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Open Access Indonesia’s Jemek Supardi: From pickpocket to mime artist

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Indonesia’s Jemek Supardi: From pickpocket to mime artist

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image of Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s leading mime artist, Jemek Supardi, is a former pickpocket and grave-digger. Based in the key centre of Indonesian performative arts, the city of Yogyakarta, Central Java, Jemek is an active member of several artistic troupes and he is a collaborator, friend and acquaintance of many within the closely-knit arts-scene, which in terms of diversity and sheer volume of performances, is unique in Indonesia. Although mime is a niche art-form in Indonesia, Jemek’s self-taught skill as a pantomime artist is clearly evident and his reputation as a professional is second-to-none, particularly in Yogyakarta. This article examines key elements of Jemek’s performative milieu, including his use of mime and silence as a mode of cultural and political expression and his use of white face-paint as an expression of solidarity with the Javanese proletariat. The link between the personal and political elements of Jemek’s artistic practice will also be examined, simultaneously highlighting the difficulty of applying any particular theoretical template onto his life and art.

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