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Street Art in Indonesian Social and Political Life

English | Bahasa Indonesia

Berbeda dan Merdeka 100% mural. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

Berbeda dan Merdeka 100% mural. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

An emphasis on change is consistent with Indonesian street art’s origins, but even after a period of reform, the scene continues to expand.
Angry Birds and Thomas Stamford Raffles murals, Sigaluh, Banjarnegara, Central Java, 2012. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

Angry Birds and Thomas Stamford Raffles murals, Sigaluh, Banjarnegara, Central Java, 2012. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

Guntur mural at the Institut Kesenian Jakarta, 2008. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

Guntur mural at the Institut Kesenian Jakarta, 2008. Photo: Andi Rharharha, courtesy Indonesian Street Art Database

Some people pass in front of a building. Architecturally, there is nothing special about the place, but in the eyes of photographer Cas Oorthuys,1 its walls frame a significant moment of struggle in the life of his country. In Oorthuys’s shot, a large mural declares: “FREEDOM is the GLORY OF ANY NATION. INDONESIA for INDONESIANS!” The image, along with others taken by the same observer around 1945, is one of the earliest documents of graffiti in Indonesia. Tracing the history of Indonesian street art is no easy task—lack of public appreciation has resulted in a dearth of archived material—but the movement has played an important role in various instances of national social and political turmoil nonetheless.

Sited as it is in a densely populated area, the kind of work that Oorthuys’s photograph records has long been both a means of mass communication and a valuable propaganda tool. And while in the mid-’40s, street art was still far from being named as such, the slogan’s anticolonialist theme neatly summarizes the form’s ongoing revolutionary potential. A similar emphasis was discernible in 1998 when the student movement overthrew President Suharto’s Orde Baru (New Order)—the uprising was accompanied by a flowering of strident street art. A group of artists in Yogyakarta called Taring Padi,2 for example, created several murals demanding that Suharto step down.

This emphasis on change is consistent with Indonesian street art’s origins, but even in 2012, after a period of reform, the scene continues to expand. One group, Respecta Street Art Gallery (RSAG),3 has even established an alternative way to disseminate the ideas associated with their medium. But while this project may alter the context in which the work it gathers together is seen, its emphasis on urban social, political, and cultural issues is consistent with the movement’s general thrust.

On February 13, 2011, RSAG and several other street art groups took part in Jakarta Sunday Street Art Movement,4 held simultaneously in twenty Indonesian cities and in Singapore. The event, now better known as the Berbeda dan Merdeka 100% movement,5 is dedicated to fighting for national human rights and diversity, and has had an enormous impact. But in spite of the relative fame of such group identities, individual practitioners of street art in Indonesia are always anonymous, and their works inherently ephemeral—an image made today could be excised or replaced tomorrow.

Fundamentally different from art forms designed purposely for the context of a museum or gallery, street artirsts must then take a different path to a wider audience by producing effective documentation. With this in mind, RSAG has supported the establishment of the Indonesian Street Art Database (ISAD),6 a network of independently managed, community-based efforts toward a more effective historicization of the form that, in conjunction with a general growth of interest in the genre, should make Indonesian street art much more accessible not only to the passerby, but also to the researcher.

Leonhard Bartolomeus is Editor-in-Chief of the Indonesian Street Art Database (ISAD).

  1. Cas Oorthuys was a photographer who pictured Indonesia’s struggle for independence, his images becoming authentic evidence of the population’s struggle against colonialism.
  2. Collaborative artists’ group Taring Padi is well know for its criticism of dictatorship in Indonesia, especially the regime of President Soeharto.
  3. Respecta Street Art Gallery was developed with the aim of promoting communication between and about Indonesian street artists and their ideas.
  4. A blog about Indonesian street art is maintained here.
  5. Berbeda dan Merdeka 100% was a tag line that become a social movement, developed in response to discrimination in Indonesia.
  6. Indonesian Street Art Database (ISAD), perhaps the only new media forum for the archiving and documentation of Indonesian street art, is based at Komplek Paminda Jl.Bambu Ampel 3 D15A, Pasar Minggu, Jakarta Selatan 12520.

Does street art’s classification as such help or hinder its political ambitions?

  • http://www.facebook.com/cherryinpop Rachel Faradila

    So many misleading info about what really happening here. There are so many communities active in archiving and gathering documentation about Indonesian street art, not only ISAD. Several names should be mentions are:

    http://www.20grand.co.cc/
    http://www.urbancult.net/lokasi
    http://karambaartmovement.tumblr.com/

    The necessity to say it here is that most of their data is ACCESSIBLE to the wide general public. On another part, are you sure ISAD is independent? I thougt they are supported by HIVOS’ ciptamedia?

    • http://www.facebook.com/siska.doviana Siska Doviana

      Wikimedia Indonesia Cipta Media, HIVOS has nothing to do with it. ISAD is
      independent, Cipta Media don’t tell them what to do, they want to do it
      themselves, Cipta Media only funded them, and since I’m doing the
      calculation am pretty sure that neither of them got rich. See spending
      in here:
      http://ciptamedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_Street_Art_Database/Laporan_Penggunaan_Dana
      and see their report in here:
      http://ciptamedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_Street_Art_Database/Laporan :p

      • http://www.facebook.com/cherryinpop Rachel Faradila

        it’s a good article and I admire of what Respecta and ISAD is doing.
        But there’s some statements here are misleading and I’m commenting to
        make corrections I’m not talking about the content but the detail
        that was written as a statement to support the content. Those three
        links I posted before are just several from many other communities in
        Indonesia that independently build and share their database free and
        accessible to the public through the internet. I posted it here as to
        respond of reference no.6 on your article.

        as for the link to datasheet to ciptamedia, who said anything about
        richness?

        i’m merely asking about independencies that was stated as part of the
        article. i don’t know if the meaning of independent has changed or we
        simply we have different comprehension of what independent is, but
        referring at this: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/independent to
        what your respond is, I guess I just have to satisfy with the
        differences.

        • http://www.facebook.com/leonhard.bartolomeus Leonhard Bartolomeus

          Well.. I got your point and many thanks for your information, it give more information to the readers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonhard.bartolomeus Leonhard Bartolomeus

    Well, I am so sorry if I’m didn’t mention other communities here. The point that I focusing in here is the progress of Indonesian Street Art history and I asscociate it with the movement of Berbeda Merdeka 100%. Maybe it is better if there is another article that focusing on the development of Indonesian street art scene. And about the independent or not, maybe you can discussed it with the director.

  • Pingback: Indonesian Street Art Database: Data Agar Perjuangan di Jalan Tidak Terlupakan | Cipta Media Bersama()

  • MichaelJWilson

    Here’s a question: Does street art’s sociopolitical thrust restrict its formal development? Physical context aside, much street art appears aesthetically rather conventional. Is this characteristic, which would seem to result from a desire for immediate visibility and broad accessibility, problematic? Or am I comparing apples and oranges by implying that street art might confront some of the same histories and potentialities as “gallery” art?

  • cicilia

    i think that’s art or grafiti in indonesia is real
    becoz that’s a popular vote in order baru since mr. soeharto