Citra Sasmita

Citra Sasmita

Timur Merah Project VIII: Pilgrim, How You Journey, 2022


The artistic practice of Citra Sasmita revisits ancient mythologies and revives tradi- tional artistic techniques and materials to question historical misconceptions and misrepresentations that persist in Balinese society, especially with regard to the status of women. The residency at WIELS enabled the artist to research the legacy of her ancestors in European archives and museum collections—built during the colonial era by often dubious and unethical means—and to produce the eighth chapter of her long- term project Timur Merah (The East is Red).

Timur Merah Project VIII: Pilgrim, How You Journey, 2022
acrylic on traditional Kamasan canvas, antique carved wooden pillars
dimensions variable
Courtesy the artist

Timur Merah Project VIII: Pilgrim, How You Journey is a two-part work featuring an installation and a double-channel video. Eight antique carved wooden pillars float mid-air, each adorned by a painting. They are arranged in a star-shaped configuration that references ancient cosmologies and the nine kingdoms of Bali, with the Klungkung kingdom symbolically at the centre of the installation. The vivid imagery of this painting series unfolds complex narratives inspired by the life of I Dewa Agung Istri Kanya, the daring and undaunted Queen of Klungkung who opposed the Dutch through military struggle and cunning diplomatic manoeuvring in the mid-19th century.

The series starts off with a Dutch warship rigged with batik sails to suggest the possibility of a peaceful encounter between the two civilisations. Brutal Hindu rituals, such as the widow’s sacrifice on the husband’s funeral pyre, are juxtaposed to the violence inflicted by the Dutch upon Balinese women. Dressed in a black and white cloth, the Queen makes her appearance from the third painting onwards, first leading the armed resistance in the battle of Kusamba (1849) and then requiring the Dutch to offer a one-horned rhinoceros to stop her subjects from committing mass suicide. The elaborate scenes in the two following paintings are representations of Hell and Heaven drawn from the Bhima Swarga, a Hindu epic evoked by the Queen in her anti-Dutch propaganda. The last painting illustrates the abominable trade of slaves which entailed the massive deportation of Balinese people, including a great number of women, to other Dutch colonies.

Read Citra Sasmita’s essay “Timur Merah Project: A Pilgrimage of Narrative, Memory, and Historical Legacy” (2022).

Timur Merah Project VIII: Pilgrim, How You Journey, 2022
double-channel video, 4K, colour, sound, 22 min
Videography & Editing: Niskala Studio
Sound: Agha Praditya
Talent: Dayu Mang Anna, Bhumi Bajra
Location: Puri Gde Karangasem Royal Palace
Research Team: Mira MM Astra, Dwi Setyo Wibowo
Production Manager: Ruth Onduko
Courtesy the artist

Set in the royal palace of the Karangasem kingdom where I Dewa Agung Istri Kanya was allegedly born, the video features a singer performing Prelambang Bhasa Wewatekan (The Coded Language of Symbols), a poem written by the ruler herself. The tantric symbolism of the poem secretly encodes the Queen’s own memoir, military strategies, and calls for anticolonial resistance.

Artist Bio

With a background in literature and physics, Citra Sasmita (b. 1990, Indonesia) is a self-taught painter who turned to visual arts after working as an illustrator at a local newspaper in Bali. She is deeply invested in the social empowerment of women and in questioning colonial legacies. By unravelling myths and misconceptions that persist in Balinese culture, her work figures forth secular mythologies for a post-patriarchal future. Regularly exhibited in Indonesia, her work has been presented internationally at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, Germany (2022), Kathmandu Triennale 2077, Nepal (2022); and ParaSite, Hong Kong (2020). In 2020, she received the UOB Museum MACAN Children’s Art Space Commission. She is the Gold Award Winner of the UOB Painting of The Year 2017.