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Making and installation

This installation consists of 16 larger-than-life-size standing figures made from terracotta powder mixed with fibreglass resin, each holding pieces of clothing which are shaped into empty figures. The clothing is made of cloth and resin. Some are the clothes of adults, others, of children, with 23 pieces in all.

To make They give evidence Dadang formed clay models of a male and female figure, which he then cast in plaster. He did not include holes for the eyes or lips on the original clay models; these details were added individually to each figure once he had finished casting. Thus, each face has a slightly different expression.

The clothing shells are made of real, everyday clothes and are actually those worn by Dadang, his wife, their son and daughter, yet they represent those worn by people in general. To make the pieces, he first packed the garments with newspaper to give them shape, and then painted the fabric itself with a few coats of fibreglass resin. Dadang’s wife once remarked that Dadang seemed to be running out of clothes to use in this work and had even taken one of her favourite skirts to display without her knowing!

Overall it took Dadang, with an assistant, six months to make this work. He was further helped by some villagers who were familiar with the ground-brick mixture applied as they used it themselves on buildings.(1)

When installed, the figures rigidly stand in a grid formation, all facing the same direction, as though giving evidence at a tribunal. This formation also gives the opportunity – in fact welcomes – the viewer to walk among the figures and observe them close up, as individuals. This proximity enables viewers to experience a sense of compassion for what these figures represent and the sorrow which is imbued in them.

These figures are silent. Their mouths are open but nothing is spoken. Are they trying to say something about what has occurred or does their oppression only silence them further? It is in such silence that the worst violence occurs. The figures represent the voiceless masses, although their plump bodies have the capacity to hold a large heart, and their strength and equality lie here. Yet the fact that they are made of clay lends to their fragility. Dadang makes direct references to the 9th-century Indonesian Amitabha Buddha similar to the one in the Art Gallery of NSW collection, in his use of materials (resembling the stone andesite) to the shape and form of the shoulders. He also tried to create in his figures a sense of the serenity and spirituality of the Buddha himself. The figures are not only a representation of the ‘earth’, but also of ‘victims holding victims’; those who have disappeared and those who are left behind to grieve.

Dadang has noted that the clothes his figures hold are not the figures’ own but represent those left by the body and soul of those who once wore them. Yet the flow and ‘continuity between old and new violence’, of people disappearing, brings another pervasive silence once they are gone.(2)

(1) Sue Ingham, ‘Witnesses from Indonesia’, TAASA Review, vol 12, no 4, Dec 2003, p22
(2) Dadang quoted in Wiyanto 2003


Issue for consideration

  • Taking into account the formal qualities of this work such as materials, process, arrangement of forms and scale, determine how the artist communicates his intentions.