Up Close: Natasha Tontey
By HG Masters
Mythologies of the modern state feature founding fathers, independence fighters, and military generals, often hailing from a dominant ethnic group, who anchor hypermasculine cultures in societies today. In Natasha Tontey’s video and installation Garden Amidst the Flame (2022), the artist flips the script on these nationalist patriarchal formulas. While researching the Christian-majority Minahasa (or Manado) culture of northern Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, Tontey participated in the Karai ritual, in which men are symbolically dressed in invincible armor for tribal wars. There, she became interested in “destabilizing and reconfiguring” what she calls the “heternormative playground” of the Minahasan cosmos. The artist’s ensuing 27-minute video begins with close-ups in a pink-light-saturated room of Jesus and Mary tchotchkes and magazine cutouts of media icons Timothée Chalamet and Britney Spears, and introduces Virsay, the protagonist who is shaving her eyebrows with bedazzled fingernails. An observing younger sister presages events to come, referring to a legend that those without eyebrows can see ghosts.