Ludruk Karya Budaya Mojokerto karya Ulet Ifansasti

Respected Ulema

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune-teller and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was simply a theater actor. To be precise, a former theater actor, one who had transferred his acting skills from the stage to everyday life.

From the way he behaved, the way he arranged his facial expressions and from his body language, he managed to convey the impression that he was a truly wise person. This was clear from the large number of people who believed in him without realizing that what they believed in was a character that was being played.

That’s how it was, day in and day out. And after many years, Respected Ulema had finally managed to trick even himself. That he actually was really wise, clever, intelligent and knowledgeable. He really did think that with just the powers he wielded, he really was able to show the way to the truth that every person was searching for. What’s more, the responses of all the people around him confirmed this completely.

The only thing was Respected Ulema had started to become sick and forgetful. But not even one person believed it. Respected Ulema himself had never been to the doctor about his illness. Because he thought that if he went to the doctor and had a blood test from a medical laboratory, people wouldn’t trust him anymore.

“How can a person with special power go to the doctor?” That was the response he wanted to avoid.

That was how it was. There were just more and more people who arrived to ask for guidance. So many that it wasn’t possible any longer to serve all of them one by one. The crowd at his house was so large that if it was made to line up, it would be too long. It wouldn’t have gone down even in 24 hours because the people just kept on arriving.

So Respected Ulema made a decision. The solutions for problems wouldn’t be handled for each person one by one, but rather in bulk. There would be one piece of guidance for all the people, and each would have their own interpretation of it.

***

That day, Respected Ulema sat cross-legged in his usual place, a rectangular box which in the theater world was called a “level”. It was enough to have a level that was covered with a cheap woven pandanus mat. That way he would be raised up higher than the people who were gathered in the room. The higher position for him was necessary because it would give the impression he was higher than everything, everything both inside the room, and in the world outside.

In the world of the theater, the stage is the center of the world, and that room was his stage. The theater group he had founded had long since dispersed and the people had now forgotten him. The public now knew him as a person with special powers who was able to answer questions about anything appropriately and correctly, precisely and accurately, so long as he or she was capable of interpreting his guidance.

Everything that came to pass demonstrated the powers of Respected Ulema. Everything that did not eventuate indicated the ignorance of the interpreter. That was the law that applied in the world of Respected Ulema.

From his past life, there remained only that level. He only needed the one. It was more than enough to make him higher than anyone who entered his house, his stage in the real world — and that day there he was, cross-legged, eyes closed, with his head bowed, and his body hunched over. It was not too clear whether he was meditating or dozing.

He himself did not understand why it was that the older he became and the greyer his beard grew that it became easier and easier to doze off. But it was more important for him that the older he became, the more respected he became, even though it wasn’t too clear to him whether he was respected because he was considered wise, or just because he was old.

The morning breeze blew in through one window, and out again through another, making the air cooler, even though the wooden walls were beginning to radiate the golden rays of the sun. They had been waiting since early morning, since before Respected Ulema had woken. After taking a shower, and having breakfast, Respected Ulema appeared, stretched out his hand to place it on the foreheads of the guests, then sat cross-legged on the pandanus mat.

People waited for a very long time. Outside, more and more people were arriving. They couldn’t get in before people inside came out. Word went round that Respected Ulema had not said a word for a long time.

“Ulema doesn’t always say something,” said someone.

“Maybe Ulema won’t say anything,” said another.

“Of course Ulema doesn’t need to say anything,” said someone else.

“Ulema will provide signs.”

As if receiving a way out, everyone waited. If he did not make an utterance, Respected Ulema should provide a sign, as had been interpreted up till now by the seekers of guidance. Whereas if he spoke, Respected Ulema’s words would not provide guidance directly, becoming signs in themselves.

