Through the kebaya
: a cross-cultural project: Indonesia and Australia

  • Victoria Ann Cattoni

    Student thesis: Masters by Research - CDU


    Through the Kebaya is a Video Performance based research project undertaken in Indonesia and Australia. It utilizes the kebaya - traditional blouse for women in Indonesia - as a tool for an exploration into constructions of cultural identity and change, in particular in relation to aspects of the 'feminine'. Constructions of feminine identity are examined within a number of different cultural contexts and geographic locations within both Indonesia and Darwin (Australia).

    The kebaya can be said to personify a certain ideal of 'femininity' within Indonesian consciousness. As the choice of national costume for women beginning during the Sukarno era of the 1940's, the kebaya has come to symbolise a particular construction of female identity signifying traditional values and roles for women. In addition to being the national dress for Indonesian women, the kebaya also functions as formal dress for occasions ranging from weddings to graduation ceremonies across Indonesia. It is the choice of daily dress for the elderly urban and rural poor in Java and is the ceremonial blouse for Balinese women, constructed from sheer netting and outlining the contours of the body in a way that challenges definitions of propriety of other cultural groups within Indonesia and abroad.

    Video Performance is used to drive this action-research based study and forms the structure for a social space in which a series of public interactions take place. A diverse group of individuals of mixed - cultural, socio-economic, religious and aged - backgrounds interact with the kebaya. They 'perform', moving through a process of self-recognition, reflection, criticism and re-construction, revealing the multiple meanings and nuances that lie beneath the kebaya. The kebaya begins to operate as a 'doorway' for an examination of femininity in relation to cultural, personal and collective identity. It becomes a tool for both expression and evaluation of cultural change of a specific time and place.

    Note: Please note that some illustrations have been removed due to copyright restrictions under author's instructions.
    Date of AwardJul 2004
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKrisna Murti (Supervisor) & Chris White (Supervisor)

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