Balinese painter Prajna Dewantara, has often spoken about her experience of being a sexual violence survivor. In her work, she dives deeper into her trauma through metaphorical expressions and a technique of realism, addressing the style of Neo-Chiaroscuro in which vibrant colours are obscured by a black shadow that dominates the painting. For her, this portrayal “aims to represent the beauty and tenderness of a veiled wound.” She has exhibited in renowned spaces such as ArtJakarta, Museum MACAN, and Uma Artspace Bali.In

In one of her most recent pieces, Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra she has depicted the Hindu mythology of Draupadi’s public disrobing in which Lord Krishna interfered by bestowing his miracles upon her, making sure that there was always cloth to cover her body no matter how hard the perpetrator of this violence tried to pull. Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra’s depiction of this Hindu mythology in which Lord Krishna prevented sexual violence from happening goes to show how the artist was able to rely on Hindu spirituality to navigate her trauma, reflecting on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality and Good Health And Well-Being. 

Prajna Dewantara with her piece Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra. Image courtesy of @prajna.dewantara/Instagram.

The oil and acrylic on the canvas piece depict a person with a naked feminine body standing in front of a mandala. Their face and private parts have been fully covered by a single continuous cloth. This very cloth is binding their hands together. The figure, cloth, and mandala are all illuminated by the same purple, teal, and pink hue as if they have had their photograph taken while bathed in lights of those colours. The hues and veiled forms, featured in Dewantara's Bloom in Gloom series and her embrace of neo-chiaroscuro (strong contrasts between light and dark), have a recurring presence. Reflecting Dewantara's identity as a sexual violence survivor and advocate, these colours, purple and teal symbolize domestic violence awareness and sexual assault awareness respectively.

Bloom in Gloom V: The Safest Hiding Place by Prajna Dewantara. Image courtesy of @prajna.dewantara/Instagram.

The piece’s title Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra, gives the viewers clues as to how they should interpret what they are witnessing. The first half of the title, “Draupadi Vastraharan,” refers to an episode in the Hindu script, Mahabharata, in which Draupadi, the wife to the five Pandava brothers, was subjected to the act of public disrobing after one of her husbands lost in a game of dice. There have even been accounts of how Draupadi was violated before she was publicly humiliated, as she is said to have been dragged into a public court with blood-stained garments.

The story ends with Lord Krishna, the Hindu deity of love, compassion, and protection, bestowing His miracles onto Draupadi. He made it so that perpetrators of this violence were never able to get the garment which covered Draupadi’s body off of her. This coincides with the second half of the piece’s title, “Moola Mantra,” which is a Hindu prayer that asks for protection and freedom from all sorrow and suffering to God, much like Draupadi did when Krishna bestowed his miracles.

Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra by Prajna Dewantara. Image courtesy of @prajna.dewantara/Instagram.

However, in Dewantara’s piece, it is unclear whether or not this violence has already occurred, but the figures tied hands may just allude to how it already has. The shrouded figure stands in front of a mandala as if showing exactly what is going through their mind. In Hinduism and Buddhism, mandalas are diagrams meant to symbolize sacred rites, prayers, and meditation, in this case, it could be a representation of the Moola Mantra the figure is chanting. Should the figure be read as Draupadi, her Hindu spirituality is giving her strength to fight the violence she is subjected to. 

“Do not mistake my silence for weakness, for I am biding my time and preparing to strike. […]I am not afraid to stand alone, for I trust in my abilities and have faith in my destiny. I am not just a survivor, but a thriver who has triumphed over adversity,” Dewantara said in an Instagram post with the art piece, showing how she was able to rely on her spirituality and faith to persevere through the stigma and adverse effects of sexual violence.

Draupadi Vastraharan: Moola Mantra by Prajna Dewantara exhibited in Amuya Gallery. Image courtesy of @prajna.dewantara/Instagram.

Overall, the title of this piece combines Draupadi's story with the Moola Mantra prayer, inviting viewers to interpret the artwork as a narrative of strength and spiritual resilience against adversity. Through Dewantara's work, she emerges not just as a survivor but a thriver, guided by faith and spirituality in overcoming the profound impact of sexual violence.

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