Lala Bohang’s Work and Feminity
written by Fakhri Bohang
A couple of days prior to the day that I stumbled upon, on Facebook, an Instagram photo of my sister’s artwork I happened to have a conversation in a chic café in Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The other party was a passionate listener who happened to be a firm believer of me, generally me, and my artwork. “What makes a good art good?” was pretty much the underlay of our conversation.
Perhaps it has to be challenging to the establishment in the same way that Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe provoked the Paris art world by inclusion of Victorine Meurent in his artwork, naked, with two respectably fully-clothed gentlemen while in the background a woman seemingly cleansing her private part and the whole scene took place in a forest. Instead of conforming to the art establishment of that period; painting Venus and glorifying the monarch at that time, he had decided to shock, to sort of present the hypocritical art Patrons that may very likely had their very own versions of Victorine as mistresses. Despite the ultimate rage and controversy it had sparked, that work had made a pivotal mark in the history of modern art.
The same motion can be said about the works of Warhol that extendedly commented on the emerging consumerism in America. The production line, goods produced for the big mass market, repeated actions of producing the exact same thing over and over again. His anecdote on fame and popularity, the satire that he embodied and lived, he walked and breathed, the very philosophy that our modern world today consumes through media. It something that was happening around him that he was responsive to, was inspired by, and was willing to tell in his work.
Our conversation sort of converged to the assertion that a good work of art should be an extension of the artist. Of course there are things such as skills in the making of art. What I would normally call as the hard skill. But an artist with mere skill to sell would not have that depth and effect in their work as to that whose works are extension of themselves and whom (may not) in possession of stellar “hard-skill”.
A couple of days that followed, as I was browsing through Facebook and chanced upon an artwork so seemingly simple in its execution, so straight-forward and clear-cut in its visual representation, and yet so obvious in its scale, in its simple execution, in its uncomplicated images to provoke its viewers. The work contained images of black-colored legs floating in a big white space drawn in its simplicity; delicately formed suggesting feminine legs about a dozen pair of them. In between those pairs, yes in between those legs, one couldn’t avoid the peculiar contrasting bright yellow of circular smiley faces. Out of the first gaze, idiosyncrasy, satire and ingeniousness out this artwork penetrated my critical self and in amazement I was ensured that it was a good work of art, if not great. And yes, I was completely sober and clear of any substance of any kind. My judgment was pure and I was completely aware of what I was seeing and emerged into.
Those images, those women legs with smiley faces, spoke volume to me and rather loud as well. The artist’s ingenious verdict to place those smiley faces in between what normally to be the place of female genitalia-in what most culture to be almost the only thing that define a woman, asserting rather aggressively at that, with the presence of smiley face; perhaps commentary on femininity and female identity in the modern Indonesia. Its execution simple and clean, without overlaying of complicated, unnecessary images, and the scale makes a perfect symbiosis in delivering its message out of the artwork clear and loud: That women want to have fun (as well).
The smiley faces placed in the woman’s genitalia sort of resulted from a protest that these women demand to receive pleasure via this channel, confronting and provoking the contrasting overlaying culture, that demands woman to take full responsibility with their genitalia. And that its almost only very culturally accepted functionality is to bear children. The simple yet loud work perhaps coming from the artist’s discordant to what is the norm in the culture where she lives, what defines her as a woman and her function in society thereof. It is sort of a refusal to antagonize the societal expectation on women, that to large extent belittle their quality, functionality and identity, to their genital: virginity, submission, fertility.
This artwork had captured the agony of female identity (to some extent) in the modern Indonesia; questioning their role, functions and norms, transitioning slowly to the global modern society. Perhaps the same way that Manet had captured the then contemporary societal tendency in the nineteenth century Paris. The decision-making in the execution of the artwork; the scale, the images, the simplicity had created perfect coherence in creating such an impactful artwork that emits such a strong message.
Thus to me, the artist, who happens to be my dear talented sister; had successfully created an artwork that had been an extension of her self, that had been a part of her perhaps questions, disagreement or ideas, even insecurities to the context of being a woman in a culture where the double standard between “sexual” liberation of man and woman still existed. Her endeavor to capture “the contemporary” in this regard had thus, in my opinion, succeeded. Congratulation, my dear sister, it was indeed a good work of art, if not a great one.