Art for Today : Surrounding David

This gigantic duplicate of Michelangelo’s David clad in pink kebaya brocade is currently in the rotunda of the National Museum of Singapore (NAMOS). It’s the deeds of Indonesian artist, Titarubi. I believe people’s reactions would vary, including “This looks like candy”, “What is this?”, “Who is this?”, “Gotta be someone with fucked up brains”, “What next? Rodin’s The Thinker clad in Hello Kitty decals?”, “This is an eyesore”, “Heeheehee look at his dick”. I just thought it was a bit frivolous at first. Anyway, I found a writeup done by its curator, Enin Supriyanto.

Subverted David, Subversive Beauty

By choosing David, Titarubi is jumping directly into a maelstrom of intertwining problems: the canon and model of genius (male) artist and his masterpiece, gender, idealization of masculinity and nudity. This is why, although there are other existing statues, which are generally considered in Western tradition as the ideal figure of a human (male), the hero and also the symbol of knowledge, such as exemplified by Apollo Belvedere, David provides more space to problematize not only conceptual debates concerning to the ideal canon of human body—the masculine beauty—but also how the concept is realized within a specific context: the contribution of modern art history in constituting the dominant discourse of the ideal human body (male). And how all of them are contextually represented to Indonesian or to Asian society in general.

At least there are three visual, as well as conceptual, strategies that Titarubi applied to approach David in her current work. First, she amplifies the size of David, almost two times larger than the original one. The 5,5 meter tall David in Michelangelo’s version is already in larger than life size, gigantic even, added to its arrangement on top of it’s plinth. Titarubi enlarges it even more. She transforms David into Goliath’s size, soaring up to 4 to 5 times taller than the average height of average Asian men. At the present, David truly becomes monumental by filling up the space as if reaching out to the pinnacle of rotunda above. The historical synchronism between David and the structure of the space and building ostensibly reveals the conjuncture of civilization that has merged the two. But on the other hand the colossal figure has transformed it from the ideal form of man into a giant. Hence it diverts from objective representation into pure abstraction. David’s image as ‘small, ordinary man’ is presently abstracted and idealized—complying with its mythological grandeur: a mighty man turns into a gigantic towering figure.

And, second, Titarubi covers David’s body with brocade fabric, a type of fabric that is weaved with patterns of tendrils and flowers, which is commonly used as kebaya material in combination with women traditional outfit in Indonesia, mainly in Java and Bali.

Titarubi sees that brocade fabrics and the design of kebaya outfit contain a manipulative nature towards female (body): fabrics and clothes are intentionally worn to cover up women, protecting them from nudity. But because the fabrics transparent nature and the skin-tight design of kebaya tend to expose the curves of female body, the clothes ironically work by stripping women off. Brocade fabrics have put woman’s body and identity under the gaze.

Titarubi thinks that male nudity is uniquely positioned or separated from the attribute of ‘beauty’—which in the context of female body is reduced into sensuality and sexuality. In contrast, male nudity is represented as an attribute of masculinity and power.

David, the ideal male which was originally naked, is now covered with brocade in bright color. He became a visible object, placed right at the center of a room with a rotunda dome on top of it, surrounded by huge pillars. Although stand towering in immensity, David’s body is now covered with an all feminine attribute. He is no longer indestructible bulges of solid muscles and tissues. His muscular body looks weightless, transparent, with beam of lights coming out from the inside. He turns perfectly—through the surface of his body devoid of any organs— into an object of gaze from certain proximity.

Titarubi’s act of covering up David is an intervention that intentionally infiltrates his whole appearance with ‘feminine aesthetics’, smearing him with the sentiment of beauty. In our socio-political context today, regarding to gender polarization and anxiety towards bodily exposition, to say nothing of nudity, the act of representing beauty in such an open and lucid way is one subversive act.


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