As a result, in addition to referring to Respected Ulema, those seeking guidance had to take advantage of the services of the sign readers around him. It was not at all clear how they could spring up and become part of the phenomena of Respected Ulema, who clearly sometimes the cost of remuneration for these sign readers was far greater than the voluntary remuneration for Respected Ulema. How much? While Respected Ulema had never said a word about remuneration, the sign readers always said, “The amount is up to you.”

In order not to make a mistake, the people who needed the guidance of Respected Ulema would give a payment larger than appropriate, which was on occasion accepted with a grumble.

“You all said you needed help, and Respected Ulema’s guidance will solve your problems, why are you so tardy about providing a payment. Don’t expect everything to be all your way now…”

***

Respected Ulema suddenly started to cough. Some thought he was ill, but the readers of signs begged to differ.

“Get ready! Get ready!”

“Record it! Record it!”

Hundreds of people took out their cellphones. And Respected Ulema’s coughing was recorded while no one assisted him. Only when Respected Ulema himself was forced to mime a person drinking, did someone fetch him some mineral water.

After having a drink, Respected Ulema looked calmer, although his chest was still heaving up and down. Nevertheless, people had begun approaching the sign readers who immediately started to discuss this sign which took the form of coughing.

“Please, how many times did Respected Ulema cough?” asked one sign interpreter.

A recording was played so the coughs could be counted.

“Forty times.”

“Thirty-nine.”

“I count forty-one?”

“Hey! Why are there different numbers? It has to be correct. Different numbers will have different meanings!” commanded an interpreter of signs.

To achieve the same number among hundreds of people was obviously not going to be easy. It took a long time to reach agreement. Respected Ulema had coughed 45 times.

“Wow, such a big difference. If you had tried to interpret the meaning before it would have been wrong, hey?”

So, what does Respected Ulema’s 45 coughs mean?

One of interpreter of signs said, “Because the meaning is for every person, and because each problem is different, every person is to receive a whispered interpretation which must be kept secret. Do not ever reveal this secret because it’s good luck will immediately disappear.”

Each interpreter conveyed more or less the same thing to the people surrounding him. But as it happened Respected Ulema started coughing again, and despite the fact that his coughing was very severe, so severe that Ulema collapsed onto his stomach suffocating, people were more inclined to respond to it as if it were merely a series of signs.

“Record it! Record it! Record it!”

“Don’t miss even one movement!”

It is true that someone did hand him a bottle of mineral water as they massaged his back, but his coughing did not stop this time until Ulema’s eyes began to bulge and his tongue hung out when his coughs merged together without any more pauses and transformed into one extended suffocation.

A strange noise emanated from his throat, like a loud exhaling, to a casual onlooker it was like the snoring of someone asleep.

Then Respected Ulema did not move anymore.

“Did you get it all?” asked one of the interpreters of signs.

“Praise be to God… Got it!”

***

Years later, people would continue to visit the tomb of Respected Ulema seeking guidance and searching for signs. Every sign originating in the events of his death was said to have the power to overcome the majority of problems, if not every problem, thanks to the successful interpretations of the sign interpreters. Life and death – was there a meaning of greater significance than that?

Up to today, people still visit to climb the hill, headed to the tomb of Respected Ulema which is located under a tree and deliberately isolated from the other graves. People spend the night in the area, light frankincense or incense, then surrender themselves to nature.

According to the people who feel themselves the recipient of guidance, they have received the signs from Respected Ulema from the stars in the sky, the rustling of the wind, or the falling of the leaves carried by the wind. Can there be anything richer in the universe as a source of interpretation of all meaning?

A caretaker is now present at the tomb. He can help resolve the meaning of any sign, and really has earned a great amount of money.

There are also those who have told of Respected Ulema appearing in their dreams and how he has become overjoyed.

Even though it was mentioned earlier, Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune teller, and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was merely a humble theater actor – something not many people know about. (*)

(Villa Cendana, Kampung Utan, Saturday, 15 December 2018, 5.00 p.m.)


