zavé martohardjono is a queer, non-binary trans, Indonesian-American artist. Born in Tiohtià:ke territory (Montréal, CA) in 1984, zavé grew up in the lands of the Cayuga (Ithaca, NY), Massachusett (Boston, MA), and Munsee Lenape (Queens, NY). They have lived in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY) since 2006. zavé studied Political Economy at Brown University before heading to CUNY City College to study documentary filmmaking. Since 2008, zavé has been making experimental films. And since 2010, they have danced for experimental choreographers including Mariangela Lopez, J Dellecave, and Ximena Garnica among others. zavé produced community-based and devised theater with queer and trans artists and NYC activist organizations before embarking on choreographing and directing their own performance works.
zavé’s performances have been presented at the 92Y, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, BAAD!, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Boston Center for the Arts, Center for Performance Research, EFA Project Space, El Museo del Barrio, Gibney Dance, HERE Arts, Issue Project Room, Movement Research, Storm King Art Center, Wendy’s Subway, the Wild Project, WOW Café Theater, Malastanica in Skopje, Macedonia, and elsewhere. They have exhibited at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Asian Arts Initiative, Bronx River Art Center Gallery, Center for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, George Washington University, Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, SOMArts Gallery, and Winslow Garage.
zavé has been a 2022 MRX/Movement Research Exchange program artist in Skopje, Macedonia, 2021 NYPL Dance Research Fellow, a 2019 Movement Research Artist-in-Residence, a 2020 Gibney Dance-in-Process resident, 2017-2018 LMCC Workspace Resident, a 2011 EMERGENYC artist, and has had residencies at the Bronx Museum, Shandaken: Storm King, Gibney Work Up 3.3, and Chez Bushwick.
Their work has been written about in BOMB Magazine, Brooklyn Rail, Culturebot, Hyperallergic, and The New York Times. And zavé’s writing has been published in Imagining: A Gibney Journal, The Dancer Citizen, and in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics.
Dedicated to community-driven justice, they lead social justice strategy both in and outside the art world. Since 2017, zavé has been a Dance/NYC Symposium committee member.
A mixed-race Indonesian-American artist, I live between my assimilation and my Javanese ancestry. My queer, transgender, non-binary body performs multiple border-crossings. My performances celebrate liminality and non-linear storytelling and explore legacies of colonial empire. I employ non-Western dance and mythology to unwind colonial conditioning.
I am concerned with the question of whether, and how, embodied healing and anti-colonial storytelling can be used to de-condition the body and untangle entrenched assimilation. With this core question in mind, I make dance improvisation works, experimental theater, multimedia installations, and performance art that address and subvert political histories.
My research process is cross-cultural — drawing largely from Southeast Asian mythology, archetypes, and parables I grew up hearing from my Indonesian family. I develop archetypal characters and drop them into contemporary performance environments to bridge past and present socio-political questions.
Mythology in particular offers expansive space to pose ethical and political questions about our contemporary world by experimenting with timeless parables. My creative process is cross-cultural, drawing largely from the Southeast Asian mythology of my childhood. I reinvent and queer mythological characters from Indonesian dance-theater and epics like the Mahabharata. These include a Balinese witch queen named Rangda, an animal figure of protection named Barong, and Mahabharata protagonists Arjuna and Karna. I grew up watching these characters’ dances and shadow puppet sagas when traveling home to Indonesia. Subverting these figures allows me to reframe the contemporary art spaces I operate in so that I can insert my identity and my cultural understandings of what dance, performance, and storytelling are.
My works are a space for cross-cultural production. My film autogeography: a kind of beginning, my play brother lovers, and my project TERRITORY, all feature mythological characters for whom I create masks, costume, headdresses, and performance objects mixing together Balinese, Javanese, Commedia del’arte, and contemporary queer and drag aesthetics and forms. The characters in these three works appear in bright neon costume and masks that at once reference and redefine traditional Indonesian artistry. I play with and subvert gender norms and offering a queer reimagining of these figures and the traditional stories they come from.
My practice draws topically from geopolitics and social justice, and aesthetically from queer glam and club culture. I consider embodied healing core to my choreographic practice. I value dance for pleasure and improvisation as an “untrained” choreographer who grew up dancing in the parks, clubs, and concert venues of New York City. My work operates in the realms of liminality, ambiguity, complexity, and transmutability reflecting my non-binary ethnic, racial, and gender identities and honoring the perspectives and desires of the Queer/Trans, transnational, and People of Color communities I’m embedded in.
I share my choreographic practices in my workshop LIMINAL BODIES: Internal Practices for Unwinding Empire. This workshop draws from a variety of artistic and healing practices (including authentic movement, Butoh, Qi Gong, Skinner Releasing Technique) and shapes these movement practices with radical, anti-colonial, feminist political education, prompting a complicated question: How can we encounter settler colonialism as well as histories of resistance to empire through our bodies — bones, organs, fluids, and flesh?
LIMINAL BODIES combines improvisation and healing modalities to prompt consideration of our bodies’ relationships to power and empire. Participants develop listening systems to identify assimilated and conditioned bodily habits, explore how colonization shapes how we relate to our bodies, and attune to natural technologies and ancestral knowledge. Movement prompts are inspired by activist, anti-colonial, queer, Black/POC, non-Western, feminist political thought and organizing principles challenging imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacist systems. LIMINAL BODIES exercises encourage participation and expression, work to build anti-colonial and radical political thinking, and make room for communication and care among participants.