"EXORCISING WITH WATERMELONS"
One symbol that unites Isa Perkasa , Entang Wiharso and I, is the watermelon. We have all used it in our artwork, and our artwork is politically involved. So when the atrocities of Indonesian soldiers and their militia in East Timor became top news in American media while we were part of an exhibition and artist in residence program at Pacific Bridge in Oakland, we felt very involved. In our grief, the watermelon came to mind. I heard the report of hundreds of heads impaled on sticks and again the watermelon came to mind. The gallery is running a contemporary Indonesian art show titled "Pancaroba Indonesia," about the current upheavals in Indonesia, and people were asking questions about East Timor. Isa and I decided that we would make a performance and a social sculpture using the watermelon as a symbol. To transform the performance into social sculpture we are also working with our hosts Geoff Dorn and Beth Gates.
Exorcism is an ancient art in Indonesia that has its roots in animist and dynamist beliefs. This watermelon performance is a contemporary exorcism ceremony, which might be labeled under social sculptor in the "contemporary art" sense. The idea is that through the ceremony we create the watermelon into a symbol, and place the symbol in the context of the Evil Spirit that we are exorcising. This symbol is then internalized through performance and animates in the community's mind: thus the reality of animism.
Even though this US watermelon exorcism was sparked by the East Timor atrocities it does not only refer to East Timor. The current tragedy is a reflection of bigger, deeper problems, so the symbol of watermelon here is also meant to include images that go further than East Timor. The watermelon is not only a severed head. It is also nourishment. It is also a vehicle for many seeds. We see that the East Timor struggle for freedom is also the struggle of the American nation and the struggle of all the people of the world. The evil spirit that moves the human mind to brutal violence is the same in Rwanda, Kosovo, or anywhere else in the world. It is this evil spirit that we want to exorcise in the watermelon performance.
"Watermelon Tragedy" by Isa Perkasa, pencil on paper, 1999, 14" x 20"