Artist Bayu Widodo stood in the dark during the wee hours of morning, illuminated by the yellow hue of Yogyakarta’s street lamps and the flicker of a traffic light.
His hands worked fast as he sprayed paint onto the walls of a building on the corner of Jl. Katamso and Jl. Parangtritis.
Less than 30 minutes later, a picture of a lugubrious skull with a heart symbol stamped on its forehead emerged as Bayu finished his mural.
He drew curvy lines connecting the skull to a stencil of words he had pasted prior to painting the skull, which said: “Agama antara aku dan Dia bukan aku dan mereka”(Religion is between Him and I, not them and I).
It has been a while since Bayu, whose street name is BYWDD, ventured into the streets to “bomb” walls. Street artists use the term bombing when drawing graffiti, murals, stencil art, posters, or tagging in public spaces.
The last time Bayu did a mural prior to the stencil and skull he drew on Feb. 13 was early last year during the Yogyakarta Biennale.
It was a call from a group that goes by the name of Indonesia Street Art Movement which brought Bayu to leave his mark on public spaces.
When news about violence on religious minorities — Islamic hardliner attacks on Ahmadiyah in Cikeusik that killed three Ahmadis and radicals burning churches in Temanggung — surfaced in the media, the group called for street artists to take part in a nationwide street art movement on Sunday, Feb. 13.
The street art event, focusing on humanity and pluralism, was called “Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%” (100 percent different and sovereign).
Through social network sites on the Internet such as Twitter and Facebook as well as SMSs, the group spread the word about the Sunday 13th Street Art Movement to artists across the country. In their call for action, the group stated the event on Sunday 13th was a solidarity movement initiated by street artists to respond to the “latest situation”.
“‘100% DIFFERENT AND SOVEREIGN’ — is a simple and brief call to remind everyone to continue to respect differences and keep trying to be 100 percent sovereign,” the group stated.
The call was answered. Not only by Bayu, but also by dozens of established street artists and first timers. The call was answered by an Indonesian living in Singapore, Alexander Averil, who made stickers with the tagline “Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%”. Dozens of artists in Jakarta responded too, as well as artists in Bogor, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Malang, Wonosobo and Jember. Artists in the island of Kalimantan took part in the movement as well as an artist from Tanjung Pinang.
The group posted pictures of street art on the websites Indonesiastreetartmovement.tumblr.org as well as respectastreetartgallery.com.
Artist Robot Culapo a.k.a Anggun Priambodo sprayed “Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%” on his own car.
.On respectastreetartgallery.com, Anggun was quoted as saying that his car stood side by side with white-robed Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members on Feb. 13 along Jl. Sudirman. Artist Oom Leo placed stickers on Jakarta’s electricity poles, post boxes and trash bins. One of the stickers stated: “Rather than refusing Ahmadiyah, it’s better to refuse bullets”.
Initiators of the movement were three Jakarta-based artists who refused to be identified. Their identity was not important, they said; their message is.
On a cloudy afternoon in Jakarta, the three artists told The Jakarta Post that the group had planned a street art movement for a while. They were looking into urban issues as a theme, and then the violent attacks on Ahmadiyah happened.
“We changed the theme to a more critical issue,” one of the group members said.
Another member added that the movement aspired to raise awareness about respecting differences.
“It’s a small way to turn down violence,” he said.
Back in Yogyakarta on Feb. 13, Bayu along with several friends, including Adit Here Here and Rolly LOVE hate Love, sprayed the movement’s tagline on walls.
Bayu said the idea behind the movement inspired him to take part in it. The text he had prepared for the occasion had been written in 2007.
“The moment is right given the current situation, which is dominated by blind fanaticism,” he said.
His latest works tend to feature skulls.
“This [skull] represents a person who died for love,” Bayu said. Unlike the Ahmadis who were killed during the attack, Bayu added.
“What happened then was an unnatural death.
“For me every belief, whatever it is, must be respected.”
Meanwhile, Adit Here Here, a student by day and street artist by night, painted a cat with a thought balloon saying: “I’m a president. I can only be concerned.” Adit said his mural criticized President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration handling of the attacks on religious freedom.
“This [movement] is a form of protest,” he said.
The initiators of the movement explained they wanted to emphasize the universal theme of humanity and pluralism without being burdened by one particular group’s political interests.
“We thought hard about how to create a neutral movement. It’s not about bringing SBY down or talking about Islam. We avoid political issues and religion and stick to what’s universal,” the initiator said, referring to Yudhoyono by his popular acronym.
Street artists as well as individuals who had never put their mark on the streets responded to the movement’s universal message.
Rapper Nova Ruth, who was in Malang on Feb. 13, gathered children around the neighborhood and created a “Sunday 13th” craft project with them, using post it notes and colorful markers.
Nastasha Abigail, a radio announcer in Jakarta, chose to paint one of the walls of a side street near Jl. Raya Cinere. Intrigued by her work, 10 local youth came to help her ou.
Cultural observer Hikmat Darmawan, currently in Tokyo for research, said in a telephone interview that the movement was a reflection of humans’ visual world.
“It isn’t enough to respond to violence carried out under the name of religion with theology,” Hikmat said.
The movement was a cultural guerrilla movement, he said, which explained why it was important for the initiators to remain anonymous. “There shouldn’t be any heroes.”
He added that street art was anonymous by nature.
“It’s an expression of visual art that rejects the logic of institutionalized art. It’s not meant to be collected. It’s not placed in an art temple where people have to pay a high price to see it.”
It is also a movement to reclaim public spaces from corporations and politicians that places billboards and advertisements there.
Hikmat said street art was a movement that connected directly with the public. Artists responded to the current events through visual art “with an expectation that the art will crate an aesthetic and intellectual sensation”.
“It works directly with emotional sensation,” Hikmat said.
According to Hikmat, the street art movement was not directed solely at the government. “It’s not an institutionalized political movement. Their statement or movement does not attempt to change how the state acts,” he said. “The purpose is to provoke a shift in perspective, to provide an alternative idea to society,” he said.
The main message of the street art movement, Hikmat said, was directed at the public.
In a similar light, Bayu said the movement wouldn’t have much impact on those in power if it was done in public places. Artists need to choose places that are more controversial than the streets to get through to the government, and get it to respond to the hardliners’ violent attacks.
“A more radical approach would be to paint at the Presidential Palace. That would be a big issue. Or at the MUI [Indonesia Ulema Council] headquarters,” he said.
“A movement if done in the public space is still considered safe.”
The initiators said the movement was aimed at reclaiming public spaces that had been “co-opted for commercial use by corporations”. It also endeavored to campaign for pluralism.
“With the theme, people have a unifying thread that purely strives for humanity and pluralism,” he said.
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta/Jakarta | Feature | Fri, February 25 2011