Otty Widasari is an artist and one of the founders of Forum Lenteng, a collective in Jakarta focusing on art, media, and sociocultural studies. Her solo artistic practice is nourished by her engagement with media activism, journalistic experiences dealing with social and historical actualities, and a lifelong study and connoisseurship of film. A continuous drawing practice gathers all her activities into one place: her working diary.

Her works deal with everyday struggles related to the material conditions of life, such as Home (2007), in which the main subject complains about permanent workplace exploitation of low class laborers in Jakarta. Video poem Green Mountain, Heaven Mountain (2013) was inspired by a quote from an ancient Persian ruba’i about the tension between certain restrictive patriarchal habits and the need for a woman to “feel the heavenly pleasure that exists in the world”.

In her video work, Fiksi, the artist added a mysterious multi-voiceover to the lo-fi video recording from the dioramas at the Monumen Nasional, Jakarta. The landscape of human voices dissolves the monolithic clarity of the canonical version of Indonesia’s national story. Other investigations in a series of solo exhibition Ones Who Looked at the Presence (2014) and Ones Who Are Being Controlled (2016), presented numerous drawings of human faces staring at the viewer. All these faces of Indonesian people, were redrawn from colonial photography and film materials produced by the Dutch East Indies Company (preserved now in Dutch archives). The faces were captured by the colonial eye behind the camera, and its structures of power and violence. Originally serving as a report depicting the colony for viewers at the metropolis, today the images were re-appropriated by the artist for us to watch and ask questions.

Her video performance conceived for the Jakarta Biennale 2017 titled Ones Who Looked at the Presence(2017) develops those inquiries further. Performing for a camera standing in an empty space, she lengthily prepares the supporting tools for a projection of b/w archival films. It seems that the meticulous and repetitive removal of scaffolding takes an eternity, whereas the time of the projection appears to be short. And when the performance abruptly ends, uncomfortable questions stay unanswered: Is it possible to decolonize images other than by burning them? How can the use of these images be liberated from the imprisonment of the artist in the role of a victim? Isn’t the iconoclastic gesture toward historical images a consequence of the long road toward the post-colonial identity of Indonesia?

– Text by Vít Havránek