The Reckoning by Nadiah Bamadhaj

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The Reckoning

ARTJOG MMXXI 8 July – 31 August 2021


The Reckoning

ARTJOG MMXXI 8 July – 31 August 2021 VENUE

Jogja National Museum WWW.ARTJOG.ID


THE RECKONING This artwork is inspired by the story of Calon Arang, who lived in Kediri in East Java in the 12th century in the Kingdom of Erlangga. She had the reputation of a fearsome widow and witch. Due to her reputation, no one would ask the hand of her daughter in marriage. For that reason, Calon Arang cast a plague upon Erlangga’s Kingdom, causing the death of thousands of his subjects. This work looks at sexism in old age, which is also embedded in the story of Calon Arang. If one is a widow (both impure and unmarried) or is elderly (no longer sexually attractive or reproductive), one is, as is defined by numerous stories and folklore, a witch: a harbinger of chaos to the social order. The disruption to social order is commonly regarded as caused by women — if they are sexually active before marriage, if they are sexually active outside of marriage, if they are menopausal and no longer sexually desirable —  all these choices imply a figure that can turn, at any moment, into a harbinger of chaos. If any of these choices are taken by men, none of the same consequences apply. In this work, I assert that this aged women, inspired by Calon Arang, has cast a plague upon the “kingdom” because she has been consistent portrayed negatively, due to her age. She is tired of the sexist double standards of patriarchy —  that the negativity applied to her sexuality is not applied to men, and that the representation of her menopausal state is more often associated with witchcraft and chaos. And it is for that reason she has cast a plague on the land in the form of a virus. Nadiah Bamadhaj, featuring Senyawa. ARTJOG 2021


The Reckoning 2021 Charcoal on paper collage 292 ∑ 225 ∑ 20 cm






Nadiah Bamadhaj’s work for ARTJOG 2021, Time (to) Wonder, is an installation combined with sound from the Indonesian music duo Senyawa. The work is based on her reflections on texts about Calon Arang, a female figure who is discussed in Java-Balinese mythology, and who in many common stories is portrayed as an evil women. She is often depicted as a fierce witch with a frightening face, and at the end of the story she uses her power to spread disease. Toeti Heraty, a prominent feminist writer in Indonesia, in a progressive interpretation to this mythological narrative, characterises Calon Arang as the victim of demonisation within a patriarchal society, but also as a figure of resistance towards the oppressor, and a critic of a misogynistic culture that discriminates against women.


I found it very interesting that you are taking the foundation of your narrative from Calon Arang, one of the most powerful stories in Java-Balinese histories and mythologies. Calon Arang has inspired much literature and performing art works, as far I follow, but not many visual artists seem to be interested to read her story further. Not only does this reveal more of your connection and concerns on subversive stories in the archipelago, but this also emphasises your own positioning towards gender issues. How did you come across this text and, later on, decide to transform it into an art project? ALIA

I think the first time was when I read Pramoedya’s version of Calon Arang, which in English is titled The King, The Witch and the Priest, and I was quite impressed by the way he articulated the complexity of her position in history, in a very beautifully written text. Then I learnt more about Calon Arang through a book of prose written by Toeti Heraty. Her book was called Calon Arang: The Story of a Woman Sacrificed to Patriarchy. Here she shows the freedom to reimagine and retell the story according to her perspectives and feminist background. From these two texts, I arrived to the Balinese version, where Calon Arang is known as Rangda, one of most iconic cultural symbols in their mythology. Rangda is referred to as an evil or a bad spirit, and her counterpart Barong is a male and good spirit. For me this represents how women are culturally, and politically demonised. Calon Arang has power and knowledge, two things that are discouraged in women. NADIAH

It’s important to underline you mentioned how Calon Arang connects to your previous investigations into Medusa, and I remember in Hindu and Indian mythologies we also know a figure called Durga, which I think is described in ALIA


a similar way to Arang and Medusa: powerful women that are being portrayed as scary and dangerous to humans, therefore they are then alienated because of the fear of people who surround them. How do you translate those different contexts of culture in the demonising of women because of their power, knowledge and sexuality? Yes, mythology had shown how dominant power in patriarchal worlds have been used to erase or to blur the significant roles of women in our societies, and further this has had the impact of depolitising and taming women in public life. There is a collective fear that is constructed against women’s power and sexuality through these narratives. In particular, with the story of Calon Arang, I want to raise the issue of female strength, ageing, and sexual assuredness. I employ the uterus as an important symbol of these narratives, not just to go beyond the image of Calon Arang herself, but rather to portray the ambiguities and complexities of her situation from a larger perspective. While I explore the uterus as a universal symbol of women’s bodies and sexuality, I’m clear that it is also a symbol of fertility, and in this work, I am talking about conditions of post-fertility. NADIAH

And in the context of our pandemic, the story of Calon Arang is relevant because she was described to spread a disease — but not because she was upset that nobody wanted to marry her daughter — but as Toeti Heraty wrote, she was tired of the sexism directed at her as an aging widowed woman. For me, mythologies that connect to rituals are always fascinating for their relationship to the wisdom that comes from spirituality and the understanding of one’s position in the cosmic world. Those narratives reveal how women embrace their power through their mind and body, and play significant role in some rituals (that is also why ALIA


they are often seen as witches, because they have the power to lead). Even though this knowledge that is embedded in women’s roles is sometimes simply seen as merely magic, like in the case of Calon Arang. But once it comes to formal religion, women’s roles have become more and more reduced. So, I think modern life puts more pressure on women, whilst making them more invisible. How do you see this comparison of knowledge and women’s roles in these cosmological worlds in comparison to religion? Many religions perceive women’s bodies and sexuality as taboo. I did not do much research on cosmology. For me Calon Arang’s story contains lessons on balance, something that, as I’m aware, is important in the cosmological world, between knowledge, our connection to nature and the environment. She holds the power to maintain balance between humankind and nature. And yes, in formal religions, women are not in positions of control, and as you mention, women are pushed to the backstage of rituals. Many religions also see women’s body as threat, a source of sin or just biologically functional. Women are taken seriously only when they have and still perform a reproductive function. NADIAH

