JOURNAL | ESSAYS
Equal | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 150 x 200 cm
Anomaly in Matrimony:
The Tensions Behind the Fanfare of the Sacred Parade
My first encounter with Ummi Shabrina Damas (Ummi's) works on social media challenged my head. Her paintings are full of human figures in a naive style, appearing to be doing various activities between the house and objects in its space. The challenge I felt was the same as when I tried to find Waldo in a storybook from England called Where's Wally by Martin Handford. I was busy looking for easter eggs in her decorative paintings, but at that time I couldn't find them.
That morning I visited Ummi's studio to see her works in person, but I'm no longer looking for easter eggs. The sensation of that challenge immediately turned into an emerging excitement, it was exactly like watching a parade when we were kids. I remember the sensation of being crowded among the other spectators, but I still rejoiced. I also remember how it felt to be carried by my father to get a closer look at the viewer, but my father's feet had to collide with the legs of the hawkers. That is how it feels like, the heat, the crowd, the noise, but still being spoiled by the millions of colors, patterns, and attractions of figures appearing in the spaces created. There are things that feel odd because they have never been felt, but there is happiness that holds the eyes. Seeing Ummi's works makes me want to be in it to unravel the many events and emotions.
Tension After The Lights Are Turned Off
"Everything we give to society comes from home."
Ummi said that sentence many times in the middle of our conversation about her work. As a young artist, she has used her home and family as a source of inspiration for her work. Domestic problems have also attracted her for a long time. Ummi is not only growing as an artist, more than that she is growing as a human being. Like any other human, she tracks the phases of life whose levels are getting more and more challenging every day. This time it was about marriage, a life she had just walked through.
Marriage always seems joyful, but each couple always has different struggles. After the gleaming party lights were turned off, what remained was not family and friends, but two people with a wider ocean that had to be navigated. Without manuals and directions, when it comes to marriage itself, it seems that none of us are professionals. At this exhibition, Ummi carefully captures and contemplates the struggles and tensions surrounding married life after the lights are turned off. Her contemplation also prompted her to come up with new ideas from her glasses about what a happy marriage should be.
The first tension that Ummi expresses in her works is about marriage which is seen as materialistic in society and the decline of privacy in the public sphere. The media has discussed a lot about marriage, from ordinary people's weddings to celebrities. The discussion is very diverse, from celebratory parties, life, to reasons for failure. Without us knowing it, we consume a lot of weddings, domestic life, and other people's domestic conflicts. A marriage that was once considered sacred is now just a spectacle like a parade for the public. Marriage has undergone a commotion of excitement only. Marriage is no longer a matter between two-person but has become the consumption of neighbors, friends, family, even those whom they don’t know.
The political economy perspective by Vincent Moscow sees that the media cannot be separated from the various interests of the owners of capital, the state, or other groups of society. The media through its products including the news that we consume to this day have become a means of domination and hegemony of society, including how we can be influenced by ism with a material breath alone in understanding marriage. The media builds a power-based relationship to pressure our society against understandings that may not be just. A marriage that should be sacred, personal, and considered useful is now like an area for exchanging goods and services.
As in the work "House of Glass", for example, hot and cold colors harmoniously reinforce the human figures in it. These comical figures appear to be doing various domestic activities in the household, such as washing dishes, eating together, raising children, enjoying pregnancy, and shopping. The activity is trapped in geometric shapes resembling a glass box, interestingly, the figures outside the glass case can see everything that happens inside. I translate the glass object as a symbol of our mainstream media that appears both transparent and fragile. This painting is indeed decorative, but unlike many decorative paintings that tend to ignore the space, Ummi seems to be trying to add a spatial object to the work. I see that although this work is not symmetrical or glorifies the balance of form composition as the main attraction, it can describe reality precisely with forms that have undergone stylization.
Tirtodipuran Link (May 1 - Jun 6, 2021)
Basic Wedding | 2020
acrylic on canvas | 150 x 200 cm
"Everything we give to society comes from home."
Marriage is a commitment in the smallest institution in society. After the excitement of a wedding or a romantic honeymoon, marriage contains social roles and responsibilities as well as efforts to build social capital. That is the second tension contained in Ummi's paintings. The excitement of “Dance in The Living Room” and “Good Neighbor” is a representation of the various social responsibilities that a married couple must face. Marriage is not just about joining two heads, but also two families into one. This means that different cultures and backgrounds will be challenges that must be faced continuously. Different family cultures will give birth to different demands and different expectations in the family. It is this expectation that demands pursuit from both sides.
