This new installation by Biscotti takes inspiration from female characters in The Buru Quartet (1980–1988), a series of novels by the late Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer. The author wrote these novels, four in total, while imprisoned in the Malukan island of Buru. The novels reveal social hierarchies of both colonial and Javanese societies in what was the Duth East Indies at the turn of the twentieth century and into its first decades. The textual construction of “woman” and “femininity” in the novels are at all times mediated by a man, whether it’s the author or the novel’s male narrators.
By interjecting female accounts, however, Pramoedya’s novel accounts for women’s experiences in colonial Indonesia, a history that is fragmented, written in the novel literally in seemingly disconnected pieces. These accounts are presented as multiple story lines, which move in and out of the pages of the tetralogy.
All the while, the image of nationhood is narrated on the body of women, who collectively become an emotionally laden symbol of country, home, and self all together.
Among the characters is a woman called Surati, who contracts smallpox voluntarily in
her efforts to escape subjection as a concubine under Dutch colonialism. On par with this
is the Moluccan Princess of Kasiruta who received military training as her means of resistance in the face of colonial power, and was then exiled to Java. Nyai Ontosoroh is the native concubine of a Dutchman, whose dignity and will alone defy subjection, both by Dutch colonialism and traditional Javanese androcentrism. Meanwhile, the story of Annalies Mellema sees her shipped to Holland as property.
For Biscotti, the personalities and the choices of women featured in this novel speaks to strategies of survival, independence, and resistance during colonial times. Their particular traits, such as being reserved, adaptable, and infectious, are visually interpreted by Biscotti as textile design motifs. The patterns, inspired by the regional textiles from where the women portrayed originate, also reference batik; a technique of wax-resistant dyeing applied to cloth originating in Indonesia. But the artist’s chosen material for these lyrical portraits is not thread or fabric. Instead, it is natural rubber. Biscotti’s sculptures are cast into thin rubber sheets, some with an intricate pattern relief, others yet to be discovered. The rubber, originating from plantations in Asia, including the first plantation in Sumatra, is here treated by Biscotti using food coloring. Evoking consumption, and, by way of colour, bearing visual resemblance to flesh, Biscotti draws a further connection to batik textile as being the only object women could then possess.
source: wall text Rossella Biscotti, new work, 2019 Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art