Respected Ulema (Kiyai Sepuh) was published in Jawa Pos on 6 January 2019. Seno Gumira Ajidarma is an Indonesian writer, novelist, and film critic. Retrieved from LakonHidup.com

Featured image Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, by Ulet Ifansasti https://www.instagram.com/p/BtLgEDTBlux/  and  https://www.uletifansasti.com/transgendersoperaludruk

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Project 1 Supermarket Fantasy World Exhibition 1987

The Art of Liberation & The Liberation of Art

Manifesto of the New Art Movement 1987

1987 Manifesto of the New Art Movement

THE ART OF LIBERATION
THE LIBERATION OF ART

The art of liberation is an approach to expression that is grounded in an awareness of the need for the liberation of the definition of art. The forms taken by this expression prioritize declaration and the spirit of exploration, grounded in an aesthetic of liberation.

The Art of Liberation The Liberation of Art

The Art of Liberation, The Liberation of Art

The liberation of art is the endeavor to change the definition of art. It is conscious of the principle that art is an indicator of plurality, which is grounded in a variety of frames of references. The definition of art that is recognized and in force currently is shackled to: painting, sculpture and graphic design, that is, art that is locked to one frame of reference, namely, that of art as “High Art”.

(I) Observing:

The definition of art as encompassing expression in only three fields, namely painting, sculpture and graphic design is devoid of a conceptual framework.

(II) Considering:

The definition of the Indonesian term seni rupa is based on a direct translation of the term “fine arts,” descending from a Latin definition from the Renaissance of la belle arti del disegno.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987 Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Sticker Car

New Art Movement 1987 Exhibition, Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Sticker Car (http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14)

(III) Concluding:

It is not fully understood that this definition of art is rooted in the principles of artes liberales (Liberal Arts) from the frame of reference of “High Art” elaborated during the Renaissance in the sixteenth century, an outlook that believes in the existence of only one (high) culture and the one type of art which it has produced.

(IV) Declaring:

That art is an expression of plurality. That culture has a variety of frames of reference.

(V) Declaring:

The current definition of art is the result of adaptation devoid of conceptual thinking, lacking consideration of the acculturation of aesthetics.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987 Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Documentation

1987 New Art Movement Exhibition, Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Documentation (http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14)

This formulation of the definition of art is trapped. The definition of art with a “High Art” frame of reference has become completely impoverished and specific. This formulation does not see the surrounding reality where a variety of expressions of art based on other frames of reference are found.

Throughout the history of Indonesian art, this groundless and contorted definition has held sway. On the other hand, art grounded in ethnic cultures, popular art from everyday life, crafts and design (art with other frames of reference outside the old definition) stand as phenomena which never gets any attention.

This is an ironic curiosity.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987 Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World Supermarket

New Art Movement 1987 Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Exhibition (http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14)

(VI) Paying Attention To:

The only expression of art which is in accord with that definition of art is the only one used by Indonesian Modern Art, part of World Modern Art (derived from artes liberales) in its connection to the principle that “art is universal”.

Due to the inaccurate formulation of its definition, Indonesian Modern Art is also trapped in a narrow circle. Once again there has been adaptation without conceptual thought or aesthetic consideration. Artists and critics of Indonesian Modern Art have in truth become blind and regard modern art – painting, sculpture and graphic design – as the one and only expression of art. Outside this, art does not exist. This attitude has become popular and is seen in the expression: “… is not painting”.

This is not fanaticism for a particular idea, rather a strongly held attitude which is baseless. The reality is truly: confusion. The absence of critical attention to this contorted definition is a sign of this confusion. In fact, there is no awareness of any definition at all. The activities of modern art itself proceed in a fragmented way with painting as the most popular of these.

(VII) Declaring:

Modern Indonesian Artists have made an idiomatic error, using the language of Modern Art but without an aesthetic understanding. They base their artistic activity entirely on incomplete fragments of the history of Modern Art, a belief in the history of art and only one understanding of aesthetics.

