Thursday, June 01, 2006

Earthquake Threatens Javanese Arts

I have been worrying about this since the quake:

New York Times
June 1, 2006
Quake Upsets the Cradle of Indonesian Culture

KASONGAN, Indonesia, May 31 — Behind a painted sign on a sidewalk reading, "This is not an exhibition, it's a disaster," hundreds of traditional ceramic sculptures lie shattered beneath a collapsed roof.

More than half the houses, shops and galleries lining this small street here were destroyed in the earthquake on Saturday and are littered with the broken remains of their owners' livelihoods. The hundreds of artists who live in Kasongan, a village in Bantul, the district hardest hit by the quake, have survived for generations by selling the pottery they make to tourists.

The region affected by the earthquake is part of the ancient kingdom of Yogyakarta, the cradle of Javanese art and culture, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia.

"I'm worried I will have nothing to give to my children now," said Buang, 50, who uses only one name. He has four adult offspring, all of whom worked in the family's shop.

His youngest son, Eno, who will spend Thursday, his 22nd birthday, looking after his injured mother and grandfather, was the only relative to escape the building that was the family's house and shop before it crashed down. In a panic, he followed the faint sounds of his mother's call for help, throwing aside pieces of brick wall. When he finally reached her, her face was bleeding heavily.

"I was scared and confused," Mr. Eno said. "There was so much happening. But all I could think of was reaching my family. My family is my treasure."

Mr. Eno dug everyone out, including his father, pinned beneath a fallen doorway. His cousin, however, who lived down the street, died instantly, with seven other people from this community of a few hundred people.

The Indonesian Social Welfare Ministry said nearly 6,000 people had died in the quake, which also left more than 130,000 homeless.

Mr. Eno's family, and five others, are sleeping in a tent. His mother, Gimah, 50, lies on the floor, recovering from a blow to her head. His grandfather, whose back is injured, is carried several times a day by neighbors to a nearby health clinic for observation.

Ms. Gimah comes from a long line of ceramic artists. She made most of the family's sculptures, while her children operated the store and her husband of more than 30 years supplied the materials.

In minutes on Saturday morning, the quake reduced all the family had worked for to waste.

"We have to start all over, like so many of the families here, from the beginning," Ms. Gimah said. Mr. Eno worried that the lack of tourists would prolong their despair.

In this region, thousands of shops make and sell handicrafts, traditional batik clothing, musical instruments and ceramic sculptures, many of them exported to the United States and Europe.

Performances of ancient Javanese shadow puppetry and gamelan orchestras — Indonesian musical ensembles with wind, string and percussion instruments — are frequent in Yogyakarta. Sophisticated galleries, teeming with collectors and contemporary exhibits, line its southern streets.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, many of these contemporary artists are mobilizing relief and offering their studios as temporary shelters. Others are trying to salvage mangled paintings from ruined workshops.

The Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta, where famous artists regularly lecture and foreign students, many from the United States, come to study Indonesian art, had major structural damage. And 20 of its students died in the quake.

Nindityo Adipurnomo, curator of the internationally famous Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, has taken into his gallery nearly 20 neighbors whose houses were flattened. During the day, he drives to Bantul to deliver food and other supplies.

He said that many studios and galleries were damaged but that artists in the Yogyakarta area were trying to continue their work.

"It is important to keep busy, for artists to keep working and to continue displaying their art, it helps us to cope with what has happened," Mr. Adipurnomo said. He has decided to go ahead with an exhibition scheduled for next week in Jakarta.

Ki Timbul Hadiprayitno, a 73-year-old master puppeteer who lost his house, most of his puppets and all of his musical instruments, agreed. He is fully booked through August and has not canceled a single show.

Shadow puppetry is one of the oldest art forms in Indonesia. Its stories offer a glimpse into the layered philosophies of Javanese spiritualism, which includes elements of Hinduism and Islam. Many of the stories emphasize a philosophy of acceptance, known locally as pasrah.

"We can only just keep going," he said. "Bad luck, good luck, life, death, it is all God's will."

Mr. Hadiprayitno, who started performing in 1946 and regularly performed privately for Suharto, the former president, lives in Tegal Dowo, a village in Bantul that was almost leveled.

He lost three quarters of his finely detailed wooden puppets, some hundreds of years old, which depict everything from old-world kings and queens to monsters and clowns, and his two gamelan orchestras, which consist of several xylophones, hand drums, gongs and flutes.

"It is very hard for me to have lost my puppets," he said, sitting under a tarp outside his son's partly collapsed house, drawing on a crackling clove cigarette as minor aftershocks rumbled.

But he will find a way, he said, and will not postpone a coming performance in Bantul to celebrate the new harvest. The show is scheduled for Saturday — one week after the earthquake left his community in ruins.

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