Rachmi Diyah Larasati PhD
Drawing on historiography using critical ethnography and the theorization of dancing my scholarly work expands prevailing conceptualizations of the moving, dancing body. I seek to elucidate, among other things, the dual-edged allure and potentiality of dance: frequently deployed as a tool of state power to enact the erasure of historical violence, it simultaneously provides access to mobility and a certain space for the negotiation of identity and female citizenship.
My first book, The Dance that Makes You Vanish: Cultural Reconstruction in Post Genocide Indonesia (March 1, 2013, Univ of MN Press), juxtaposes analysis of government-enforced cultural policy with memories of my years as an Indonesian state dancer; one who, unbeknownst to the authorities, came from a family of accused communists. In the brief period from late 1965 to early 1966, approximately 1 million Indonesians––including a large percentage of the country’s left-leaning musicians, dancers, and artists––were killed, arrested, or disappeared as then-general Suharto took control of the nation, implanting his “New Order“ regime, which would rule for the next thirty years. Looking back on the New Order from the context of the present, I expose the highly complex relationships between artistic traditions, local dancing bodies, and the Indonesian state since 1965. I interrogate the ways in which female dancers have been dealt with by the state: vilified, punished, and made to disappear, then replaced with new, idealized, state-aligned bodies. In my analysis, dancing bodies seeking to challenge prevailing paradigms of historical memory must constantly navigate the paradox of speaking through the aestheticized, ideological language of the politically and economically dominant in order to mobilize the interests of the local or the suppressed.
In my current scholarship, I expand the scope of my work on the effects of Politics of the "international" and globalization to examine local aesthetic engagement with the contemporary paradigms of international law arising from the specific political and ethical concerns of the Neoliberal. Here, I explore the ways in which questions of aesthetic consumption (the rights and obligations to practice, preserve, and protect arts as “intangible“ aesthetic “property“) negate, reproduce, and potentially reformulate the ideas of diaspora, nationalism, multiculturalism, and cultural translation. In the process I engage the ever-more critical issue of the growing limitations on the rights and “ownership“ claimed by participants and cultural inheritors with regard to local dance forms.
I am currently writing my second book (Dancing in the Forest: Modern Machine and Audio Politics of Land Narrative). My forthcoming writing in 2016 includes: From Che to Guantanamera: Decolonizing the Corporeality of the Displaced (Series: Kilombo: International Relations and Colonial Questions); The Rethinking of Remembering, Who Lays Claim to Speech in the Wake of Catastrophe, and Is It Important? in Surviving Genocide: Politics of Representation (Routledge/ Max Planck); The Dancing Goddess: Ecological Memory, Technique and the Inquiry of Value in Globalized Space. (Smithsonian, Washington DC).
Focusing on dancing and the specific site that capture the idea of displacement through dispossession, this research bridges my interest to look at the community of color of the US and former colonized spaces.
Through the medium of dance practice and choreography, I employ the performative context of the stage to further explore and express the political, historical and theoretical issues that I engage with in my writing. In this sense, projects and performances such as Dancing the Violent Body of Sound (Univ of Minnesota, May 2009), Culture of War Borders (UCR, 2011) or Tembok Mari Bicara (Talk to the Wall Yogyakarta 2008, with guest dancer/choreographer Setyastuti) are produced in conversation with my written work. This dialogic relationship between theory and practice has grown out of, and consistently informed, my approach to the fields of dance studies, ethnography and historiography, and critical theory. I work to engage with, and call attention to, the particular problematic of dance as ensnared in local and global political economies of aesthetics, driven by broader networks of alliances, Feminist and Transnationalism, Capitalist mode of production and inquiry of power structures and desire.