2016 Program pt 1

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Of Love and Decomposition

Of Love and Decomposition

Leyla Stevens

Opening 01.06.16 6-8pm
Artist Talks 23.06.16 6-7pm

“The unidentified skulls and bones speak about anything but their names and identities… Their indeterminacy is part of their silence, and their silence determines their indeterminacy…Perhaps the bones refuse to reenter the world of relatives, family and property, the world of name and measure, in which skulls are forced to speak of race and rank instead of love and decomposition.”

- Hito Steyerl, Missing People: Entanglement, Superposition,
and Exhumation as Sites of Indeterminacy, 2012.

Not far from my family home in Bali there is large banyan tree that marks the intersection between a football field and the village temple. Situated between two streams of endless traffic, this site is a rare communal space that quietly resists the mindless growth of south Bali’s luxury hotels and nightclubs. What is known but never openly talked about, are the rumoured bodies from the 1965 mass killings that lie buried beneath the stretch of road running beside the banyan tree. The whispered presence of these bodies marks a silent history that underscores a topography known predominantly as a tourist destination.

When an effective regime by the state has silenced a collective trauma, what becomes forgotten and what traces remain? To conceptually situate the banyan tree site within the densely urbanised geography of south Bali is to delineate between a series of counterpoints in the history of the island. Of Love and Decomposition deals with two historical trajectories that continue to inform and contest the social geography of Bali today. It references the troubling legacy of Indonesia’s 1965-66 mass killings of alleged communists and the haunting residue of having unacknowledged grave sites lying underneath or alongside current day geography. As a countering narrative the exhibition draws from the romance of the early surf odysseys that occurred in the 1970s. It was the start of surfer tourism that eventually led into the development of mass tourism in south Bali.

Rather than attempting to directly address the violence of 1965 and its current political aftershocks, I wish to locate this event spatially, to pick it up as a heavy stone and observe its trajectory as it is thrown across the unfolding of contemporary Bali. This banyan tree site sits as a counterpoint to state endorsed histories and, as an event, exists as a counterpoint to the surfer romance in the 70s, one that continues to inform the aestheticisation of the island as paradise.


Leyla Stevens is a Sydney based artist whose practice involves photographic and video based media that shift between documentary image making and performative imaginations. Her current research focuses on social spaces and embodied practices that address transcultural histories and relations. She holds a MFA by Research from Sydney College of the Arts and since graduating in 2011 has exhibited both nationally and internationally. Group exhibitions include being selected for the 2014 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) at Artspace, 63rd Blake Prize at UNSW Galleries and the 2014 SafARI biennale. In 2015 she was awarded a Skills and Development (General) grant through the Australia Council for the Arts which was used to undertake an artist mentorship program in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is currently undertaking doctoral research at the University of Technology Sydney.