An exquisite and emotional experience
By Myron My
There is so much I want to write down right now but I am unsure if it’s a critical review of the show I just saw or a visceral personal response. Such is the effect that Rani Pramesti has on you when you walk out of Sedih//Sunno. “Sedih” is Bahasa Indonesia for ‘sadness’ and “sunno” is ‘to listen’ in Fijian Hindi, so the show is an invitation to listen to our sadness. Or as one of the performers advised us, it is a mediation on such sadness.
Sedih//Sunno is a collaborative performance installation piece by Pramesti, Ria Soemardjo, Kei Murakami and Shivanjani Lal, all sharing stories with us in this multi-sensory and multi-cultural show. As we take our seat in a room surrounded by gorgeous Indonesian batik fabrics, we hear the four women speaking over the top of each other in their various languages as if they are conversing at home with their family. I don’t understand any of it (except some snippets of Japanese), but it feels lively, fun and inviting.
The conversation soon quietens and Pramesti enters the space, asking for permission to join us. She puts the intimate group at ease with her gentle humour and calm nature, and I almost feel like I am at primary school show-and-tell, as Pramesti shares with us stories of her childhood and her mother’s childhood. While devising the show, Pramesti reveals she discovered her mother had been sexually abused when she was eight years old, which changed the nature of the work drastically. It became a piece about keeping company with your sadness and not hiding it away on its own. The integrity of the performance and safety of the audience is always paramount for the four artists and they are with us every step of the way through the performance.
As we continue moving through the space, we are handed small pieces of batik and directed to Pramesti who helps us in folding the sheets and putting them away, no doubt something she has done numerous times with her mother. As I sat down, listening to the beautiful music from Soemardjo’s tamboura and her Javanese-inspired vocals, and watching as the rest of the group folded their fabrics with Pramesti, I was taken back to my own childhood, where I would help my late mother fold linen. It was a very vivid experience and raised questions of my own personal grief and sadness since my mother passed away eight years ago.
Sedih//Sunno can be seen as a rite of passage of accepting sadness as part of our lives. It is about reflecting on those moments and opening up to ourselves as to how they have made us who we are. At another point in the show, we are provided with smalls bells and shown a path that has four glass bowls of water. As we walk past each bowl, we ring our bell as we dunk it in and out of the water three times. Again, through the guidance of these artists we are able to acknowledge sadness and the passing of time.
So there have been some tears shed as I write this and maybe if I had written this review a few hours after I saw it rather than immediately, my response would have been slightly different, but Pramesti and her team are owed our honesty and should be aware of the poignant experience with which they have provided people. Pramesti’s mother says in a recorded conversation that “life is beautiful and unplanned”, but you really should plan to see Sedih//Sunno before it sells out.
Image by Daniela Rodriguez