Citra Sasmita is a Balinese multidisciplinary artist whose work was featured in the Jogja Biennale in 2019. Her paintings, sculptures, and installations examine the traditional gender hierarchy within Indonesian society in an attempt to upend a patriarchal system that has long overlooked the central role of women in the shaping of the nation's history.Read More
Sasmita was born in Tabanan, Central Bali and is descended from a long line of performing artists. Despite maintaining an interest in painting, she never formally attended an art institution, instead gaining a Diploma in Literature from Udayana University, Bali in 2008 and majoring in Physics at the Ganesha University of Education, Bali in 2009 in order to appease her parents. It wasn't until joining a theatre troupe at university that her interest in visual arts was reignited.
Sasmita's entry into the art world followed a similarly unconventional path. She first became an illustrator for the Bali Post after accidentally meeting the editor, Oka Rusmini, in 2012, when she was invited to read poetry on a television station. She worked at the newspaper for five years, 'translating literary language into visual language', which remains a key facet of her practice. When the short story section was discontinued in 2018, Sasmita devoted herself to live as a full-time artist.
Along with contributions to the visual arts, Sasmita has published many essays that support and contextualise her practice. In 2015, she wrote an essay titled 'Metanarrative of Women in Fine Arts' on her decision to pursue art seriously, which outlined the difficulties of being a Balinese female artist believed to be more suited to be painted, not to be a painter. The piece was published in a women's journal and acted as a sounding board for healthy discussion, which Sasmita aims to achieve with her body of work as a whole.
Citra Sasmita's practice challenges the post-colonial myths sustained within Balinese culture by showing powerful female figures as central characters in her retelling of history. Often using multisensory elements and traditional techniques kept within male lineages, her artworks aim to open up discourse beyond the aesthetic to examine the experience of women in Bali.
Torment (2015) depicts a nude woman kissing a severed pig's head, drinking the blood that trickles from its lips and down her torso and arm. The pig in Balinese culture traditionally symbolises immorality, and the uncomfortable embrace depicted in the painting illustrates the psychological and physical abuse that is often left unacknowledged within its patriarchal society.
Torment was featured alongside her sculpture Mea Vulva, Maxima Vulva (2016) in the group exhibition Crossing: Beyond Baliseering at 45downstairs, Melbourne. The exhibition critiqued the post-colonial practice of Baliseering, which dictated the preservation of the culture from outside influence, leading to a romanticism and stagnation of Bali's own cultural identity.
In 2019, Sasmita began her ongoing series 'Timur Merah Project', which features large-scale canvases and installations executed in the traditional Kamasan painting technique begun in the 15th-century and historically learnt by men. These works are inspired by the ceiling paintings of the Kertagosa Museum in Klungkung, which were used by the Kertagosan royal court and narrated Hindu epics of cosmic significance. The fresco was so integral to society that it would be consulted by the king to decide his sentence over the fate of convicts in court trials.
Interviewing a female priest and Kamasan painter, Mangku Muriati, for her source material, Sasmita reappropriated this historic art form to instead centre female heroism where they had previously been described as witches, villains, or mere decoration. Just like the original source, Sasmita's works aim to respond and give meaning to the space in which they are placed, which eventually lead from two-dimensional canvases to immersive works.
Ode to the Sun
Originally shown in 2019 at the Jogja Biennale, Ode to the Sun was the third instalment of the 'Timur Merah Project'. The work immersed the viewer in a multisensory environment announced by the smell of turmeric and herbs in Prologue, which was exhibited on the floor of the gallery space. This work symbolised the titular 'sun' beneath her heroic female Kamasan canvases, into which the artist wrote traditional Kakawin text or Balinese narrative poetry. The canvases above wrapped around in concentric circles, rewriting traditional male-centric Indonesian narratives and commenting on the Baliseering politics that reinforced them.
In 2020, Sasmita was commissioned to paint Tales of Nowhere for the Children Art Space in Museum MACAN, Jakarta.
In 2015, Sasmita was a semi-finalist at the Bandung Contemporary Art Award #4 and a finalist in the Kompetisi Karya Trimatra Salihara, Jakarta in 2016. In 2017, she was a Gold Winner of the UOB Painting of the Year. In 2018, Sasmita was Artist in Residence at the Red Base Foundation, Yogyakarta and the Residensi Jogja Biennale di Kota Kinabalu in 2019.
Citra Sasmita has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Ode To The Sun, Yeo Workshop-Gillman Barracks, Singapore (2020); Under The Skin, Redbase Foundation, Yogyakarta (2018); Beauty Anatomy, Laramona-Ubud, Bali (2017); and Maternal Skin, Ghostbird + Swoon, Bali (2015).
Group exhibitions include ARTJOG MMXXI Time To Wonder, Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta (2021); A Life Beyond Boundaries, JWD Art Space, Bangkok (2021); Host, Edel Assanti, London (2021); and Fluid, Adiwana Resort, Ubud (2021).
Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2022