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April Festival: Celebrating women’s `herstory’

The image of the famous heroine Kartini might evoke nothing other than a graceful aristocrat Javanese lady wearing a kebaya – a traditional long-sleeved Javanese blouse – and a sanggul (elaborate chignon).

That is why today, every time we celebrate Kartini Day on April 21, we’ll see parades of little girls in colorful kebaya, or other traditional attires – along with fashion shows and costume competitions. Little do we realize that the way we celebrate the spirit of Kartini has shifted away from the essence of her contribution to the women’s emancipation movement in Indonesia during the 19th century.

This year, then, could be the time for us to begin reshaping our views and attitude towards Kartini Day. And the April Festival, which will run from April 13 to 27, 2009, in Jakarta, will give us the opportunity to explore the forgotten, inspiring thoughts of Kartini and celebrate women’s diverse identities and creativity.

“Kartini has always been remembered merely as a *myth’,” says director and choreographer Laksmi Notokusumo, the festival’s committee member.

“Her progressive ideas are never brought up; her image has been nothing but that of a dull lady, who shared her husband with other women,” she adds.

The festival’s director Faiza Hidayati Mardzoeki says a number of feminists like herself are concerned that Kartini’s inspiring ideas have been lost along the way, and all she is remembered for is her politeness and her dress sense.

“We also have other heroines like Dewi Sartika and Cut Nyak Dien, but their ideas have been forgotten,” Faiza says. As a consequence, “We have no records of *herstory’. Even if we did, it would be twisted like Kartini’s **herstory’*.”

So, for the sake of women’s “herstory”, Faiza’s non-governmental organization, the Institut Ungu, established the Festival April as a platform to raise the voice of women.

“This festival attempts to create a space for women to explore their creativity, support their thoughts and connect them to our society,” says Faiza.

At the center of the festival is a theatrical performance titled Surat-surat Kartini (Kartini’s Letters), which will open up our minds to the heroine’s progressive thoughts on women’s rights and social issues in her epoch.

“We’re aiming to revive some of Kartini’s ideas through this theatrical performance,” says Laksmi, the show’s director. “We’ll explore the different sides of Kartini we’ve never known before – how wild she was, and how she mastered many skills. It will be a very interesting performance,” she adds.

Should you be interested in catching this show, pencil it in your agenda on April 13, at 8 p.m. The show will take place at Goethe-Haus in Menteng, Central Jakarta, and you can pick up your free ticket on the spot.

The next day, Dutch scholar and activist Saskia Wierenga from the University of Amsterdam will give a mind-provoking cultural speech in the same venue at 7 p.m., sharing her research on how the New Order regime rejected feminism. Wieringa wrote Sejarah Penghancuran Gerakan Perempuan di Indonesia (the History of the Destruction of Indonesia’s Women Movement), a work regarded as highly influential among Indonesian feminists.

Jurnal Perempuan’s director Mariana Amiruddin will share the podium with Wieringa, and explain her views on the struggles faced by contemporary feminists like her.

“I will highlight how the women movement in Indonesia has been facing a setback during the SBY *President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono* government,” Mariana says. “I call it *a movement that is going back to square one’.”

While Mariana says she represents young feminists, other young figures will also have a voice during the festival. Indie musician Tika Jahja of Tika & the Dissidents, actress Atiqah Hasiholan and young historian Rhoma Dwi Arya Yuliantri, whose book was banned recently by the government, will also appear at Goethe-Haus on April 16, at 3:30 p.m.

Coming from different backgrounds, these young individuals will discuss what it’s like to be a woman today and share their views on the arts.

Besides these three events, the Festival April will also hold exotic Tari Jaipong and Tari Topeng dance performances at Sanggar Baru, Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), Central Jakarta, on April 17, at 7:30 p.m. Tari Topeng’s maestro Wangi Indriya will treat us to a sample of the traditional dance, which is now under threat from the Pornography Law.

“Many traditional dancers have been jailed because of the law,” Faiza laments. “Activists have become restless as a result. We know these women dance for a living, while preserving our traditional heritage.”

Faiza also recommends the festival’s three other events that will be taking place at Goethe-Haus – a photos exhibition titled “Mendamba Tubuh” (Longing for the Body) that will run from April 13 to 16; a theater performance from West Sumatra’s Padang titled Tiga Perempuan (Three Women) and a monologue titled Makkunrai from South Sulawesi’s Makassar – both on April 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Then from Goethe-Haus and Taman Ismail Marzuki, Faiza goes on, “we’ll move on to the *industrial park* Kawasan Berikat Nusantara Cakung (in East Jakarta) where we will screen three movies with female laborers working in the area.”

The movies – Pertaruhan (The Betting), Jamila dan Sang Presiden (Jamila and the President) and Perempuan Berkalung Sorban (Women in Keffiyeh) are expected to inspire female laborers to fight for their rights.

“The female workers there acknowledge they’re underpaid and would be underprivileged if they took on contract-based work,” says program coordinator Vivi Widyawati, “but they have no idea that they’re entitled to basic rights in education and health at the workplace.”

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