Ummi is creating her work in the midst of efforts to fulfill these expectations. She works in a position as a woman who is physically struggling independently because the conditions require that she and her husband undergo long-distance marriages. Ummi put all her emotions in "Dance in The Living Room". I noticed that there are several panels separated by lines in this painting. His artistic decision reminds me of Henri Matisse's work of shaping the spaces in his phenomenal painting, “Harmony in Red”. Ummi divides and creates space in the panels, this is what distinguishes the two. The uniqueness of this space creation in two-dimensional media offers a different way of seeing. On the top panel, Ummi boldly offers a dream of a beautiful future for her family, even though the bottom panel shows a complex situation full of expectations of her extended family at this time. The panel divisions in this work allow us to discover the position of the artist and the emotions she expresses. In the end, perhaps a room for reflection on the reality that we face today will be born. It could be that the figure in the painting is not only a representation of the artist but our own life.
As a young artist, Ummi continues to develop by seeing the works of artists of her age as well. She does not want to be trapped in inspiration to work in an era, in the references or symbols that are raised. She observes and incorporates symbols of popular culture in her work. “Good Neighbor” is a work that depicts the nuances of a party celebration attended by neighbors around the house. This painting is like a cultural bank that is currently popular. There are minimalist home forms that are dreams of young people today, complete with cars in every home. For me, this painting captures a desire for an establishment that is currently hotly discussed by young people regarding ownership of housing and broader rights to accessibility in the form of private vehicles. In addition, the forms of popular objects are deconstructed with patterns in the objects, for example, objects of trees and various plants with colors that are completely different from the original plus the motifs which make these objects become popular culture icons on candy or ice cream fun packaging. This aesthetic execution decision makes this piece visually memorable.
Seeing this painting, I tried to ask the same question when trying to find Waldo that I told Ummi at the beginning of this paper. "Where is Ummi's position in this painting?", Surprisingly Ummi could easily show it to me. On the right and in the middle there is a bed object in the middle of the garden on which a man and a woman have just woken up. That's where she is. This greatly enriches the popular nuances it offers. As a young couple who live in urban areas, another big challenge after marriage is to fulfill social responsibility in society, the simplest thing is neighborliness. Often, many young couples are still preoccupied with their own world, their own bed, their own domestic affairs and don’t think that other people’s lives are as important. In fact, the collective culture in society is also good for developing locality because that is what can later form the identity of a nation.
Ummi thinks of color and shape simultaneously in her aesthetic process, in my opinion, this is a step that can be said to be contemporary because she can think of different efforts besides incorporating color into forms. Ummi jointly incorporates color and shape in creating an image. The balanced ratio of hot and cold colors makes her paintings as endless as a harmonious and melodious parade. I predict, someone with synesthesia skills will be able to hear the sound of her works, such as a musical group playing songs of joyful marching, the applause of wedding guests, plates and glasses clashing with the clatter of water in the sink, as well as the sound of a party with the neighbors in the neighborhood.
The hot and cold colors she chose were implemented with the same zeal as Henri Matisse in the fauvism movement of the 1905-1908 era. Initially, this word was used by a critic of Louis Vauxcelles who was shocked by the wildness of the group of young painters exhibiting at the Salon d’Automne, calling the exhibition the Sage des Fauves, a cage of wild animals. Fauvism, which was originally an insult, was adopted as a big movement that rejected works with established and safe colors at that time. This spirit of rejecting realistic colors and shapes was brought in by Ummi’s aesthetic process to offer new ideals in deconstructing a reality that was already established in society.
References from contemporary fauvism artists such as Nicolas Party (Switzerland b. 1980) and Diela Maharani (Indonesia b.1983) also strongly influenced Ummi in arranging shapes and colors, but of course, the visuals were different. Nicolas Party is strong with formal, deformative forms and flat, Diela Maharani with her exploration of patterns, there is almost every form, but Ummi found her visual uniqueness by offering simpler forms and harmonious hot and cold colors. Ummi has worked on fauvist colors with decorative pop-pattern nuances using a technique she has mastered for years with acrylic paint on canvas, namely the opaque technique. This technique is a blocking technique that covers an area of the image with paint evenly and is thick and not transparent. Artistic attempts to arrange basic shapes and colors over and over again in various compositions with this technique allowed her to achieve balance and rhythm in her paintings. Although Ummi did not express much of her restlessness or emotions in real terms, pursuing a balance of patterns, rhythmic regularity, and details contained in forms gave satisfaction in her work activities. When you feel that the realized forms and patterns are balanced and visually pleasing, then Ummi will tend to feel satisfied, honest, and finished with feelings of restlessness. This formalist step was a step he took to achieve an orderly and controlled expression as an artist.