Calon Arang’s story also needs to be looked at in terms of the bigger map of social-political and historical contexts, which was illustrated by Pramoedya in his book, because of his continual interest in history. The fear of her power actually cannot be separated from politics, even as there is the complication regarding her “personal” side, as well as themes of the body and sexuality. ALIA

This reminds me of Gerwani–Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, the Indonesian women’s movement that was banned and destroyed NADIAH


by the authorities after 1965. The way the New Order regime connected this movement as equally the same, if not worse, as the “witch” Calon Arang. The last scene of dancing women from the story of Calon Arang was mirrored by the New Order to construct a negative and wild image of Gerwani women —  depicted as dancing around, whilst torturing the military generals who died in the ever-mysterious Gerakan 30 September coup. And this image was so strongly imprinted on the younger generation of women, so that they would avoid politics and just be domesticated. This is a crucial example of the process of demonising women who have exercised their own power. Yeah, you are absolutely right. I think that is also part of the context that Toety Heraty subtly raises through her sharp feminist rewriting of Calon Arang. The images of Gerwani and Calon Arang are kept in the dark side of society to maintain the status quo of patriarchy. But back again to your installation, I imagine how you use the uterus as symbol of a vital women’s body — central to women’s life — it reminds me also of how we see the earth as if it is the center of universe. So, when we destroy the uterus, directly or not, it also means we also destroy the earth, and the universe as a whole. This can be further expanded to reflect on our situation today in this pandemic, where we have to admit that this has happened due to our careless way of living. ALIA

In this work, I’m not claiming to be optimistic about the pandemic. Yes, we have seen devastating environmental damage to the planet, and we’ve done very little about it. Some spiritual communities have claimed that we are in the midst of a pandemic because of our impact on the environment. I’m not really looking for a light at the end of the tunnel in my work. The mood in this work is a bit darker. NADIAH


I can understand that. I guess everyone has quite different feelings about the pandemic. It is a sense of how you manifest yourself in the world. And regarding that, if we come back to Calon Arang, how does her narrative connect to your personal situation at the moment? Does it represent your anxiety of the ageing process, either as a woman or as an artist? ALIA

Yes, definitely, aging and society’s assumptions about it. My health, worth, and sexuality is not important now that I am entering menopause. And society is marginalising older women, once we enter menopause, and we become invisible. However, I also feel now that I’m getting older, I’m drawing on my strength, which includes my ability to say no, to put my foot down, and to insist on the kinds of work that I want to produce, and so on. I think my interpretation of Calon Arang’s story is an example of how we resist not only the pressure of patriarchal power, but also it’s about how we can respond to the changes in our bodies. NADIAH

Alia Swastika is a curator and writer based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is now Director of Biennale Jogja Foundation, where she served for curator in previous editions. In 2007–2018 she was the Program Director for Ark Galerie in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, then she transformed the platform to a farming and studio based residency in a village in Yogyakarta.



Instalaltion view at ARTJOG 2021, Nadiah Bamadhaj, The Reckoning (2021)


Instalaltion view at ARTJOG 2021,

21 Nadiah Bamadhaj, The Reckoning (2021)

Video tour by Nadiah Bamadhaj 7 min 59 sec

Scan QR-code to launch the video.


Nadiah Bamadhaj, ARTJOG MMXXI and A + Works of Art, would like to thank the following individuals for their support and contribution to this publication and presentation: Heri Pemad Ignatia Nilu Alia Swastika Lee Weng Choy Aminah Ibrahim Kenta Chai Desri Surya Kristiani Agensi 56 Anto Hercules Arie Dyanto Lanang Pijar Lentera


Published in conjunction with the presentation The Reckoning by Nadiah Bamadhaj at ARTJOG MMXXI: Arts in Common – Time (to) Wonder, held at Jogja National Museum from 8 July to 31 August 2021.

Artist Nadiah Bamadhaj Writer Alia Swastika Editor Lee Weng Choy Graphic Design Kenta.Works

Published by A+ WORKS of ART d6 - G - 8 d6 Trade Centre 801 Jalan Sentul 51000 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia +60 18 333 3399 Facebook/Instagram Opening Hours 12 pm – 7 pm, Tuesday to Saturday Closed on Sunday, Monday and public holidays Copyright © 2021 A+ WORKS of ART.  All rights reserved.

Images credits Front & back cover Nadiah Bamadhaj The Reckoning (detail), 2021, courtesy of the artist.

All articles and illustrations contained in this catalogue are subject to copyright law. Any use beyond the narrow limites defineded by copyright law, and without the express of the publisher, is forbidden and will be prosecuted.

A+ WORKS of ART is a contemporary art gallery based in Kuala Lumpur, with a geographic focus on Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Founded in 2017 by Joshua Lim, the gallery presents a wide range of contemporary practices, from painting to performance, drawing, sculpture, new media art, photography, video and installation. Its exhibitions have showcased diverse themes and approaches, including material experimentation and global conversations on social issues. Collaboration is key to the ethos of A+ WORKS of ART. Since its opening, the gallery has worked with artists, curators, writers, collectors, galleries and partners from within the region and beyond, and continues to look out for new collaborations. The gallery name is a play on striving for distinction but also on the idea that art is never without context and is always reaching to connect — it is always “plus” something else.

ARTJOG MMXXI 8 July – 31 August 2021