(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

All That Glitters is Not Gold in 'Powder Room' Exhibition

MAY 27, 2015

(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Jakarta. The gown curves gracefully, the contours of its ripples reflecting the light. Ornate and multi-hued, its tail seems to allude to a mermaid, while its reclining shape perhaps takes after a sphinx.

Titled “Powder Room," the dazzling work by transgender artist and designer Tamara Pertamina poignantly shows that all that glitters is not gold.

“The dress [that makes up Powder Room] is actually made up of raffia rope and plastic bags. The plastic refers to the artificiality of people’s appearances, whether it be their body or the clothes that they wear,” says Tamara.

Curator Evelyn Huang agrees.

“Powder Room plays on the impulse of consumers to possess the gown,” she says of the solo — or rather one piece —  work, which is exhibited at the Space Gallery in the Pasar Santa traditional market in Senopati, South Jakarta.

“It also shows how one’s dress is little better than window dressing, as it shows what we wish others to see about ourselves."

Held by Tamara with a little help from the Arco Labs Center for Art and Community Development, Powder Room’s point resonates beyond the Space Gallery’s cramped confines and its incongruous surroundings of women's garment shops.

“The plastic used to make [Powder Room] says much about contemporary humanity and the use of plastic surgery, as one can’t tell people's gender solely by their dress. The material and its pliability also symbolizes changes in sexual orientation beyond same sex or heterosexual relations between men and women,” she says.

“Nowadays, both men and women get involved with transgenders, undoing previous sexual conventions in the process. The only remaining element that defines human beings today is their heart, which isn't made of plastic, even if the rest of one’s body can [be]."

“But [the exhibition] is more than just how others see us. The work also takes on how we see ourselves, as symbolized by the mirror in front of the dress,” says Tamara, a pesantren or Muslim religious school alumnus.

“The mirror reflects how we see or question ourselves, our sense of identity, and how comfortable we are in our clothes or skin. For instance, I keep three sets of clothes in my closet to go with my former identity as Adam, my current identity as Tamara, and my identities as both; which is perhaps reflected in the Powder Room dress."

(JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Aside from the Powder Room dress, Tamara also uses the occasion to sell some clothes of her own design.

Powder Room sees the 26-year-old develop her thoughts about being human, a notion she explored earlier in the “We Are Human” and “Mak ‘Cik” projects.

Arcolabs Director for Art and Community Management Jeong Ok Jeon shares her sentiments, particularly in its social aspects.

“Powder Room is as much a community project as it is a work of art. Its locale among textile kiosks see it tread the line between art and merchandise, while its exhibition in the Pasar Santa traditional market is our way to enfranchise common people and connect with them through art,” she says.

“The venue, and the common people that pass through it, is radically different from Powder Room’s previous exhibition at Kuningan City mall, where it was shown in a gallery and observed by an art savvy, well heeled milieu. The setup of ‘Powder Room’ in Space gallery make Tamara’s work similar to that of contemporary artist Eddie Boneski, the artist who preceded her at Space Gallery” Jeong says.

“Boneski’s work chronicles the lives of people who come and go in Pasar Santa, as in how they interact, how they live their lives, and how the market helped to shape it. His observations often take a surreal turn, largely because he managed to involve the locals by making the most of the public spaces for his work."

“Much of this has to do with Pasar Santa's standing as a community center that makes its mark in the area, but is so often overlooked by the affluent households who live near the market.

"In that sense, or work in Powder Room also portrays the traditional market as a viable social and economic system as it is before urbanization and development swept it away,” Jeong adds.

But regardless how one might view Powder Room, the concept of things not being what they seem and the work's various interpretations make it food for thought.

Powder Room To May 31 Space Gallery Pasar Kios A Lo. 1 Bks 132 Pasar Santa Ground Floor Jalan Cipaku 1 No. 1 Kebayoran Baru, Jakarta

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