The Artwork

” Struggling to survive in a world that seems to spin away from their traditional ways, the performers opt to break away from the stage and venture into the city, no longer playing for a live audience, but for the camera. Photography offers a ‘new eye’ for the troupe’s practice, not only by placing it in a contemporary context but also by revealing the social story behind it. Marshall and Yuwono’s images both account for the performed narrative, but also for the story of the performers themselves. That’s what makes these images special and important. ”

Rodrigo Orrantia Art Historian and Project Tobong Curator

Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, CITY WALL, 2013
  1. CITY WALLYogyakarta is a city famous for it’s prolific and political street graffiti. When walking the streets of the city with actors from the Tobong, we spotted this wall and thought it would be an interesting opportunity to contrast the tradition of the Tobong’s world – represented here by the actor’s costume and makeup – with contemporary street art. We took this photograph from the other side of a busy road, whilst a worker joined the scene, it is very telling of working life in Yogyakarta.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, TRAIN STATION, 2013
  1. TRAIN STATION – Yogyakarta is a rapidly growing city undergoing many building projects. We took this shot on the platform with the cement bags and train carriage as a backdrop. The image is a metaphor, and also an experiment in colour and texture. The rusty worn-off surfaces of the train provide an extension for the costumes and traditions of the Tobong. There is a play on meaning and intention. Old and faded can also be associated with beauty and tradition. Read Professor Matthew Cohen’s response in critique
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, GAS STATION, 2013
  1. GAS STATION – The quintessential contrast between tradition and progress. The Tobong actress seems defiant set in the context of this menacing structure. The gas station becomes a symbol for modernisation, the setting for the Tobong’s current drama. This photograph had to be taken very quickly as cars were driving into the scene, the location was on the outskirts of the city, close to the current home of the Ketoprak Tobong community.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, BUILDING SITE, 2013
  1. BUILDING SITE – Two Tobong actresses are confronted, tugging a rope. Their presence denotes a duel whilst their shadows represent unity. We took this photograph of the two performers playing a tug of war with a rope on a building site soon after a heavy tropical downpour, it was an experiment, improvising with found objects in the city. The irony is apparent, although competing, they are one and the same.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, YOGYAKARTA SPECIAL REGION, 2013
  1. YOGYAKARTA SPECIAL REGION – This actor becomes a symbol of the Tobong, using these stairs as stage and pedestal. We took this photograph of the performer who lost his arms in a childhood accident on the site of a disused cultural building on the road towards Parangtritus Beach. He stands tall and embodies the struggle of the Tobong.


Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, OCEAN, 2013
  1. OCEAN –  Parangtritis is a popular tourist beach on the southern coast within the province of the Yogyakarta Special Region. It is sometimes said to be a place to meet the legendary Nyai Loro Kidul or ‘Queen of the South’. We asked the man who was walking along the shore to be in the photograph, another opportunity for the Tobong actors to interact with the modern life around them. The irony here is more subtle but still manifest, both characters are playing a part, both wearing the makeshift costume of their trade.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, DUNES, 2013
  1. DUNESParangtritis is a popular tourist beach on the southern coast within the province of the Yogyakarta Special Region. The aim of this image is to explore the stark contrast between the traditional Tobong and the modern world it has to come to terms. walking the beach at Parangtritis with the actors from the Tobong, we stopped for refreshments nearby and borrowed the drinks crate from the vendor. The hues of red make the image work chromatically and the gesture of the actor seems to mimic a king or hunter stepping on a plinth.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, FIELDS, 2013
  1. FIELDS – In the fields near the city of Yogyakarta we found an old mirror and a wheelbarrow. We asked the performers to do what they wanted for the photograph, and it was interesting to see their reaction. This is a very dramatic scene, an impromptu recreation of Indonesian tradition.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, HARVEST, 2013
  1. HARVESTRice Fields surround Yogyakarta. Social change and urban development has led many young people to stop working in the rice fields. Again, this is an experiment with improvisation, lighting and composition. The harvested rice sacks provide the contrast with the traditions of the Tobong, in this instance becoming a podium, some sort of makeshift pedestal for their singular performance.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, ABANDONED BUILDING, 2013
  1. ABANDONED BUILDINGMany buildings seem to remain uncompleted on the outskirts of Yogyakarta. For this photograph we transported and arranged the chairs from the Tobong theatre around the performer, using the green paint as a cue. It is an empty stage, the empty bucket echoes the empty seats and bare structure of the roof-less warehouse. As in ‘Dunes’ it is the colour that connects the different elements, contrasting with the traditional dress of the Tobong.
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, AIRCON, 2013
  1. AIRCON – Yogyakarta is extremely humid and has a tropical climate. Every building has air conditioning installed and these units have become ‘must have’ features of the urban landscape. We asked the performers to interact with one as if rehearsing a scene. The situation is comical and also absurd. Behind this experiment there is a interesting comment on tradition in the modern world. The scene is casual but also bears the message at the core of this project, the distancing between past and future, and the persistence of the Ketoprak Tobong. Read Professor Matthew Cohen’s response in critique
Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono, AIRPORT, 2013
  1. AIRPORT – Yogyakarta has a international airport and the planes fly low as they take off and approach over the city. We waited near the airfield for some time for this photograph to be captured with many near ‘misses’ only to begin again until we got what we had been waiting for. There is a timeless aspect in this scene, the actor aiming at the sky. There are many ways of interpreting this image, especially when thinking about the confrontation between the Tobong and the modern world around them. Read Professor Matthew Cohen’s response in critique

Project Tobong Numbers 1-12

Semi-Matt Giclée (1200 x 800mm) Edition of 5

All Rights Reserved © 2012


Helen Marshall & Risang Yuwono