Craft in Opera Jawa

Opera Jawa is an Indonesian film commissioned by Peter Sellars for Mozart’s 250th birthday. Directed by Garin Nugroho, the film claims to be the world’s first gamelan musical. Besides stunning music and ravishing scenes, Opera Jawa is a particularly interesting setting for world craft.

The plot, based on the Ramayana, involves conflict between two families. One are potters, who find the market for their wares shrinking. And the other are more aggressive dancers, who make wonderful textiles. Pottery features in remarkable ways. There’s a dance where women balance on small pots. Pots are smashed in dramatic acts of defiance. And there’s an erotic scene with the potter trying to mould his love on the wheel.

Opera Jawa shows how ‘world craft’ goes beyond the exotic trinket. Here is a powerful expression of craft as a performative medium, rather than object-making. Of course, it is ‘world craft’ or ‘world cinema’ only in the eyes of a first world audience, however that doesn’t deny the fact that it is a powerful aesthetic challenge to our own use of craft.

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