Ketemu Project | Murni & Beyond
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Murni & Beyond

by Savitri Sastrawan

This article is accompanied by pictures of Murni’s original artworks and photographs taken by the writer in respond to the title, Murni and Beyond


After all that has happened throughout the 1 year of Merayakan Murni project, my personal question is: should we end it with a sad note or a happy note?


The answer is: there is actually no end, there is never the end, and this Merayakan or Celebration should continue on with whatever note that is.


When we started opening Ketemu’s data on Murni’s own remaining paintings collection, one painting that was under Murni’s Foundation (Yayasan IGAK Murniasih) titled Hatiku Kadang Kadang Bercabang/Sometimes My Heart Divides (1997) intrigued me. Somehow the painting says more: if it is the heart, why is it like a windowpane painted with branches of lines going through like veins? No one but Murni would answer it, yet the title caught me.


During Kamiliah Bahdar’s Ketemu Aja in December 2015, a sharing session held by Ketemu Project Space where their involved artist/curator and society meet, Kamiliah asked us to write about or be inspired of Murni in a critical fictional way. I took this as a chance for me to respond to Murni for the first time. So I took the painting as a window to critic all the readings available that have criticised Murni either saying her artworks are taboo, dirty or purely traumatic. I titled it, “Ini bukan tentang trauma, ini tentang kita/This is not about trauma, this is about us.”

[Image 1-2]


I go through the dividing lines; I started to think what Murni might have been criticising, or just wanted to tell everyone. Is it her life that is full of darkness, she keeps finding the light, and then come back to the unknown, the uncertainty? And it brought me to the thoughts, is this critic towards art being a commodity while she finds art is her therapy?


Bali is known to be an island filled with codified and unquestioned traditions, thus Ketemu Aja is a rare space for critical discussions—yet “it was never about giving a lecture”—where artists and society meet, “seeing new ideas being shaped between audience and speakers, what new initiatives can be spurred coming from the interaction.” (Mintio, 2016)


Thus, Merayakan Murni was critically one way to bring her up to the surface of the Bali art history. Through excavating the memories and archives that describe her position as a Balinese woman and artist, and in the same time, it was a chance to re-collect these stray traces to reveal what is remembered of Murni in Bali, her place of origin and where her artistic life flourished, together with participating artists who plunged into a process of excavating them.


This relates to what I encountered when Merayakan Murni just started. I stumbled upon the Gothenburg Biennale titled “A Story Within A Story Within A Story” in Sweden. One of the discussions brought up on their catalogue was Yaiza Hernandez Velazquez’s (2015) “Archiving to Oblivion,” which explained “artists were presumed to be better equipped than most historiographers” in excavating “forgotten memories” and the real feelings that existed during the time. In Merayakan Murni, it was the artists and Ketemu who have collaborated massively in order to excavate the forgotten Murni and reveal. Responding both to her artworks and her archive also remains.

[image 3-8]


For Merayakan Murni, Ketemu introduced both local and residency artists as “having local artists to actually voice their progress and processes is as integral as the residency artists.” (Mintio, 2016) There were sessions with Punia, Imhathai and Natasha, also Marieke and Citra. What’s different to have it during Merayakan Murni does shape its reception by and the views of the society in Bali towards the participating artists’ works and Murni herself. Through Merayakan Murni’s series of Ketemu Aja, Ketemu Project Space as a very young space has provided a place to see Murni in different perspectives even as the project is in process. And even for myself as one of the curators.


As the Merayakan Murni exhibition opened in 2016, Murni’s artworks got positive responses rather than the taboo negative responses she received then. Thus 10 years since her death, her artworks that were actually exploring sexuality, gender equality, art therapy, all are still very relevant. What struck me most as a Balinese woman, Murni made me think, hey, even though you are a Balinese woman that people would say you will lose every position you have is not really true, as a human being you can still stand independent, be yourself and keep up the good work.


It might have sounded cheesy, yet it seems to be the essence of Murni’s drive in working her way out of the darkness that she has been dealing with in her life. To put it in context, Murni might have felt she is an outsider from her immediate society due to what have happened to her – as previously discussed in the article Murni, Diary and Art Therapy – yet she still feel that Jembrana and Bali again are part of her life.

[Image 9-13]


In Merayakan Murni, Punia Atmaja is the only artist coming from Jembrana, West Bali, Murni’s origin. His Satelit Purba (meaning: Ancient Satellite) installation interlocks the concept of mythology (eastern superstition founded on primitive logic) and technology (western modern scientific progression), which he has questioned its dualistic division. Found upsetting by several audiences, his work is a kind of ‘taboo’ as he reinterpreted religion through art after receiving his request of guidance through his belief, which was communicated through his dreams.


Working based on dreams become a connector of Punia to Murni, while a Jembrana Ideology – a term to sum up how Jembrana as a marginalized area in Bali contains people who believe any thoughts are possible – Murni’s interpretation of sexuality to be said taboo was because she rise with this matter in Gianyar, not Jembrana. This interesting phenomenon become new knowledge for us in understanding the Balinese art scene and what could be a contributing factor of how Murni was seen as ‘different’ during her time.

Co-curator Kamiliah mentioned,


A ‘meta’ reading of Punia’s installation draws parallels between his artwork and the Merayakan Murni project: formerly forgotten and relegated to the dusty storerooms of Bali art history, will the beacon emitting from the life and work of Murni, and all that surrounds it, grow stronger after this is done?


As I mentioned in the Afterword to this exhibition, as a female Balinese curator involved in this project, remembering Murni as a great female Balinese artist is an act of importance. Imhathai Suwattanasilp’s Murni’s Temple has reflected this very well. And to have Murni opening doors for us to explore and excavate relevant issues in the society have really made Merayakan Murni managed to take Murni herself as an artist beyond her position post her death 10 years ago.