Born 1960 in Emmeloord, The Netherlands Lives and works in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Dutch artist Mella Jaarsma lives and works in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and is perhaps best known for her elaborate costumes made from an array of unusual materials including emblems, animal skins, horns and bark. Often shroud-like in appearance, Jaarsma’s costumes cloak the body and face, save for small openings that reveal the eyes or expose other body parts. Drawing associations to the Muslim veil, Jaarsma symbolically explores sensitive metaphors associated with race, sexuality and authenticity while simultaneously deconstructing identity and placing emphasis on questions relating to ethnicity, gender politics, belief systems and individuality.
At the Embassy of Spirits Jaarsma presents a new series of 12 costumes featured in an installation entitled Dogwalk, 2015–16, a parody of the more familiar term, ‘catwalk’. Using the skins of cows, sheep and goats sacrificed for Islamic rituals or celebrations in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, Jaarsma has made the costumes as though the animals are dogs – creatures that are viewed as unclean and haram (forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law). The often contradictory attitudes towards different creatures – love/hate, repel/attract, pest/pet – is a key focus of Dogwalk.
Responding to the warp and weft of ikat textiles, traditional Indonesian fabrics often used to create ritual objects and prestigious garments, Jaarsma’s practice has strong connections to the animistic belief systems inherent to different cultures and religions, ideologies that have largely been marginalised by dominant religious structures in Indonesia. The artist considers the origins of forces that change and shape the world through a close examination of the relationships between humans and animals, with a particular focus on a mythological entity known as the ‘trickster’. Appearing in the traditional folklore of many different cultures, trickster deities are often represented as a messenger, operating as a conduit between the world of humans and the domain of the gods. Frequently appearing as shape-shifters, many tricksters are able to assume animal form and are thought to delight in causing trouble, playing pranks on gods and humans alike. While their mischievous disregard for law and order is often regarded as sinister or wicked, tricksters can also be positive entities, deliberately creating disruption and chaos in order to generate change and transformation.
For Jaarsma, the bond between humans and animals, dogs in particular, is emblematic of some of the behavioural characteristics associated with the trickster. In Dogwalk, her sculptural costumes appear as human-animal hybrids, evoking the shape-shifting deities that manipulate and deceive, bringing about chaotic circumstances that act as a catalyst for creativity, invention and innovation.
Recent solo exhibitions of Mella Jaarsma’s work include, ‘Slicing Time/ Potong Waktu’, Nadi Gallery, Jakarta (2014); ‘Truth, Lies and Senses’, Lawangwangi Creative Space, Bandung (2012); and ‘The Fitting Room’, National Gallery, Jakarta (2009). The artist has participated in several significant group exhibitions including, ‘Fashion as Social Energy’, Palazzo Morando, Costume Moda Imagine, Milan (2015); ‘The Roving Eye: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia’, ARTER, Istanbul (2014); and ‘Medium at Large’, Singapore Art Museum (2014).