Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia
Sohieb Toyaroja

Semar in the eyes of Sohieb Toyaroja (via The Jakarta Post)

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For artist Sohieb Toyaroja, Semar is his favorite jester in Javanese mythology because the character is divine and very wise.

Semar, one of four famous punakawan (jesters), has three sons: Petruk, Gareng and Bagong. Each has a different form, representing different philosophical characteristics of human beings.

In Javanese wayang (shadow puppetry) stories, Semar is portrayed as a powerful figure, with the courage to protest the Gods and compel them to act for the good.

Many believe that the tired-eyed, flat-nosed Semar is a man, but Sohieb questions this belief, pointing to the figure’s bulging rear, belly and chest, that gives the jester the appearance of a woman. However, the lesson Sohieb says can be learned from Semar in wayang stories is that beauty is found on the inside, not the outside.

“[The characteristics] of Semar can be found in anyone. He can be inside you,” the 50-year-old said.

To express his admiration for Semar, Sohieb has made seven paintings of the character, which are now on display at his solo exhibition titled “Ke(Diri)” from April 29 to May 27 at Tugu Kunskring Paleis Gallery in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

The title Ke(Diri) has two definitions. It can literally mean “to the self”, but also refers to Sohieb’s hometown of Kediri in East Java where he first became acquainted with Semar during the wayang shows of his childhood.

Through the exhibition, he seeks to show that Semar can be a role model for everyone, regardless of their power or position in society.

Sohieb feels he now lives in a country that is polarized, sharply divided by politics and religion, in which each group claims to be right and the others wrong.

 

Read more of A. Kurniawan Ulung’s article via The Jakarta Post.

 

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