Liku: Off and On Stages is an initiative of researching and archiving Liku's character in dramatari Arja. Dramatari Arja is a traditional Balinese opera performance that is staged at religious ceremonies and artistic events in Bali villages. The composition is complex, consisting of dances, songs, and music that are performed continuously by the characters. The longest performances last up to 5 hours. Each character represents the trait and social status of the people in everyday life. Their roles are to present and carry out the plot on stage. The story comes alive because there is a dialogue process between the audiences and the actors. The plot ideas are coming from Balinese everyday experience. The stories and contents are adapted to the context of the area in which they perform.
Liku is one of the iconic characters in the dramatari Arja. She is silly, outspoken, energetic, smart, deft, and a reckless princess. This female character is played either by a feminine man, cross-dresser, and/or transgender. The performances involving Liku are held at ceremonies at the temples, cultural festivals in public spaces, also entertainment stages in traditional weddings, tooth-pilling, birthday banquet, and engagement reception. Liku openly talks about sexuality and/or a general issue such as a community service.
Kepala Putik perceives the dramatari Arja as a safe space for gender expression outside of heteronormativity. The audiences, who are then considered to be the society who perpetuate its norms, accept the concept. During its practice progression, Liku has become a long-awaited icon. The appearance of the character focuses more on making fun of it. This is still giving the space but contributes to the justification of sexism and stigma.
In this context, dramatari Arja stage accepts gender expressions out of heteronormativity only to turn it down. This depicts the truth in real life, on how heteronormative perceives the spectrum of gender expressions.
This performative form is the most engaging in Balinese society. They live collectively and based on custom social organization. They like to watch this kind of live performance so they can collectively share the experiences just like their daily practice. Here, they can laugh their sorrow or talk taboo things lightly. Here, is a safe space for the people.
Kepala Putik questioned how the Liku character was actually created and performed? How was it developed or changed based on the era? How do Balinese folklore, dramatari Arja, and society perceive the spectrum of gender expressions? Who is Liku?
What if, Liku actor has space to write the whole play? In another word, given a chance to challenge heteronormativity, sexism, and stigma? What kind of jokes will be produced? How will the audiences relate to it?
Part of this project is funded by ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and Voice under the Southeast Asia Queer Cultural Festival (SEAQCF) 2021: "Be/Longings". As part of Project Liku, a research and archiving of Liku’s character in dramatari Arja by Kepala Putik.