Kartika’s Garden by Martin Bradley

Indonesia’s leading female artist, Kartika Affandi-Koberl (born 1934), is the daughter of South East Asia’s foremost Expressionist painter, the late Affandi Koesoema (1907-1990). Kartika’s artistic career developed from 1957, when she first took up a paintbrush, which she later abandoned in favour of the more direct approach of putting colour on canvas straight from the tube, using her fingers. Since her father’s departure in 1990, Kartika has also taken up the reins of Chairperson of the Affandi Foundation and of her father’s museum – The Affandi Museum, which resides in Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, Indonesia.

If you want to meet with this doyen of Indonesian art, you need to engineer a trip to Java, expressly for the purpose. Discovering Kartika Affandi’s Indonesian residence is not easy. A Yogyakarta inner-city taxi driver will stop frequently to enquire directions of puzzled local men standing, scratching their heads. Eventually, and in quiet desperation, you may resort to calling Kartika’s secretary at the Affandi Museum, then handing over your phone to said driver for Kartika’s house’s location.

It isn’t long before brakes are squealing on the dusty hard road. There, down a small lane, a sign will catch the driver’s eye. He will quickly swing his car through the gateway and edge down the green aisle. Before you will be the residence of artist Kartika Affandi.

Within Kartika’s lavish undulating gardens lie numerous traditional Central Javanese buildings. Those examples of Java’s architectural heritage peep between trees and partly obscuring bushes, and have been relocated to Kartika’s site from various villages. They remain in the process of being preserved and conserved; and yet look splendid in their present surroundings. Those buildings also form part of an open-air museum, designed by Kartika and displayed for the delectation of Kartika’s houseguests as well as numerous other visitors seeking her audience.

In those extensive ‘gardens’, Kartika has recently built her Museum Perempuan Indonesia “Kartika” (Kartika’s Indonesian Women’s Museum) adjacent to the traditional buildings. Those intriguing galleries shine with art, not just from Kartika but from other Indonesian female artists too.

Inside the museum you may be taken aback by the terracotta colour of the first gallery’s brick walls. No white cubes there. Kartika’s paintings seem to belly laugh or scream from the walls. Her impasto style, adding paint straight from the tube, rubbing it with her fingers, produces vibrantly expressive imagery, leaping from the walls, engulfing the visitor so quickly it becomes impossible to look at the frames; for they are drawn into the images, beguiled by colour and her expressionistic style.

There are hosts of images of Kartika and her family, all spread bare (some literally). Some thoughtful hand has given each painting space enough for it to be appreciated without being crowded by its neighbour. The richness of the gallery’s hard wood pillars loom above and beside, while nature is everywhere, through open windows, doors open to stream in light and sounds of nature as the visitor becomes immersed in Kartika’s symbolic world.

You may walk, approach her paintings, marvel at Kartika’s abilities, but are watched. From time to time you might catch a Kartika effigy observing. From the far side of the first gallery, parallel to the entrance, is a wooden boat. In that boat sits a pink bust of Kartika, her head a half skull. She watches, hands clasped to her throat. She beseeches, but she also stares. Further in another effigy waits. This time it is a life-size manikin of Kartika. It sits in a wheel chair, similar to the one Kartika currently uses. At first glance you might believe it to be the grand painter herself, thinking ‘Kartika has come to join me’, but no, it is inanimate, posed, red hat on her head, another, white hat, in her lap. It is a small installation. There is also a ‘work space’ replete with large wooden desk, shelves full of writing, auction catalogues, books covering everything from Chinese wisdom to Doris Lessing’s ‘The Golden Notebook’.

Back outside, where lush ponds hold local fish, still reeling from the powerful images and colours of the galleries the visitor might witness Kartika’s house and its very shady veranda, under which she likes to paint. The house is constructed from local wood, and is thatched in places with local palm leaves called ‘attap’. All around there are carvings, intricate filigree wood patterns practically hidden behind black wooden totemic figures of indigenous art, stretching from floor to ceiling. Heavy chairs, similarly of hard wood, share space with dark wood-constructed benches.

Kartika’s rural Javanese garden, its incumbent salvaged local architecture, and the lush burgeoning nature is in total an elegant mix of ageless rural idyll, melded with contemporary convenience. Having walked those park-like gardens, the visitor may be reminded of stories concerning ancient Javanese royals and Pleasure Gardens, spoken of in epic narrative poems such as the Sumanasdniaka. There is also mention of one such garden within the kingdom of the gods, in Indra’s capital. A chorus of birds, singing in the pleasure garden, awake lovers who perform their ablutions, and pray in the taman (garden).

It might have been Kartika’s garden, where flowers blossom in delight, accenting Javanese grace and charm. It is no wonder that Indonesia’s foremost woman artist should choose to set aside land for harbouring arbours, ponds and the lusciousness of indigenous blooms, or to paint ‘en plein air’ as breezes stir enchanting scents. You may notice, with squinting eyes, a partially hidden blue cart where golden symbols of fish mingle with white flowers and green leaves set against a sun-yellow background.

There is endless wonder to behold in Kartika’s garden. It is hidden from the general public, outside of the city of Yogyakarta, but available to those she wishes to entertain. The visitor will feel her boundless energy and her lust for life. In the evening, all is delicately lit by bulbs shaded by rattan lampshades as you are driven off, back to the city by Kartika’s son-in-law Mas Momi.

Kartika at work

About the contributor

Martin Bradley
Martin Bradley is the founder-editor of The Blue Lotus, an e-magazine dedicated to Asian art and writing. His works include Remembering Whiteness and Other Poems (2012), A Story of Colors of Cambodia, (2012), Buffalo and Breadfruit (2012), Uniquely Toro (2013), The Journey and Beyond (2014), Luo Qi and Calligraphyism (2017) and For the Love of Country(2019).

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