Cynthia Webb and Kartika Affandi, Movements in Life
Updated: Apr 28
“Dress casual, creative and clean! The three c’s!” That was Cynthia’s creative answer to my silly question on how I should be dressing up in order to meet Kartika Affandi at a lunch party she’d be throwing to celebrate Lebaran with her family and close friends. Creativity flows clearing up the way for imagination every time one gets together with Cynthia casually or not. I met Cynthia Webb for the first time at Mr. Didik’s office a few hours after I had landed on Yogyakarta. She’s not only a source of inspiration herself, but also an artist who’s always surrounded by the most fascinating people. And, as she always says, Indonesia is a place where artists do not feel afraid of sharing their most precious connections. Though Cynthia is now on her way back to her second home (Born in New Zealand, she currently lives in Australia and frequently pays a visit to Yogyakarta, her third home), she has left me in good hands and with a list of must-sees and must-dos. Boy, I’ll miss you here, Cynthia.
As we approach Kartika’s place, the landscape starts to green and the air becomes cleaner. Kartika lives on the way up to Kaliurang and Gunnung Merapi. We meet her among some of her relatives and hanging ‘bird of paradise’ flowers that shelter the veranda where she’s building one of her latest projects. At the bottom of the central pillar, the colorful floor mosaic turns into concrete tentacles that sculpturally climb up wrapping themselves around it. We’re all of a sudden literally immersed in Kartika’s work. We can see the work in progress on a side pillar. At the age of 74, Kartika doesn’t refrain herself from challenging enterprises. A project for a Women’s Museum has started to materialize on a piece of land near her own home. Cynthia even manages to introduce me to some of Kartika’s work that hasn’t been exhibited yet. The four or five sculptures developed around 2005 haven’t found their way to a gallery probably due to their connotation (For respect to Kartika’s privacy, I’m not going to be revealing what they are here). When I ask Kartika whether she has plans to make them public, she humorously replies ‘Maybe next year’. Cynthia tells me that was the same answer she got a year ago. When time for lunch comes, I feel more than honored to be placed at the same table with this bright and inspiring woman that’s certainly what Cynthia calls ‘Jogja’s art royalty’. While we eat this marvelous variety of traditional food specially selected for this occasion, we have a wonderful inspiring chat. Not only is Kartika always sharing in her answers to questions about her work and herself, but also humbly attentive towards the interests of others. At a particular moment when I let the gender subject slide into our conversion, I take a look around and realize that our table is placed a bit aside from the other guests. Not only that, all the men present are gathered on a specific corner of the broad room while the women have assembled themselves on the opposite side over straw mats. I silently wonder how much this woman of strong opinions that’s sitting next to me must have endured in her life. I soon come to the conclusion that the response to that speculation partially lies in what I witness and see around me in that very room as well as in the other spaces I have toured before. Not only are there paintings on every wall signed by Kartika that speak for her life, but every single object and choice of arrangement bears the original touch of her hand. But, instead of what one commonly experiences from most famous artists, her presence invites you to join her and be transformed by this homely universe.
Among Kartika’s relatives, I am introduced to one of her grandchildren that distinguishes herself from the others for her impressive posture. Ani is in her teens and carries the same enthusiasm and curiosity about life of her grandmother. She also dances. She promptly asks me about my work and what has brought me to Indonesia. But the question that caught me by surprise was ‘Why do you dance?’ I look at her bright eager eyes and realize the cynical remark I usually give people that inquire the same thing from me won’t fit here. ‘I dance because whatever I eat today I know will get burnt tomorrow’. I have to come up with something more respectful than that. Amazingly enough, as if touched and inspired by the creative spirit surrounding me, I tell her: “I dance because Dance brings movement into Life. And movement enables for transformation. It’s like the idea of the term ‘let’s get moving’. And movement, of whatever sort it might be, is something that can be easily experienced and thus shared with others. It will eventually inspire transformation in the ones out there in the audience”. Gosh! I can be so public driven. Anyway, thank you Ani for helping me articulating that. As the day advances and the heat takes over us, moments of silence become more frequent on our table. But that doesn’t mean we have lost interest on each other’s stories. I always believe that the ability to be silent in the presence of others means that comfort and understanding have been brought to a deeper level. The silhouette of Gunnung Merapi slowly reveals itself more and more as if the movement of Cynthia’s hand fan has been helping to disperse the clouds. It’s time to leave Kartika’s ‘paradise on earth’. Before we depart, I’m treated with a book on Kartika’s work and life that was published as part of an exhibition celebrating her seventieth birthday. Then Kartika once again evokes the offer she had made a couple of hours before for a residence in her estate. I leave her with a filled heart and a mind full of ideas for a site improvisation among her sculptures. Maybe even a video could come out of that. I’m starting to believe Cynthia when she says this country has some sort of magical influence on visitors…