Though many of her paintings reveal her desire to be a mother, Murni was unfortunately physically unable to bear children due to a cyst in her womb and later, ovarian cancer. Oka Rusmini, one of Murni’s close friends, stated in a conversation with Ketemu Project Space how she saw Murni as “someone who [was] broken hearted by her own body”, conveying that Murni’s main concerns were “what is the function of a woman’s body? And for whom?”

On that note, it is important to read this work against the larger socio-political context of Indonesia at the time. Though Sio Tonglo is born smiling, art historian Dr. Wulan Digantoro’s writings draw attention to the misshapen female bodies in Murni’s paintings. The contorted torso of a headless female subject could be a reflection of the gendered oppression and trauma inflicted on women’s bodies due to the patriarchal ideology of New Order Indonesia, which restricted a female’s womanhood to her ability to mother children and have a family. For a woman who did not (and to an extent, could not) ascribe to these expectations, Murni revealed the exclusionary and unconscionable beliefs of her society, resisting them and finding her own definition as to what it means to be a woman.

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