Women in the Northern Riau Islands

sbs-featureThe performing arts, including gender identity, were destabilized by the opening up of Natuna to large-scale gas and oil exploration in the 1970s. Approaches informed by feminist thought illustrate this by probing inequality and disparate power relations.

Karen Kartomi Thomas share’s her abstract from a Panel on Art and Culture, at the 4th International Conference on Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies 2013.

Women’s Positions of Power as Theatre Practitioners in the Twenty-First Century Riau Archipelago

Abstract

The performing arts, including gender, were destabilised by the opening up of Natuna to large-scale gas and oil exploration in the 1970s. Approaches informed by feminist thought illustrate this by probing inequality and disparate power relations. In this paper, a feminist approach to the performing arts is advocated. From being an almost inaccessible group of remote islands for at least 6 months of the year due to monsoons, movement between the islands and mainland Sumatra has increased significantly resulting from the modest beginnings of affordable flights and ferry routes. In Natuna, the social impact of gas and oil exploration cannot be divorced from the pre-existing landscape with it’s layers of gender relations in theatre, Islamic adherence and economic disparities. This paper explores the changes the people’s oral performative transmission and preservation of their art has undergone in the last 30 years. My research in Natuna’s mendu theatre in the 1984-5 and in 2012-13 suggest that the opening up of the province not only reorganised gender relations among specific performing arts’ genres due to new audience demographics and a subsequent re-evaluating of expectations and tastes in theatre. Women in theatre positioned themselves differently as actors and dance-drama elders and teachers across society and across ethnic groups.