By Christopher Basile
Still actively painting, sculpting and exhibiting at the age of 81, Kartika Affandi is recognized as the leading radical figure of the first generation of modern women artists in Indonesia, and I am in the process of completing a full-length documentary about her life and art.
Kartika was born in Java into extreme poverty, as the dying days of the colonial Dutch East Indies gave way to brutal Japanese occupation during WWII. After the war, her artist father Affandi (1907 – 1990) supported the struggle for Indonesian independence by painting posters and graffiti rallying the population to revolution, and for this the whole family was interned in a Dutch prison camp.
When the revolution succeeded, Kartika’s father’s artistic career flourished. But Kartika’s own determination to make a career as an artist was not taken seriously by her family, and at age 17 she was married off to a painter friend of her father’s to become an ‘artist’s wife’ instead. Despite having eight children in ten years she still continued painting, giving her first exhibition at age 23. When her husband finally abandoned her to live with two younger lovers, Kartika became the first woman in the then 30-year history of the Republic of Indonesia to file for divorce.
Over the coming years she raised her children, and despite severe social criticism and financial struggle she continued to paint and sculpt. Her struggle as an Indonesian woman artist gave her a natural empathy with the down-trodden everywhere, and she depicted beggars and handicapped persons in Java, fishermen in China, peasant farmers in the low countries of Europe, Australian Aboriginals, and even long-suffering, farm animals. She liked to work out in the open, in close contact with the subjects and settings she painted, and she abandoned the paintbrush to directly apply paint to canvas with her bare hands.
Kartika Affandi is today recognized as an important Javanese artist and visionary, and an outspoken and pioneering Indonesian feminist. In an art culture where the individual self has traditionally only rarely been put to the fore, Kartika has made the self-portrait one of her main themes. In a society where emotion is suppressed, Kartika fills her canvases with intense feeling. In a society where genitals are considered taboo in representation, Kartika has painted her own and others’ nudity graphically and without any distancing sweetness, always including the whole spectrum of life experience in her work
Shot on location in Java, I am completing the documentary film Kartika: The Life and Art of Kartika Affandi here in Melbourne in Williamstown. It is an intimate look at how a determined and brilliant woman has succeeded in bringing her uniquely beautiful, complex, deeply personal, and sometimes shocking artistic vision to life.
Your comments, questions and support are welcome, and you may contact me through the Kartika Kickstarter web-page https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/clbasile/kartika-the-life-and-art-of-kartika-affandi and watch the trailer on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oogcumcAs0