Aum Swastyastu ... Welcome to the Stranger in Paradise

(Published in the Hello Bali Magazine, December 1999)

Installation by Mulyono


I suppose you’ve all heard about the ruckus on the by-pass the day after the recent presidential elections, and the spot of bother Australia’s in for banging-on about the atrocities in East Timor!
I cried on an airplane reading the U.N. Commission on Human Right’s 38 point indictment against the Indonesian government and military. I shed tears of joy, however, when the Royal Australian Airforce’s Hercules of Hope finally landed in Dili, and, when the little lady-battler, Megawati, finally won a (vice) presidential posting. It’s been exciting times around here for some time now, and, finally, with the old order’s Department of Information fully dismantled, we can write about it!
Rather than bang on I’d like to dedicate this last STRANGER column of the millennium to the people of the archipelago, from Aceh to Atambua (not the politicians and generals in Jakarta) who have shown incredible courage and determination in ushering the old regime out.

Brisbane, 10th October 1999, the Third Asia Pacific Triennial at the beautiful Art Gallery of Queensland.
The most impressive works in the Triennial are by Indonesia’s "sculptors of moral conscience". A handful of brave young art-activists, working underground for most of the past decade, with little official recognition or sponsorship, have provided the 6 month exhibition with its most powerful and poignant installations. It is sad that Indonesia’s modern artists have to go to Brisbane to be understood and appreciated, or even to have their work suitably exhibited. Singapore’s recent, impressive "Volume and Form" pan-city sculpture-fest, for example, did not invite any ‘controversial’ works from neigbouring countries.Mr. Dwi Marianto, Head of the Research Department at the Indonesian Art Institute in Jogyakarta, Central Java, wrote in the Brisbane exhibition’s program:
"The state of Indonesia contemporary art reflects a vibrancy and a preparedness to reject the old paradigms and search for new ones. Narrow nationalisms and art taxonomies which suit the formalist agendas of established art schools have become unpopular. New direct, bold, honest and articulate sub-languages have emerged as tools for criticizing and even laughing at the wounds of Indonesian society. The very nature of Indonesian art is changing just as the nation transforms itself – for better or worse – in an upheaval which will produce a new world of art, with new faces and new characters."

The President and Treasurer of the Indonesia-Australia-Timor Laste Friendship Association: The hon. Bill Morrison lays a paw on the Stranger at the latter's book launch.

Sydney, 15th October 1999, The Tropical Centre, Sydney Botanic Gardens.
My compatriots are frothing at the mouth about Timor Leste (East Timor). I’m proud of them, for daring to stand up to the hypocrisy and the pussy-footing-around-the-thugs that’s been going on for years. Less ladatory, however, is the performance of the Australian press — still hopelessly out of step, for the most part, with the "Mysteries of the East." The venerable "Australian Financial Review," for example, in an "in depth profile" described Megawati as "a moderate nationalist", and Gus Dur as "a Moslem". Imagine the fuss if TIME magazine’s sole description of, say, Margaret Thatcher was that she was "a Presbyterian." They’d be laughed off the block.
At the launch of my book "Tropical Garden Design" at the Sydney Botanic Gardens, my liege lord, the Hon. Bill Morrison ( former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia and Australian Defense Minister during the years when being good neighbours with Indonesia took priority over all else) turns up and is mobbed by my left of loopy friends.
I don’t believe all the muck being kicked up about the Australian stone-walling of Fretelin in the late 1970s – it wasn’t that simplistic. Bill Morrison was a success in Jakarta because he was a man of the people and knew all the key players personally.

Bali, 19 October 1999: Another Startling Exhibition at the Sika Gallery in Ubud.
Astari Rasyid is Indonesia’s answer to Rita Hayworth, with a chisel. Her passion for glamour, sculpture and bold statements underpins a joint exhibition of outrageous ‘wearable art’ at the Sika Gallery in Penestanan, Ubud.
Astari Rasyid’s main piece in the exhibition is a chorus line of bronze corsets, with rather salubrious goobies (in fact, black-magic potions in red silk sachets) hanging down.
Sculptor, Tiarma D.R. Sirait (sister of noted sculptor Pintor Sirait), produced an installation piece called "Anti-rape"—a confection of frilly French maids’ outfits, condom-clad wedding cakes, and battery powered can-can music (VIVE LA REVOLUTION!).
The rest of the show was equally vigorous and thought-provoking, even if above the belt. Australian artist Damon Moon’s pyramids of peci (Islamic) hats was a particularly powerful piece.

Astari Rasyid posing by
TiamaSirait'sti-rape installation

Pyramid of 'Peci'by Australian
artis Damon Moon

Bali, 24th October 1999, Banyu Pinaruh Holiday, the First Day of the Balinese (210 day) Wuku Calendar.
Indonesia’s newly elected President Abdurachman Wahid (Gus Dur) picked an excellent day to make his first trip as Indonesia’s IVth President.
Visiting Bali, just days after the riots, was an excellent move: it allayed Balinese fears that they were about to be cast aside in a broader move towards Islamic statehood; and played to the international community who desperately needed a sign that the new president was a moderate, and a man of ‘international orientation.’
His one hour speech, in English, without notes, delivered at the Gandhi Retreat owned by popular Balinese Senator, Ibu Gedong Oka (reviled as a ratbag suffragette and dangerous sectarian by former administrations), was a huge success. More than just "a Moslem" the widely liked Gus Dur has degrees in literature and philosophy from two of the most prestigious universities in the Islamic world (Cairo and Baghdad), speaks over six languages fluently, is a recognized mystic and has a wicked sense of humour. Long may he reign.
Days later Mighty Megawati, elected Vice President on 21st October, arrived to a heroine’s welcome: she is loved by the Balinese because she represents a dynasty long associated with the fabled isle. Megawati has also supported, most vocally the aspirations of the Balinese people: as aspirations for more autonomy, and more respect for the Balinese culture and environment. The Vice President stayed her first night in the presidential palace her father built in Tampaksiring—adjacent to the holy spring TIRTA EMPUL where her father, Indonesia’s first President, received a gift from the gods in the form of a sacred kris knife.
It is the first time in 35 years that an Indonesian President has slept at this palace: the recently deposed President Soeharto was always afraid of his predecessor Soekarno’s many ghosts and chose instead to stay in one of his children’s many hotels on the coast.
These hotels are now haunted by the ghosts of the I.M.F.

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