OUT OF INDONESIA COLLABORATIONS OF BRAHMA TIRTA SARI

The power of cloth to reveal and to conceal is apparent in viewing the exhibited works in Out of Indonesia – Collaborations of Brahma Tirta Sari. As with a journey through a vast landscape, the initial vista is an expansive one and the viewer absorbs impressions of light, colour, texture, scale and perspective. Yet we are soon drawn into the distinct elements that make up the landscape, where worlds within worlds are discovered. Increasingly, each ‘world’ becomes more intricate, refined and pure. The longer we look, the more layers of detail are revealed to us. Then ultimately, each minute detail unifies to create an entire universe.

This metaphor can be seen as a description of the artworks exhibited in Out of Indonesia - Collaborations of Brahma Tirta Sari, and also goes some way to describing the process of their creation. Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam, master batik artists of Brahma Tirta Sari, are students of the ancient Javanese philosophical teachings kejawen, which guides and shapes their lives and work. They consider their art works to be manifestations of a creative process that can be likened the kejawen concept of the separate individual soul journeying towards reintegration with an all encompassing universal soul. Unification from the kejawen viewpoint is achieved through recognition of the inter-related nature of all the composite parts. In the creative process the challenge of creating cohesion and unity from the disparate elements of textile, motif, colour and thread has been resolved in these simultaneously magnificent and intricate works. As Astri Wright says of Fliam and Ismoyo’s work “Transforming matter becomes a metaphor for transforming the soul.”

Whilst the underlying inspiration and essence of Brahma Tirta Sari’s work is grounded in ancient Javanese philosophical and aesthetic roots, it is over layered with a commitment to the propagation of contemporary batik art in Indonesian and wider international spheres. One form of this regeneration occurs through technical experimentation in Agus and Fliam’s art making practice. A recent innovation in the Brahma Tirta Sari work is the incorporation of reverse applique technique. Interestingly, the process of textile applique can be described as ‘piecing together in order to make a whole’.

Brahma Tirta Sari’s inspiration to experiment with this technique was drawn from examples of mola made by the Kuna women of the Panama, however, not surprisingly this technique is already practiced in mainland Southeast Asia by the Meo peoples of Northern Thailand . In 2000, Brahma Tirta Sari began experimenting with this technique. This additional element of arranging and placing textile upon textile, cutting away to reveal underlying pattern and colour and then the joining layers of textile together with thread and stitch results in increased qualities of texture and transparency to their work. Another inspiration reflected in recent Brahma Trita Sari works is the creative collaboration Fliam and Ismoyo shared with Australian textile artist Elsje van Keppel (a.k.a Esje King; 1947- 2001). Based at Brahma Tirta Sari in 1996 van Kepple’s use of delicate, patterned stitching in combination with dyed, intricately constructed works has been adapted and extended by Ismoyo and Fliam. The final result, as seen in Keluarga Besar and Putraku, invites a more sculptural appreciation of the work, in over, around, through and behind. This innovation, combined with the already accomplished repertoire of batik artworks as exemplified in this exhibition by Trashcan of Tradition, Api Merah and Beras Wutah marks another growth in Brahma Tirta Sari’s work.

Cross-cultural collaboration is another critical and enriching aspect of the Brahma Tirta Sari creative process. Their commitment to cross-cultural exchange is rooted in the ideal of human unity and recognises the creative life force not only inherent in ancient Javanese traditions, but also in the traditions and knowledge of indigenous cultures. As Ismoyo describes “Tradition is the DNA strands of our world culture. We are truly indebted to these threads that continuously flow to make the present the past and form the basis for creativity in each subsequent era.”

Using the medium of batik as a common meeting ground since 1988 Fliam and Ismoyo have exchanged and collaborated with indigenous Australian batik artists, most notably from the community of Utopia Urapuntja in central Australia. The intent of such collaborations has been to unearth a creative process that requires more than an individual’s personal artistic statement. It also harnesses and harmonises with a broader collective creative source. Such initiatives acknowledge a universal root of symbolism and enable traditional artistic wisdom to be expressed in an enlivened contemporary idiom. Again we sense that their work is guided by the desire to unify the individual with the collective and the fragment with the whole. As Utopia artist Violet Apetyarr explains “We have all met together to work. It’s good, just like the olden-time people used to get together. The proper way. Now we are all doing batik together as one…..Their caps have Law in the same way that Aboriginal people have Law. Their caps are really good. They have their Law and Aboriginal people have their Law as well”.

Collaborations and experimentation have encouraged Brahma Tirta Sari to develop a visual symbolism built on a cornerstone of traditional Javanese motifs, such as parang, semen and kawung motifs. Exploring the visual dynamic between these batik motifs that embody aspects of ancient Javanese philosophy, the artists print and paint the motifs in concentrated, dispersed, emboldened and reduced combinations. They remain true to their original form. Ismoyo and Fliam maintain that these ancient designs have a relationship or shared cultural root with other universal forms. As if to reinforce this idea, they have represented one of the most encompassing symbols of regeneration, growth and connection known to humankind through their work Tree of Life. In this work, as in others in Out of Indonesia - Collaborations of Brahma Tirta Sari it appears that Fliam and Ismoyo’s exploration of their art and kejawen practices combine to unfurl, extend and mature eloquently, uniting ancient roots of tradition with fecund contemporary expression.


Joanna Barrkman

Curator
Southeast Asian Art and Material Culture
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Darwin, Australia