The aluminum and polyurethane red sow laying on her stomach looks like the epitome of domestic content. Her piglets play and bounce on her back, happy to have her near while thriving from the warmth and maternal love that she brings.
“As with traditional beliefs in other parts of Asia, the pig symbolizes luck, prosperity and childbirth in Javanese folklore. However, the rather dumpy figure of the sow represents my own figure, warts and all, after childbirth” said artist Laksmi Shitaresmi of her work, which she calls “Together Forever.”
“On the other hand, I have to look appealing for my husband. That’s where the panties on the sow come in.”
Laksmi’s take on Javanese values in domestic life continues in her work “Monggo Pakne… Ayo Bune… Sumuruping Semangat” (“Go Ahead Mister… Come On Ma’am… Put Your Heart Into It”). The white, cartoon-like sculpture might seem whimsical at first glance, but the rats, symbolizing earnestness and thrift in traditional Javanese beliefs, denotes otherwise.
“The statue addresses the give-and-take in a Javanese marriage. As a Javanese woman, I revere my husband as the man of the house and head of the household, while I do all that I can to keep the household running.”
The interaction can be seen in the assembly line between the two figures. Instead of cars, electronic appliances and other industrial products, the line features children, baby carriages, and other household items.
The pieces are part of “Lakon 3,” an exhibition of 20 sculptures and paintings made by Laksmi between 2005 and 2014, and on display at the Erasmus Huis cultural center in Jakarta. Named after the Javanese word for acting, the works of art balance Laksmi’s embrace of her Javanese roots and her determination to live life to the fullest.
“No matter how difficult [life is], we should live life with acceptance, introspection, patience and inner peace. We only live once, so be sure to be the actor, not merely a part of the audience,” said Laksmi, adding that she derives her artistic inspiration from those who are nearest and dearest to her.
“My work ‘Harapan Untuk Buah Hatiku’ [‘Hopes for My Children’] reflects the hopes and dreams that I have for my children. I depicted the baby resting on a leaf of the teakwood tree, because I hope that he or she will derive their strength from it,” she said. “Like my other work, I chose to use solid colors, in this case a deep red for ‘Harapan Untuk Buah Hatiku.’ The shades convey my message in a striking manner, which is different from the subtle and circumspect Javanese traditions.”
Children also take center stage in such works as the installation piece “Little Nakhoda” (“Little Pilot”), which chronicles a child’s passage through life to adulthood. Set among a bed of clouds, the work perhaps indicates the child will find their way upward as they move in serene waterways.
Laksmi’s more fanciful works also address Javanese animal symbolism with colorful twists and turns. One installation piece, “Lihatlah,” (“Come and See”) depicts a traditional Javanese symbol of strength, the buffalo, with an anthropomorphic approach. Standing on its hind legs, the animal carries a goddess figure on its back with a mandala in her hands. Meanwhile, “Tarianku, Irama Alamku” (“My Dance, the Rhythms of My Nature”) depicts an elephant somersaulting in midair. The statue almost seems to defy gravity as much as the imagination, which perhaps reflects Laksmi’s stance of having one foot in her Javanese traditions and another in the future.
One work that jibes at Indonesia today is “Presiden Anjing” or “Dog President,” which perhaps addresses Indonesia’s upcoming presidential elections. The sense of bombast is palpable in the figure’s upraised left hand, while the slightly skewered mandala lends a sense of broken promises.
Aside from adding to her portfolio, Laksmi also explained her work traces her growth as an artist, wife and mother.
“I made strides in the technical aspects of my work, especially when it comes to my technique, eye for detail, and aesthetic sensibilities. This is particularly the case with sculpture” says Laksmi. “The medium is particularly challenging because of its three dimensional nature. As a form of art that has to be viewed from up front, the sides and back as well as above, sculpture demands a combination of all three. So I’m glad I can be on top of the art form.”
Laksmi explains that she’ll be carrying out further exhibitions in such places as Hong Kong and Amsterdam.
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on March 14, 2014