Modern Indonesian artists have become consumerist. They regard a variety of concepts of style within these fragments of the History of Modern Art as a source which has to be made sacred and embraced unconditionally. A contorted imitation of lifestyle also happens. A romantic lifestyle has turned into epigonic eccentricity. Internally exploratory individualism has been replaced by megalomaniac egotism.

Project 1 Supermarket Fantasy World Exhibition 1987

1987 Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 Exhibition

This advanced erroneous adaptation has led critics and modern artists into a preoccupation with matching expressions of modern art with a “dictionary” of art history. Modern artists truly do not practice a tradition of exploration.

(VIII) Declaring:

Thinking about art in Indonesia is headed for bankruptcy.

Indonesian Modern Art, the only art consistent with the definition, is experiencing a deep stagnation. It is fixed on the early styles of Modern Art. It has stopped exploring, is incapable of reflecting inwardly in search of the basis for other developments.

Art based on other frames of reference has been expunged from thinking about art. The contorted definition of art has relegated this to obscurity. Art with a background in ethnic cultures has without exception been framed as belonging to the past. Graphic design as the product of technological and industrial progress is thought of as crude art regarded only for its surface beauty. Popular art which deals with everyday life is regarded as the product of mass culture and as devoid of value.

New Art Movement Exhibition 1987, Project 1: Supermarket Fantasy World "No 1 in America"

New Art Movement 1987 Fantasy Word Supermarket: Project 1 “No. 1 in America/Here” (http://archive.ivaa-online.org/events/detail/14)

(IX) Proclaiming:

What is needed is the liberation of art. A framework of expression that prioritizes the dismantling of a misguided tradition of art. A framework of expression that is rational and which prioritizes expression based on an aesthetics of liberation.

(X) Proclaiming:

What is needed is a redefinition of art, the liberation of art from the confines of a definition rooted in artes liberales, to search for a new definition capable of embracing every expression of art.

(XI) Proclaiming:

What is needed is the liberation of our thought world from a completely single perspective believing in only one frame of reference which begets one art, only one global community in a cultural form that is complete and integrated.

Jakarta, May 2 1987


(*) 1987 Manifesto of the New Art Movement is partly based on the work of the Digital Archive of Contemporary Indonesian Art and available in the original at Manifesto Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru 1987. It represents the manifesto used by the New Art Movement for the Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 (Pasaraya Dunia Fantasi: Proyek 1) exhibition in 1987.

Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru at the Digital Archive of Indonesian Contemporary Art.

Motorbike Taxi

By Gerson Poyk

Late one evening as I was studying for my semester exams, my nimble fingered father called out to me from the living room. Without looking up from the old radio he was repairing he said, “Come and sit here a moment, son.” I sat down expecting a request for help to hunt on the cool ceramic tile floor of our house for some nut or screw he had dropped.

      But I was wrong.

      “Since your mother passed away I haven’t been able to concentrate, son,” said dad. “I haven’t been doing a good job on these radios either, and well, the customers, they’re going other places. My small pension isn’t really enough; I’m not making as much as I used to from the radios and I have no idea how I’m going to pay for your little sister to go to university.”

      Politely I said nothing as my father continued.

      “What do you think if I withdraw the last of our savings from the bank and buy a small second-hand motorbike?”

      I was puzzled, “A motorbike?”

      “A motorbike. You could make a little extra money for us by taking pillion passengers. By becoming an ojek (1).”

      “You mean like all those other ojek who give people rides for a fee?” I asked.

      “If you don’t mind spending the time on Friday evenings or in the afternoons you could get a few fares. Even one or two would be a help with the household budget. Rather than getting a job as a bus driver like some of your friends, it would be better to just become an ojek,” said dad, screwdriver still inserted into the radio.

