Monday, February 27, 2012

Hidden Passion

Painting "Hidden Power of Woman", created by I Made Toris Mahendra.

By Kuss Indarto

I Made Toris Mahendra has—yet—never acclaimed himself as a male feminist. He might not know the big and “scary” names such as Mary Woolstonecraft, Betty Friedan, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Simone de Beauvoir, Iris Young, Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies, and many other names of world’s feminist thinkers, be it liberal, radical, Marxist-Socialist, existentialist, post-modern, or eco-feminism, among many other “genres” in such-ism.

He might not notice local activists and feminist thinkers who pass by in mass media such as Ratna Megawangi, Gadis Arivia, Maria Hartiningsih, Maria Pakpahan, Mariana Aminudin, and so forth. He might not know much about the map or connecting dots among theoretic landscape produced by aforementioned feminists and all of their derivatives, how they practice the thoughts in most sophisticated discussions, or among the pickets held by protesters and blocking the traffic.

But that’s the appealing point of an artist called Toris that represents in visual language. Dozens of his exhibited paintings—in certain gradation—give way to harmonious value and meaning to the ones pronounce by the feminists in assessing their womanly rights, undoubtedly in his point of view as an artist and as a male. True, not all of his paintings assertively carried out the values emphasized by those feminists, but there are distinct traces on some. There is no method of neither academic nor scientific studies around the struggle against dominant, patriarchal culture. Yet, vaguely or firmly, Toris tries to dig deeper into his inner self to aesthetically surface his personal experience about similar matters.

Culture and Domination of the Males

Before plunging deeper into Toris’ paintings, it is better to refresh our memories around the practice of patriarchal domination. Historical perspective around male domination and superiority towards female could be traced from the commonly known story of human creation in the Holy Book: at first there was Adam, and Eve came later from his rib. Hence, Adam was Eve’s creator, and she was created to help him. Socially and morally, Adam becomes more superior because in that perspective, it was because of Eve that they were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

Even Pythagoras, as told by Aristotle, had made classification table of binary opposition. From the table, it is seen that male and female are not only placed as “different” but also “opposite”. Such differences are not only associated physically, but also linked with other matters. For example, male is associated with everything inherently light, good, right, and one. All metaphors worn by male retaliate the meaning of God. Meanwhile, female is identified as everything bad, left, oblong, and dark. Just like Pythagoras, even Aristotle considered male has higher position than female. In his view, it is natural for a male to be superior as to female inferior.

Even culturally, patriarchy is later on constructed, institutionalized, and socialized through establishments such as family, school, society, religion, workplace, up to state policies. Sylvia Walby, a feminist, makes an interesting theory about patriarchy. She differentiates it into two: private and public. The core of her theory is how the form of patriarchy expands, from private spaces such as family and religion, to wider area of state. This expansion strengthens the hold and preserves the domination in the lives of both male and female.

From Walby’s theory, it is known that private patriarchy sourced from household area. It is in a household the male and female initially reign. Public patriarchy takes place in public spaces such as work vacancy and state. The expansion of such patriarchy form changes the holder of “power structure” and the condition in both areas, be it public or private. In private area, power is in the hand of the individual (male). In public, the key to power is in collective hands (management of the states and management of a manufacturing plant are both in the hands of numerous people).

Subconsciously, perhaps an artist like Toris is able to experience the manifestation of patriarchy operating in the areas so close with himself and his surrounding, both in public and private as stated by Walby’s theory, directly and indirectly, frontal or vague, yet systematically there. This is the point where his empiric experience with Eastern culture upbringing that considered as patriarchal. The reality brings about restlessness that later on becomes his departure point for various works, specifically in his solo exhibition this time. From his position as a male who moved to talk about female’s “ideology” problem, he tried to uncover the matters in his paintings. He mixes his restlessness about the theme, along with common sense that enables him to produce synthesis of thought based on aesthetic approach. In visual appearance, Made Toris’ works are not too frontally “screaming”. In Eastern style euphemism with a slight of seriousness but consistently displaying effective irony, he presents his paintings.

Hence, visual idioms are borrowed and they are scattering to emphasize the preferred “target of irony”. Those idioms are quite popular in the public’s mindset, makes it easier to fathom.

Visual Idiom

Almost all of Toris’ paintings are “locked” with one significant visual idiom that appears in the canvas. It is the image of undressed female’s bodies with dynamic gestures, especially on the limbs. At the end of the lower part of those bodies, right at the feet, the image is always wearing high heel. There are still one or two pairs of those legs wearing boot yet represents the feminine side nonetheless. Most of the head visualized as blurry or stirred with other images like hurricane produced from various colors. In other work, there are the head of the animals, and the image of tigress is quite dominant. There are also symbolic images of women’s consumer products such as perfume, lipstick, and luxurious pumps.

I captured two important points from Toris’ work. First, Toris tries to show female’s effort in reducing the practice of male domination by presenting woman’s image as subject. Second, opposite from the first, female’s effort to pursue her gender equality along with inherent rights are extremely based on ironic matters, such as exploiting her body as her power and becoming a source of domination practice.

Working on the first point, Toris executes all of his works with numerous images of woman. Symbols of power appear as “supporting accessories” by pinching the head images of a tiger, a bull or a deer on top of a female’s body. It is as if Toris wants to say that the intensity of hidden passion embedded in female is that strong. The message can clearly be seen in his works entitled Hidden Power of Woman, Instinct, Mind Conqueror, Nightmare, Psycho Intimidation, and Role Play.

On the second point, contradictories are presented as a clinging part in the issue of domination practice. Among the patriarchal culture domination, woman puts a lot of effort and spirit in struggling to win her gender equality. Yet, the irony oozes, and contradictory occurs. Take examples of exploiting woman’s body and excessive consumption culture. Those two are intertwining. Take a look at how a “beautiful” woman is defined in a single criterion and takes shape into dominative “scourge” though slyly vague to the eyes.

In Western standard, for instance, criteria for beautiful are shaped to be tall, slim, light complexion, long neck and fingers, teardrop-shaped and proportional breasts, and so forth. Those are stereotyping standard that could be constructed and benefitting—exploitatively—by other powers, which are the market and the consumer companies. Therefore, in the paintings entitled The Affinity and Stick No Bills, Toris is eager to show his urge to speak about such consumer practice. He vaguely bursting the notions that the principles functions of consumer goods have shifted from “necessities” to “desirable”, implying the effort of selection towards such goods. Bit by bit, it becomes something similar with “ideology”. To meet the needs of the “desirables” hence the excessive consumption practice to catch up with “beautiful” stereotyping that could be read as the symptoms of reducing the effort to pursue gender equality.

Generally, Toris’ works have thematically shifting from the previous “back-and-forth” of themes. But he has more focus and concise. From the visual side, Toris has not moved dramatically from his paintings style created 4-5 years ago that initiated the images of female bodies. His choice of combining expressive yet realistic visual, along with splashing, brush stroke and many other techniques are able to enrich his creative process all these times. His determination and consistency for not hopping around the techniques, and his sorting of contemporary visual idioms are contribution to the visual vocabularies
on nowadays’ fine art works. Bravo, Toris! ***

Kuss Indarto, art curator.