The Victim's Silent Tale
(Solo Exhibition of Iwan Effendi feat Papermoon Puppet Theatre)
By Ade Tanesia
He heard the story about the arrest of his grandfather, a puppeteer artist who devoted himself to the tradition of wayang. He, as well, understood that his grandfather was arrested for being alledged as a member of Communist Party of Indonesia (Partai Komunis Indonesia, PKI). Only one that he did not realize, the plot behind the incident.
Had always been very close to his grandfather, yet no words on his grandfather's past to tell. "Perhaps I was his best-loved grandson. He was waiting for my birth. Among others, it was only me who had the privilege to climb up to his lap as he sat in his chair," Iwan Effendi recalled.
Such a wonderful grandfather; it is the memory Iwan Effendi have always had in mind. It was not until his participation in September Something in 2008—a visual art project organized by Kedai Kebun Forum—that his lack of curiosity about his grandfather's history had ceased.
"We were attending a workshop on the trauma of 1965 Affair. I, as a part of the generation of 2000 who was born in 1979, scarcely had knowledge of the anti-PKI massacres. I have heard of it, but I was not completely aware of what it really meant," he stated.
"September Something" art project which aim was to trace the history of 1965 from the living room has motivated Iwan Effendi to fit together the pieces of his family tale puzzle. He started compiling the stories of his grandfather from his mother's siblings, particularly from his uncle who had already reached fifteen at the time of the Affair. Many were also gained from the late mother of his; vaguely-heard ones finally began interlacing into a whole horrifying story.
"At that time, in 1965, he was summoned to the village's administrative unit's office, they said. Only the village officials who picked up my grandfather. It seemed pretty normal. However, he had never come back home again for thirteen years. Having to take care of nine children, my grandmother faced a hard time. She, eventually, decided to send them to relatives homes in different cities so that they could grow in a "healthy" environment without being accused as the children of PKI.
Stimulated by the secret tragedy kept in the memory of his family, Iwan dug into the narrative of an egregious history occurred in the year of 1965 as the blood of millions of this country's citizens was shed—the period that had ceased this country's high hopes, as expected by its founder, to become a great nation. Rapaciously, Iwan Effendi delved himself into various books and investigated historical data of 30 September Movement (G30S). He questioned himself as a visual artist "whether the past he clutches at today would or would not find its visual language".
Imaginative characters placed amidst the bright colors of a never-never land is the visual language of Iwan Effendi. Ofttimes we come across war-like visual elements in his works; aircraft, tank, which occasionally deformed in animal shapes. It allied closely to his fondness for war stories, such as the epic of the Second World War. It was into this tale that Iwan unravelled his ideas. During his former study at the Fine Arts Department of the Institute of Teaching and Educational Sciences (IKIP) Bandung, he expressed his ideas in a variety of human body movement. As he moved to Jogjakarta, pursuing his study at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts majoring in painting, his visual movement has shifted from realist to imaginative. Back then the street art genre pioneered by his seniors has influenced his art methods. The typical street art style, intersected with comical icons, was the artifacts that played an important role in the development of his artistic language.
The opportunity to meet Maria Tri Sulistyani, a children's book author who later became his beloved wife, has led him to visualizations of children's tales from around the world. He did not stop there; he developed Papermoon puppet theatre, which was formerly initiated by Maria. Together with his wife, Iwan began exploring the medium of puppets. To Iwan Effendi, the expansion of his visual expressions into puppet theatre is an extraordinary challenge that would meet no end. Accepting and referring to the philosophy of puppet theatre—"sincerity of being nobody"—Iwan put aside his ego as an artist and surrender himself to the world of puppeteering. It had not been an easy start, yet lately he found it intensely addictive; puppet theatre has animated his visual figures.
The imaginative visuals he worked on in detail is placed in the room settings which tracks would be untraceable in real world. Within this context that Iwan Effendi unfolds the stories of his life. At first, he did not emphasize his idea under just one specified theme, as in "Unhappy Family", expressing his mother's demise that also brought a touching story of a woman and her family. At times, his works narrated the increasingly inhuman relationship between the most up-to-date variety of communication technology and human being. Most works were about the day-to-day that he perceived and interpreted.
It has only been for the last two years Iwan centered his interest on the tragedy of 1965 Affair. His growing curiosity to the incident was not only aroused by the history of his family, but also by his passion for conspiracy theories. "World War II epic ended in the cold war between the communist and capitalist has, in point of fact, had significant impact on political constellation of Indonesia in the 1960s," he declared.
Hand in hand with Maria Tri Sulistyani, shattered pieces of the 1965 Affair were composed into a story line of puppet theatre performance entitled "Mwathirika"; means 'victim' in Swahili language. Starting off with creating the characters and positioned them in a stage room, Iwan and Ria have agreed from the beginning on how the tale would be symbolically narrated—escorting one to fairytale land. Moyo, Tupu, and their father Baba; Haki and the daughter Lacuna; are the four main characters played in the performance. Neither the figures' expressions nor the stage setting were referred to any spesific ethnic groups or places; Iwan has truly created a whole new world of imagination. Nevertheless, intense discussions with Maria were carried out continously to figure out the suited expression of the characters.
There is significant difference between puppetry visualization practice and painting on canvas—it is possible to apply only one expression on canvas, in the contrary, puppets require adaptive ones in diverse expressions: sadness, joy, loss, etc. Surely Iwan had to go through a complicated process of creation, nonetheless, this creating method has advanced his art practices. Iwan is a man of experimental and collaboration. From a very young age, he had already enjoyed fiddling around with things. His childhood enjoyment find its place at the time of having to design puppet's body movement.
The whole creative process of Iwan Effendi comes in two forms of media: exhibition and stage performance. His exhibition at Tembi Contemporary is not only relocating stage setting to exhibition space, but also reinterpreting the visuals by designing a fresh setting through his mural works. Nowadays, the practice of art as practiced by Iwan increasingly rare find, especially among the young artists of his age.
Only few out of many artists who would invest months of their time developing visual collaboration with other genre of art. Still and all, it is beyond question that in this exhibition we have run into an artist whose exploration on various art media continues; endlessly in search for visual elements to assemble more and more tales. And right here right now, he presents the tale for the victims of this nation's tragedy in 1965; keeping the bitterness lives in the hearts and memories of this nation—a silent tale that lasts forever.