35th Bienal de São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec 2023
Free Admission
35th Bienal de
São Paulo
6 Set to 10 Dec
Exhibition view of the work Timur Merah Project IX: Beyond The Realm of Senses (Oracle and Demons) , by Citra Sasmita during the 35th Bienal de São Paulo – choreographies of the impossible © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Citra Sasmita

Balinese artist Citra Sasmita uses the Kamasan style – a centuries-old type of painting – to produce art that acknowledges the beauty of traditions, but also critiques patriarchy and colonialism in her country’s culture. The traditional style was used by the older Indonesian peoples – in the 15th to 18th centuries – to represent calendars, and especially the supposedly heroic deeds of the traditional male elites, such as in wars and other acts of bravery. But in Sasmita’s artistic version, this iconography takes on a new meaning.

Through her hands and her artistic and political eye, Kamasan painting, also done on leather or fabric, features new characters as protagonists in her work. In her project Timur Merah [Red East], Indonesian women with long black hair braid their existence with each other and with elements of nature. The red of blood and fire pours from their heads and their wombs; entire bodies are in flames or form an enclosure that covers them entirely.

With bodies that catch fire and are mutilated in suffering, Sasmita expresses the pain and oppression suffered under the patriarchy by these women, even though they are at the center of everything. Heads cut themselves and are cut off. Yet, curiously, these women produce life, for from their wombs sprout trees, just as they also sprout from the heads of these figures. The branches, opening into green leaves, grow toward the sky.

These goddess women who constitute mythological female figures generally do not appear alone. Creating, procreating nature or in suffering, they bring pain and pleasure to each other; they are together, in one body, or undergo their experiences alongside each other. Several female heads populate the existence of one woman, demonstrating that they are part of a circular, collective experience. Incomplete bodies and legs encapsulate the desire to escape. Rivers formed of women compose a riverside circle on their banks, reminding us of the mythology of traditional society, remembered through the artist’s feminist point of view. Women are goddesses of water and fire.

In Timur Merah, with the pro- tagonism of mythological women, muses, goddesses, creatures part-human, part-beast, part-tree, Sasmita finds possible forms through which impossible perspectives finally come to life. If this was not possible in traditional Kamasan art, centuries later the artist retells the story through art. 

luciana brito
translated from Portuguese by philip somervell

Citra Sasmita (Tabanan, Indonesia, 1990) revisits elements, myths, and ancient iconography from the Balinese culture and literature in order to question commonplaces and the position of women in social hierarchy. Her work mainly consists of paintings, sculptures and installations. Her works have been exhibited at the Jogja National Museum (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) and Museum MACAN (Jakarta, Indonesia) and will be exhibited at the Thailand Biennale 2023/24 (Chiang Rai, Thailand). In 2017, she was awarded at the UOB Painting of the Year.