Nadiah Bamadhaj’s practice abides to an interest in and inquires into the sociological and semiotic constructs in which power is made and manifested through architecture, artifacts, gender and religion. Within these grand narratives, the artist focuses her own subjectivity, allowing herself and her audience an experience on the subject matter that is both personal and theoretical.
Bamadhaj’s current body of works examines the dwindling of power and influence of the Hamengkubuwono royal family over the Special Region of Yogyakarata in central Java. Hamengkubuwono is the current ruling royal house and the present sultan is Hamengkubuwono X. The first sultan of Yogyakata is Hamengkuwono I and his reign began in 1755.
The artist through her distinct technique of charcoal on paper collage constructs images in a sculptural manner that articulates the recent developments and events that have occurred within the royal household. In April and May 2015, Hamengkubuwono X made a series of royal decrees that paved way for his daughter to succeed the throne. If enacted, Yogyakarta will have its first ever-female ruler. Bamadhaj, through her works such as Protestations of the Subservient (2016) depict the complex reactions to these decrees from within the palace. The idea of the Sultan as the centre of power in Javanese society has been called to questions since 2016. Anthropologist, Andrew Beatty has argued that the Sultan’s power is geographically restricted, describing its absence in the farther reaches of East Java while another anthropologist Suzanne Brenner has questioned the extend to which the masculine constructs of power centred on the male sultan are actually reflected in the domestic and economic spheres. Could it be that the power of the Sultanate has little impact or influence on the daily lives of most Javanese? The final three works in the exhibition, The Reply (2016), 31st December 2015 (2016) and The Last Throne (2016) illustrate the artist’s own disillusionment, and eventual antipathy, as the Sultan, simultaneously exploited his position to quash dissent and failed to take a firm stance against increasing public hostility to Yogyakarta’s marginal communities and minorities. Bamadhaj’s works in Descent brings up the question on whether the significance of the Sultan’s power wanes, so too does the significance of the ascension of a woman to the throne and makes evident the artist’s declining respect for the Hamengkubuwono legacy, as well as the descent of the throne and its potency over the people.
Nadiah Bamadhaj – Descent