      “No problem,” I said straight away, getting up to go back to my desk beside the kerosene stove at the back room of our fourteen tile-wide three-room house. There weren’t any doors between the rooms so I could talk to dad in the living room if he raised his voice slightly. “Could I use the bike to go to university, dad?” I asked.

      “No, don’t do that,” was his reply. “What you need to do is stay away from the main roads. Just wait on the bike at the intersection of the main road and the road leading into our kampong. You have to offer to take people places they can’t get by public transport,” suggested dad from our all-purpose living room cum electronics workshop.

      My younger sister was worn out from playing volleyball with friends from the neighborhood and was in bed. When she went out to play volleyball in the afternoons she would usually take a couple of thermos flasks full of ice blocks which she would place by the edge of the court. Once her friends were thirsty she would shepherd them over to the thermos flasks and sell them ice blocks. She not only got a little physical exercise but she also made a little money, her own little contribution to the household. Our tiny house was in fact a highly productive place, serving as both radio repair workshop and factory producing the ice blocks my sister sold to weary neighbor children and school friends.

 

I busied myself, first arranging a motorbike license for myself and then with the last of dad’s savings, looking for a second hand motorbike.

      I would come home from lectures in the afternoons and wait at the top of the road leading down into the densely built kampong with its labyrinth of capillary small lanes and paths which were impenetrable to public transport.

      On the first day I made a fortune, five thousand rupiah! This encouraged me greatly and after a week I had made a tidy little sum. Dad urged me to put the money into the bank account he helped my sister open a long time ago when she started selling ice blocks.

      The money brought its own pleasure. But there were also the pleasures of the odd little things that happened from time to time not to mention the life-threatening risks. At first I couldn’t care less about the passengers, what they looked like, or what state they were in, as long as they handed over the fare. Old, young, clean, dirty, healthy, sick (so long as they were still healthy enough to sit on the back), I took anyone, anytime they wanted, anywhere they wanted to there.

      But it was the young women I enjoyed the most, and there were plenty of attractive young women wanting to be taken home to their houses deep in the kampong, far from the main road and public transport. But as an ojek, I knew my place and never tried starting a conversation.

      One day a beautiful white woman walked up to me wanting a ride. The problem was she was so amazingly tall and so large that as we traveled the bike swayed wildly and she almost caused me to lose my balance. And then it had to happen, right as we descended a small hill, my front tire blew out! I jumped on the brake – and over we went! Small dark me and the beautiful giant both went sprawling across the road. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt. As the bike went over, her vast figure landed on scrawny little me, right on my head! And as my helmet had no chin protector, my chin was driven into the gravel road, almost breaking my chin and sending dazzling sensations through my jawbone as it was pushed back into the base of my ears. Happily the feeling didn’t last too long.

      I apologized to the white woman, hailed a friend passing on his way home from taking someone else and asked him to drop off my huge white passenger.

      It was some time before I saw the white woman again. Then one day while I was waiting for passengers she went past this time driving her own car. An Indonesian woman was sitting next to her. I wondered where the beautiful giant and her attractive Indonesian friend with flowing black hair could be going. I was desperate to know so I turned the ignition key and set off after them. Dismay swept over me when eventually the car pulled into an immense two storey house which compared to my fourteen tile wide house was a castle. I just rode past satisfied that I had found where the attractive white woman lived.

      It was some time later before I saw the Indonesian woman again and in the meantime I continued with my business ferrying passengers on the back of my bike. I lost count of the number of fares I had, anyone at all wanting a ride, young or old, male or female, not to mention all the children. I took no notice of them, just the money they held out.

      At home three things filled my mind: my father, my little sister and my study, while at the university campus I would revert back into a hard working university student.

      Several months later I did notice the woman with the flowing straight black hair again as she crossed the road at the bus stop. This time she was wearing a high school uniform. I waved and as she headed in my direction I started the engine. She jumped on and we roared off.

      “Who was that good looking white woman you were with?” I asked without wasting time.

