Dua Dunia

Leyla Stevens

Opening Event: Friday 5 February, 6.30pm-8.30pm
RSVP essential: admin@psas.com.au


Leyla Stevens is an Australian-Balinese artist based in Sydney. Moving image, photography and objects all play a role in the artist’s engagement with historical memory, places and archives. Part of an ongoing investigation into Bali’s transcultural geographies and the hidden histories that serve to destabilise its construction and representation as an island paradise, Dua Dunia is the first solo exhibition in Boorloo/Perth by Leyla Stevens. Focused upon the 1965-1966 anti-communist purges this exhibition examines the persistence of trauma that emanates from the unacknowledged and haunting presence of mass graves in Bali, buried beneath the touristic and increasingly urbanised topology – Kuta beach as both tourist Mecca, and also a site of psycho-geographical wounding.
The exhibition centres around Kidung, a three-channel video installation, newly reimagined for PS Art Space. In this work, a ballad of witness and testimony, sung by Cok Sawitri, is interwoven with the image of the banyan tree. The site of a mass grave in south Bali, this banyan tree is a record of time, a marker of unseen spirit activity, and witness to the island’s hidden histories. Extending this living archive beyond the site of Bali, to acknowledge the artist’s own history of migration and existence in that ‘in-between’ space, the banyan tree can be read as a palimpsest of time and space. The banyan tree, one of more than 750 species of fig trees, has itself experienced migration and displacement. Though the banyan tree is swept up within ecological and colonial flows, becoming a form of ‘memory without borders’, it resists ossification in the narratives of cultural globalisation. Its
dendrochronological record cannot betray the geographic, political and cultural groundings of its
historical past. The banyan tree, like the process of migration itself, is capable of expanding our
horizons of time and space beyond the local to encompass a global future.
Dua Dunia recognises the palimpsestic nature of Bali: the deep memories of violence and genocide,
erased and reconstructed through political suppression and foreign investment, to recast the island as a
tourist commodity. This plural notion underpins Stevens’ work, the historiographical nature of which
concerns itself largely with the absent other of Bali’s history – the unseen, immaterial and non-human
spectres that populate the island’s cultural landscape. The hybridity of the island supports the creation
of a hierarchy within these constructions, scaffolded by the broader global systems of economics and
geopolitics. Within this structure, smaller, more localised narratives become obfuscated or erased –
the essentialising narrative of Bali as peaceful paradise, enshrined through tourism, obscuring that it is
also a haunted place.
Employing the methodology of ‘late’ photography, described by David Campany, Dua Dunia addresses tensions of visibility within topographies of trauma, the politics of remembrance and forgetting held within the image itself, and the palimpsestic capacity of place. By interweaving official and unofficial histories of 1965 with parallel narratives concerning the island’s development, tourism, the environment and globalisation; Stevens presents a counter narrative to the political innocence and romanticism of Bali in the Australian imagination. Making visible the connections between disparate histories and visible topographies – a banyan tree and the missing dead – Dua Dunia navigates historical memory through a spectral cartography, serving to re-frame Bali’s invisible landscapes as expanded archives of place.
Dua Dunia has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.