattern over-top is achieved. Sand mandalas traditionally take several weeks to build, due to the large amount of work involved in laying down the sand in such intricate detail. It is common that a team of monks will work together on the project, creating one section of the diagram at a time, working from the centre outwards.
The destruction of a sand mandala is also highly ceremonial. Even the deity syllables are removed in a specific order along with the rest of the geometry until at last the mandala has been dismantled. The sand is collected in a jar which is then wrapped in silk and transported to a river (or any place with moving water), where it is released back into nature. This symbolizes the ephemerality of life and the world.**

In 2013 I was really exited because an actual Tibetan Sand Mandala was being created in Breda (NL). When I went there to document the progress of the carpet, I was so disappointed that the Mandala was not created free hand. The basic form was drawn on a wooden board with thick black lines and for me it just smacked the mystique right out of it.
When a few days later, they finished the mandala, I went to see the destruction ritual. The finished Mandala looked really nice. On top of the base form was now a detailed pattern of symbols made apparently free hand. The destruction ceremony was not very spectaculair, but it was nice that the audience joined in. They gave everyone a bag with sand which I gladly excepted. My hands were blue from the pigments and I couldn't help but think that this was a touristic version of the real ritual.

I decided not to make a post about it, till a few weeks back. While watching the evilness in 'House of Cards', I knew that I did need to share a little about Mandalas. They are so well known. And if they are used in a series that populair to represent good or goodness, it's good to know what they represent.
And to make clear that I do not make Mandalas. Using a temporary form of expression, always represents our temporary state on earth, but that is never all. The symbols, forms or kinds of material can represent many more things. In a way it is merely an material to express oneself and in a traditional sense there was no need to make everlasting ways of expression. Ephemeral Art is a rather new movement in art (well say starting the sixties) and is part of a long heritage of creating temporary works (and man is not the only creator).
Creating works that are temporary are not new, and are not all the same. There are many reasons why people create temporary works, and using temporary materials doesn't make it the same kind of work.
That is like saying all oil paintings are alike!

So to set the record straight, here are some artworks made on floors or on the ground, so like carpets, made from temporary, organic materials. They are Ephemeral Art, but definitely not a Mandela, although they have their location (lying down instead of hanging) and material (organic/temporary) in common.

Carpet from roses at Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, 2014, by herman de vries

For my birthday on my birthday in October 2014 I went to see the solo exhibition of herman de vries in Schiedam. I say Schiedam, because his work was in the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, the Ketelfactory and in a park between these two locations.
I first encountered his work when Emmy told me this wonderful story of a visitor walking into his lavender carpet in Enschede (see and read in the post "Lavender floors and muddy walls"). When I went to see this carpet myself, I followed my nose through the halls of the museum, till I found this big rectangular purple piece on the floor. I was in love!
In the Stedelijk I really tried not to run through the hall to go straight to his roses carpet. When I finally got near some other people were in the room. So I waited till it was empty, closed my eyes, stepped in and just took a deep breath. Roses are not really my thing, but the way this art work works, is!
herman de vries is representing the Netherlands at the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Under the title to be all ways to be the Dutch pavilion will exhibit new sculptures, objects, works on paper and photography by de vries. If you are going, please send me a postcard (or a photo on Social Media) of his work!*****

Works by Lola Rose Thompson

Next up, Lola Rose Thompson. A (Onooo I have to say it now..) young artist from California whom I discovered on Instagram. She makes short statements and female forms out of flowers. Her work is fun, colourful and really now. First I was jealous and now I just like it very much! She has her own rough style and I'm looking forward seeing where her temporary art-road leads her.******

And saving the best for last, or better said the-art-piece-that-almost-made-me-quit-my-job, the sand carpet created by this little Japanese pufferfish. This little guy makes an extraordinary sand sculpture to attract and win a mate.
This circle of love is unbelievable. My number one temporary carpet maker was the Bowerbird, and still is, but this fish definitely blows my mind when it comes to making Ephemeral Art.
I'm so happy suddenly that my last name is a fish!

* Blogpost title from episode 7 of 'House of Cards'
** Information about Mandela from Wikipedia
*** A (glued) Tibetan sand mandala at Wereldmuseum Rotterdam
**** Read on page 166 of Design by Nature how to "Create a personal mandala"
*****More about herman de vries at the biennale on www.mondriaanfonds.nl
******More temporary works by Lola Rose Thompson on www.lolarosethompson.com
*******More temporary carpets I spotted on TV in the previous post "Temporary carpets on unexpected places"