      “Have you ever given her a ride?” she asked in reply.

      “Once. But I got a flat and we both came off. She landed on me and almost crushed me!”

      The high school girl on the back laughed and said, “She’s my after-school tutor.”

      “Well, that explains why you were in the car together, doesn’t it. And what does she teach?”

      “She teaches English,” answered the girl.

      “Cool. By the time you’re in university you’re English will be good,” I said encouraging her. “Which stream are you in at school?”

      “I took sciences.”

      “And what do you want to do at university?” I asked.

      “Mathematics…”

      I began to say how wonderful I thought that was but suddenly she shouted ‘stop’, seriously startling me. Without realizing it we had reached her large house.

      She held out a ten thousand rupiah note and said, “This is all I have, sorry.” I didn’t flinch and she continued, “Ah, keep the change.” She strode off towards the imposing wrought iron gates leaving me clutching the note.

 

I stopped working as an ojek so I could concentrate on my final major paper at uni. In the meantime I lent my bike to a friend whose own motorbike had been repossessed by the owner. We agreed to split the profit fifty-fifty and even though he’d only finished primary school, he turned out to be completely honest. He dropped in every afternoon to deliver half the day’s takings. My friend’s honesty encouraged me to look on him as a younger brother and my father too became quite fond of him. Orphaned when young, he had no home and sometimes slept on benches at the bus interchange, sometimes in shop doorways. When dad found out about this he rented a small room in a boarding house for my friend.

      Late one night he picked up a passenger and that was the last time his friends saw him. His lifeless body was found dumped in a river, my motorbike stolen by his cruel thieving killer. My friend’s life had been extinguished for nothing more than a crappy second hand motorbike. Sorrow settled over our hearts and remained with us always, along with the memory of the friend who had been so good to us.

      My friend’s death also caused the more mundane problem that we had to deal with the police, but we were satisfied they had taken his murder seriously.

 

After so much hard work I eventually graduated and the day I received my results, a satisfactory level pass, I was overcome with anguish thinking about my murdered ojek friend. He had contributed so much to paying my way through my now successfully completed uni course and I was overcome with grief and emotion.

      In my poverty in that small house with a widowed pensioner scratching out a living by repairing radios and my little sister carting ice blocks to school to sell to friends the almighty had granted that I should complete my degree, me, a university graduate, born of poverty and the faithful friendship of a homeless ojek whose life was torn away by a savage robbing killer.

My sister started uni and dad continued repairing his radios. He even surprised us by quietly learning how to repair television sets. My sister and I were amazed one day to find a television in the living room.

      As soon as I graduated I was offered a job as a teacher at the uni and one day while teaching a class of first year students I noticed one of the female students with a surprised look on face. At once I recognized the woman who was gazing not at a teacher but at a young ojek and the question was obvious, how could he be one of my lecturers!

      Unfortunately it didn’t take her long to fail the semester examination and stop coming to lectures. Before she stopped attending, however, she sent me a letter politely asking whether she could visit me at home to arrange private tutoring, at whatever price I liked. She was even prepared to become my girlfriend, so long as I faked her results so she passed the examination.

      Saddened I reflected on the fact that my degree had cost the life of my ojek friend and that if I did tamper with her results, the reputation of the university would be worthless. The answer was, no.

 


1. Ojek are informal motorbike taxi riders who earn an income by carrying pillion passengers to their destination for a fare.

2. Ojek was published in Kompas Daily in June 1988.

3. On Gerson see http://idwriters.com/writers/gerson-poyk/; http://gersonpoyk.blogspot.com.au/; https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/992956.Gerson_Poyk.  

4. Featured image from https://adinparadise.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/wordless-wednesday-hitching-a-ride/

I Want You

bambang

I leave to go home. I will return again though only in body. The struggle to eradicate corruption must not stop.

Bambang Widjojanto, Deputy Chairman of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), 2015


Source: Emerson, @emerson_yuntho