This Artist Creates Fantasies to Challenge Women's Reality

Enter the world of Nani Puspasari, a Melbourne-based Indonesian illustrator.

12 September 2018, 7:00am

All illustrations by Nani Puspasari published with permission

Reality can be bitter at times, so Nani Puspasari creates her own world instead. Nani, Melbourne-based illustrator and graphic designer says her art has developed by the changes Indonesia has experienced over the past decade. Her new series "The Feminine World" is both a challenge and a reflection of life in her home country, where women and minority groups continue to struggle despite the wins they have accumulated over the years.

“In the past I struggled to understand why we were so conservative," Nani told me. "Lots of things that I thought were fine were taboo topics in Indonesia."

The two-tone illustrations in the series are fantasies, with women as the main characters, that explore queerness, violence, identity and pop culture. These are the once-taboo topics that Nani feels she couldn't explore years ago while she was living in Indonesia. In the world that Nani's created with ink and paper, anything goes.

"It is my imaginary playground," she said. "Through it I’m able to lose myself in a weird and nonexistent world. It's my freedom of speech through the visual medium.”

The series is full symbolism through the careful placement of distinct totems, like butterflies, guns and boxing gloves. Neither an argumentative nor assertive as a person, Nani's work is rarely direct. With the symbols in her illustrations, she hopes to hint at her inner thoughts and opinions. In a way, her vague approach is influenced by her upbringing, where tough conversations about identity and politics were uncommon.

“Politics is such a sensitive topic in Indonesia," she said. "Even my parents would not talk about politics in front of me and my siblings when I was little.”

As a Chinese Indonesian woman, the May 1998 tragedy and its legacy struck a deep emotional chord in Nani. She sees the racial tensions that caused the riots, and the discrimination that Chinese Indonesians experience today as a duality.

“The racial conflict between the ethnic Chinese and [other] Indonesians gave me more understanding about diversity," she said. "It can bring either conflict or togetherness. Diversity is one of topic I would like to keep bringing up in my art. This is particularly important because I am an Asian living in Australia and I meet so many people from different backgrounds."

"The Feminine World" has feminist undertones but Nani says she's is more interested in the exposure of women’s voices and experiences, big or small, in the throes of change rather than reinterpreting feminism.

“I hope people can enjoy the weird and exciting world of women, rather than calling us complex or complicated creatures.” says Nani.

See more of Nani's work below, or check her website and Instagram.

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