Gajah Gallery is proud to present a comprehensive solo exhibition of the seminal late- Balinese artist I Gusti Ayu Kadek (Gak) Murniasih: Shards Of My Dreams That Remain In My Consciousness unveiling over 50 paintings and sculptures that span the artist’s prolific decade-long career, from the mid 1990s to 2006.
Murni’s art is profoundly tied to her tragic, yet courageous life. Born into poverty in Tabanan, Bali, in 1966, she suffered sexual abuse as a young girl, worked as a domestic worker at age 10, divorced her husband despite allegedly being the first woman to do so in Bali, fought and eventually lost a battle with ovarian cancer just before turning 40. Yet, her art brimmed with unhinged creativity and imagination. In the mid-1990s, Murni shocked the Balinese art world through her bold depictions of the female body, sensuality, and the depths of her subconscious—unwittingly breaking social mores and taboos in Bali.
Unlike other galleries in Ubud at the time, the all-women Seniwati Gallery recognised the singularity and power of her work and brought them to the international spotlight, showcasing them in places like Hong Kong, Australia and Italy. By the turn of the century, Murni’s works eventually commanded attention in her home country. She exhibited in prominent art spaces such as the Cemeti Art House in Java, where her work was interpreted not only through the lens of her life, but in connection to the collective trauma that prevailed in post-New Order Indonesia. Since her premature death in 2006, her works have been hailed across Southeast Asia for their strength, originality, and ability to transcend stereotypes of other survivors of injustice.
The exhibition presents the evolution of her works throughout the course of her active years as an artist—from her early pastel-coloured works that reveal traces of the Pengosekan style in which she was trained, to her bolder, brighter and more grotesque paintings in which she later became known. The show further presents the breadth and range of her themes: from her frank depictions of sex and power; surreal objects, creatures and characters; wild, vivid dreams and desires to ever-evolving reclamations of the body. As articulated in the book The Curtain Opens: Indonesian Women Artists(2007), Murni’s works are “gripping statements of a woman’s struggle from passive sexual object to active sexual subject”.
Accompanying the show is a publication with essays by renowned art historians, Dr Wulan Dirgantoro and Dr Astri Wright. The book contains a detailed account of Murni’s biography; discusses diverse, overlooked themes in her oeuvre; and crucially articulates Murni’s rightful place in Balinese and Indonesian art history. Rereading both her work and writings on her art, the show and publication thus examine the artist’s rich yet underexplored legacy, and the ways in which her works are deeply personal, but also universal—poignantly resonating with contemporary audiences beyond her time and place.
Intersecting Worlds, Further Explorations in Murni’s Art:
A Conversation with Art Historian Dr. Astri Wright
SGT: 22 July | 10:00 am
PST: 21 July | 7:30 pm
In the mid-1990s, art historian Dr. Astri Wright met Murni during a research trip to Indonesia, and, struck by her powerful work and vibrant personality, became one of the first English-language scholars to write about her art. While the sensation surrounding Murni’s work since has largely focused on her sexual and biographical themes, Wright analyses less-explored themes embedded in Murni’s oeuvre, from the crucial perspective of someone who knew both the artist and her cultural context personally.
In this talk, Wright converses with Gajah Gallery’s researcher Nicole Soriano on some of the spiritual, traditional and symbolic dimensions in Murni’s work. They also discuss Wright’s explorations into connections she sees between Murni’s habit of lucid dreaming and pre-modern tantric, visionary, and indigenous practices, now also reframed as neo-shamanism, as methods of imagining which led Murni to her fantastic imagery of surreal bodies and creatures engaged in intense interactions.
Murni’s Multifaceted Art: A Lecture by Dr Wulan Dirgantoro
SGT: 29 July | 5:00 pm
AEST: 29 July | 7:00 pm
Art historian Dr Wulan Dirgantoro has written extensively on Murni’s art, discussing her in essays such as, “Interrogating the Feminine in Indonesian Modern and Contemporary Art” published in Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, vol. 3 no. 1 (NUS Press, 2019) and “Female Desire and the Monstrous-Feminine in the Works of IGAK Murniasih,” published in Feminisms and Contemporary Art in Indonesia: Defining Experiences (Amsterdam University Press, 2017).
In her past work, Dirgantoro has highlighted how Murni’s daring depictions of sexual desire could serve as a way for one to reclaim her body in the aftermath of sexual violence, and how the abject and grotesque in her art challenge ideas of femininity in Indonesia.
For her lecture Murni’s Multifaceted Art, Dirgantoro expounds on her past and present research on Murni, focusing on the artist’s overlooked yet significant place in Indonesia’s art history and the complications surrounding her legacy. Apart from tracing her lineage in Balinese and Indonesian history, she spotlights the artist’s lasting contributions to her sociocultural context and community in Bali, and her influence on a next generation of artists in Indonesia.
Panel Discussion with Plural Art Mag
SGT: 31 July | 3 – 4 PM
ila (Visual and Performance Artist)
Shailey Hingorani (Head of Advocacy & Research at AWARE)
Jim Amberson (Southeast Asian Contemporary Art Patron)
Join us for an open format discussion, moderated by Plural Art Mag, that explores how Murni’s work is relevant in today’s lived experiences of collectors, contemporary artists and women’s rights activists. The panel will consider how artists engage with and draw from Murni’s practice; responses to her work and what sets her apart; and how her oeuvre and journey intersects with contemporary women’s issues, with the opportunity for a Q&A with the speakers.
In light of new measures, this panel will be moved online and will take place over Zoom.
Remembering Murni: A Conversation with Edmondo Zanolini and Ni Wayan Suarniti, and Jasdeep Sandhu
SGT: 21 August | 2 PM
Murni often spoke about how her art drew from her life, which was undeniably difficult, yet vibrant and full. She had lived through the struggles of poverty, sexual trauma and illness, but also became a prolific, celebrated artist who enjoyed a creative process liberated from social and aesthetic conventions. Her autobiographical works ranged from reclaiming a lost childhood, purging painful embodied memories, to articulating private longings and strange, joyful dreams. Rather than expressing her personal stories in a direct, literal manner, she would employ her wild imagination and humour to create surreal canvases that often conjure multiple, layered meanings.
In this conversation, Gajah Gallery Director Jasdeep Sandhu speaks to two important figures in Murni’s life: her partner Italian artist Edmondo Zanolini, and her close friend Ni Wayan Suarniti, former manager of the Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women. Coming from the perspective of those who knew her deeply, Zanolini and Suarniti share their memories of the artist and the brave and unique ways in which she navigated her life. Together, they offer rare insights into Murni’s artistic process and personality that may not have been known to the public—bringing to light a sensitive, human perspective on the artist and the subtle and profound ways in which her story and art intertwined.