All the tensions in a marriage that Ummi feels are filled with new wishes, dreams, and hopes for a happy marriage in the context of the times. To me, she told me how she longed for a wedding culture that returned to its essence without the excitement of the festivities that sounded expensive and consumptive. It also offers a collective life without the toxicity of the whispers of neighbors, but a healthy social life. She also expressed the importance of the private sphere of household life in a media that is both transparent and destructive. She offers an idea of the importance of equality with a partner for a happier and more empowered relationship. In her works, she reveals how much she longs for the belief as a wife and female artist who is capable of empowering the art path she has chosen.
Good Neighbour | 2021
acrylic on canvas | 200 x 200 cm
Tirtodipuran Link (May 1 - Jun 6, 2021)
The spirit of hope and all the offerings of new ideals were accumulated by Ummi in fauvism colors and recurring forms with naive nuances. Historically, naivism was formed as the antithesis of the forms that art teaches academically. Naivism gives birth to new freshness in works of art because it offers honesty like children. Even though Ummi took a formal art education, Ummi boldly chose naivism as her artistic decision. Ummi implements this style in her formal forms very strongly. This naive style is also able to convey new hopes and ideas to her hopes for a better world of marriage without pretension to hide reality and without a tendency to change. The naive style that is implemented in her work enables her to express her feelings openly, as they are, without enthusiasm or the promise of a future that is exaggerated.
Questions After the Celebration
A parade is known as a fun celebration. Many performers wear magnificent and beautiful costumes, great music to listen to and sing together, and the happy faces of the children seeing beautiful costumes full of colors. Lots of laughter and awe arise in a parade. Yet we often miss the price to pay for a parade and splendor. We never imagined how the humans behind the clown costumes were holding their breath, how a beautiful appearance like a princess had to endure such heavy make-up on her face. Performers who are deemed less attractive or make mistakes will also create scorn and laughter from the audience.
Marriage is like a parade in a sacred form. Marriage is celebrated in accordance with a certain culture, is interpreted as uniting two large families, and is carried out by a happy couple. Now, from the dream wedding party, dream house, the perfection of the husband and wife duo, to the ideal upbringing shown on social media, it is only about 20 percent of his real life. More silence that cannot be shown or told: midnight debates, family expectations, struggles about equal roles, and commitments with partners without comparison. The silence that cannot be told is the price of happiness in marriage. Just as the sacrifice is hidden behind the grand costumes of a parade.
Marriage is a daily issue, but also very complex, manifested by Ummi Shabrina Damas in “Anomaly in Matrimony”. Her works are a manifestation of his anomalous feelings when she entered the world of marriage, which is unusual and has never been experienced before. These feelings are very mixed, including feelings of fear, worry, anxiety, but at the same time, they are also very enthusiastic and brave in fighting for the sacred and happiness of marriage. For me, she is also comprehensive in recording the reality and expectations according to her idealism. Her works are works of art that can mark the times because they do not let go of the ongoing cultural context. Ummi observes things that are close and responds to things that are experienced by herself. Her works also challenge us to promise essential hope amidst a fragile screen culture.
An interesting step in the creation of her work this time is how Ummi manages her emotions in her own space as a woman and a wife who have a long-distance relationship with her husband. This own space encourages her to create an image, hope, fiction that sees facts more clearly. Because as Virginia Woolf says about women, fiction, and space itself, it is taught to us, that fiction must cling to facts, the more true the facts, the better the fiction.
Ummi in her decorative works is able to present hope as imaginative fiction but still represents empirical reality. In my opinion, it is important for an artist to always start creating their work from observing the things closest to them, managing their emotions, and responding to them in their work.
Ummi's work is not pretentious and seems to be looking for an issue that may not occur. She even dared to make the process of her work the safest catharsis of all the anomalous feelings that were being felt and thought. In my opinion, the work of young artists with a strong context of the atmosphere is always interesting to examine deeply because it always feels relevant and down to earth without the offer of heavenly symbolism. Simplicity is a luxury for young artists, among the hectic and biased, works full of divine discourse, a spiritualist breath, and demands for political truth that must be achieved in the work.
At this exhibition, Ummi seemed to express the excitement of a cheerful parade, but in simple terms, she also did not escape challenging us to always ask, "What do we actually dream of from a parade and the parties we celebrate?"
Jacobus, John. 1983. Matisse (Master of Arts). New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Moscow, Vincent. 1996. The Political Economy of Communication: Rethinking and Renewal. London: Sage Publication.
Woolf, Virginia. 2020. Ruang Milik Sendiri. Diterjemahkan oleh Khoirul Maqin. Yogyakarta: Jalan Baru.