This exhibition looks at the creative practices of Indonesian artists working since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that marked the end of three decades of the repressive, discriminatory New Order regime. (Find out more here.)
Suddenly those thoughts died as my eyes fell on one small hamlet in the middle of rice fields surrounded by bamboo thickets and trees. I knew the conditions in this hamlet only too well. At that time, the hamlet had been under the control of a gang of outlaws. Once with my platoon, I was on patrol there and made a detailed report. The report would now be lying buried in some cupboard. I had become acquainted with one particular very attractive woman. As the hamlet was owned by a large landowner, the thought occurred to me that the woman would have to have been mixed race. But that didn’t matter and her father had made me an offer. “If you marry my daughter, I won’t have to work anymore. There’s a sizeable amount of land here and you can take half of my fields.” As I listened, I was completely intoxicated by the offer. At the time, poverty always circled overhead in the sky ready to swoop down on your head. Yes, at the time, the thought of the offer had made me smile. But the patrol was to last no more than a day and a night, and before long our platoon was on its way returning to base.
I did return to the place later though, but the beautiful woman had been kidnapped by the gang of bandits. I would return home again filled with regret, but happy also that I had not sold myself out. Nevertheless, the beauty of the woman and her fate would continue to haunt my thoughts.
Then in my heart, I told myself a story that went like this.
“The woman was now living contentedly with the bandits who had kidnapped her. She would by now have given birth to two young children and her body was adorned with silk and gold and diamond-studded jewelry.”
The train thundered on at high speed. The hamlet too vanished, from my view, and from my memory.
“You are too close to the window,” said my wife.
We changed places. I drew the collar of my coat up tightly around my neck then I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped off to sleep, but my sleep was not to be secure as the train was beginning to fill with new passengers. Then I drifted back to sleep once more. Arriving in the district that had only recently been cleared of the threat and terror presented by the Darul Islam movement, we could see damaged telegraph wires, tangled and twisted around their poles which were lying bent, strewn on the ground.
“Well, not a chance the telegram has arrived there,” I said.
“No, the telegram couldn’t possibly have arrived,” my wife echoed. The train roared on, and on. And on, all the way to Semarang.
We slept the night at a hotel and although the hotel was grubby, we were nevertheless able to sleep soundly.
My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was my father.
I could feel a shudder in my chest and I moaned.
“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.
“I might be coming down with a cold,” I answered.
“Put on your coat.”
I slipped on the coat I had taken off previously after putting up our suitcases at Gambir station. After that effort, I had felt very hot and the feeling of having a temperature added to the pressure of the fear that we wouldn’t get a place to sit.
I fastened the buttons.
“You catch colds quite easily,” my wife added.
Coldly I didn’t respond to her reminder.
Now in my mind there appeared the sight of a grave, the final resting place of every person, despite certain people sometimes not finding a place in the womb of the earth. Yes, sometimes sailors, or soldiers in times of war, often they do not find a final resting place. And in my mind, I imagined that it was my father who did not find a place.
My eyes misted. But not enough for tears to fall.
“Ah, I do not want to listen to every thought in my head,” I screamed to myself.
And I thought. If only I could win the lottery. What a sweet dream that was. And that dream was ended by an old idea, the idea that at the end of the day every person passes away. Death. Sickness. And sickness brought my thoughts back to my father.
Once more I sighed.
“Hopefully your uncle should have waited before writing that letter,” my wife said. “Hopefully your father’s condition isn’t as bad as he described.”
Again I looked her straight in the eye. They were eyes that were now no longer of any interest to me. This time she lowered her head and rearranged her hair which was moved by the wind.
“Hopefully,” I said.
I turned yet again to stare out the train window. Rubber plantations chased each other. Small towns which I had often passed before I was once more going through again. And dozens of memories, some of which were bitter and some of which were happy, with a force I could not control assaulted my mind. And at that moment I became conscious. Sometimes people do not have the power to resist their own memories, and I smiled at this consciousness. Yes, people unknowingly are too strong and repress their awareness. I smiled again.
“What time is it, brother?” my wife asked.
I swung my eyes in her direction and again my gaze landed on her eyes, those once wonderful eyes that now held no interest for me. Just for a moment. Then I dropped my eyes to my watch.
“It’s almost nine o’clock,” I answered.
“Maybe he’s already received the telegram.”
“Hopefully he has,” I said.
And I swung my gaze to stare out the window again. The telegram now appeared in my mind. Just maybe the telegram which had said “Tomorrow arriving with my wife” would be of some comfort to my father. In fact, this hope had not even been my own.
The previous night a friend had said, “You’ve been in prison so long. Two and a half years! And all that time, your father was definitely wanting you to come home. And not only that. He was definitely worried about how you were too.”
And that was what made me send him, I mean, have somebody else send him, the telegram. That friend had also said, “You have to go. Maybe you visiting him will make him feel better, help him recover.”
I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out through the train window again.
We were at Lemah Abang now.
All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind. Before, four years ago. Completely out of the blue, the Dutch had rained shells on our defenses from three directions using between eight and ten Howitzers. The number could be worked out by the fighters who had previously been soldiers in the Netherlands East Indies artillery. The people had panicked and run out in the direction of the rice fields. I still remember the time. I cupped my two hands and shouted, “Don’t run! Get on the ground!” But there were too many of them, and they were too confused, too frightened, and they were incapable of hearing my voice. And when I fell to the ground behind a large tree I was able to see one, then two, three, four, five artillery shells explode among the mass of scattering people. Bodies. Corpses. And my mind ran through the blood, injuries, bodies, to the letter, my uncle, and finally, to my father.
I sighed. My heart ached. I was indeed sensitive. And my family was full of sensitive creatures.
I closed my eyes tightly so I couldn’t see the scene around Lemah Abang. But the remnants of those memories would not leave my mind. The extraordinary achievement of the Dutch shooting, four sheep killed in front of their pen. And this is what was so upsetting: one old sheep, pregnant, eyes gazing into the sky, head resting on the rail of a pen post, with its two hind legs kneeling and its forelegs standing up straight. And the sheep was dead. I rocked the body of the sheep slightly and it tottered to the ground. It didn’t move. Really, it was dead. A friend suggested, “Let’s just cut it up.” I stared at its open, pallid eyes. I could feel a shiver run down my spine, and I ran all the way home. It was three days before I could get the vision of the sheep gazing into the sky out of my head. The sheep! My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was, my father.