Taking humanity and pluralism to the streets

Debutant: Radio announcer Nastasha Abigail’s version of Sunday 13th Street Art Movement’s slogan stands out in block letters on a wall at Jl. Cinere Raya in Jakarta. The Feb. 13 movement gave Abigail the momentum to paint a mural in public space for the first time.
Debutant: Radio announcer Nastasha Abigail’s version of Sunday 13th Street Art Movement’s slogan stands out in block letters on a wall at Jl. Cinere Raya in Jakarta. The Feb. 13 movement gave Abigail the momentum to paint a mural in public space for the first time.


Debutant: Radio announcer Nastasha Abigail’s version of Sunday 13th Street Art Movement’s slogan stands out in block letters on a wall at Jl. Cinere Raya in Jakarta. The Feb. 13 movement gave Abigail the momentum to paint a mural in public space for the first time.
Debutant: Radio announcer Nastasha Abigail’s version of Sunday 13th Street Art Movement’s slogan stands out in block letters on a wall at Jl. Cinere Raya in Jakarta. The Feb. 13 movement gave Abigail the momentum to paint a mural in public space for the first time.

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

Fear of the religious starts early

From the beginning: Children study in groups at an elementary school in Jakarta. Proselytizing in Indonesia’s public schools is on the rise, recent studies have shown. JP/J. Adiguna
From the beginning: Children study in groups at an elementary school in Jakarta. Proselytizing in Indonesia’s public schools is on the rise, recent studies have shown. JP/J. Adiguna

Although Indonesia has long been a melting pot of religious and ethnic groups, differences in faith still breed curiosity, fear and even animosity.

When Kelik Wicaksono opened the door of his house to two leaders of his neighborhood one Saturday morning, he didn’t expect to hear the kind of news the two men brought him.

Kelik and his wife, both Christians, had been giving English lessons to children in their neighborhood in Pondok Cabe, South Jakarta, every Saturday afternoon.

“It was a very sad moment. The men came to tell us that two local ulemas from another village had voiced their concerns about the content of our class,” Kelik said.

“They were afraid because my faith is different from theirs. And they were worried I was teaching [the children] something else,” he said.

In fact, ulemas and neighborhood leaders were so concerned they held a meeting about the class at the sub-district level.

“What I don’t understand is why didn’t they come to me personally instead of talking behind my back and having a meeting about it?” he said.

The class, Kelik said, teaches children English in a fun way. Sometimes the 15 to 30 children, who are all Muslims, learn to sing and dance, other times they make origami artwork.

When the news of the day was the conflict between the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), students took part in discussions on that topic. When asked what the duties of the police were, one of the girls in the classroom answered with certainty: “to catch the KPK”.

“Our class is very secular,” he said. “What we can see from it [the class], is that children are now more courageous and confident… because our class is very laid back,” he said.

Kelik and his wife are still holding the class and will meet with the neighborhood leaders to discuss how to address their concerns.

A few children have stopped coming to the class after their parents forbade them to do so.

“The children said, ‘They say you’re teaching us Christian sholat’,” Kelik said. Sholat is the Muslim prayer ritual.

Religious minorities are still persecuted in parts of the country, with certain groups more prone to having their freedom of worship violated.

While permission to build a mosque, the place of worship for Muslims, is easily attained, given the majority of people in Indonesia are Muslim, Christians at times find it more difficult to build their own places of worship.

Last March, Depok mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail revoked the building permit for a Batak Protestant church in Limo, Depok. Last month, a mob burned down two Protestant churches and the home of a pastor in North Sumatra.

Kelik said he had talked to people around his neighborhood and found they were afraid of Christianization.

When it comes to Islamization however, people remain tightlipped and the state will rarely take any action to stop it, said Jajat Burhanudin, the head of the Center for Islamic and Society Studies (PPIM) at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

According to Jajat, some public schools and universities are becoming hotbeds for radical Islamic thinking, with student religious groups preaching intolerant behavior towards people from different religions.

Jajat added that compartmentalized religious education in public schools and the conservative attitude of religious studies teachers contributed to religious intolerance in Indonesian schools.

In 2008, PPIM did a survey involving 500 Islamic studies teachers in Java and found that most teachers were opposed to pluralism, tending toward radicalism and conservatism. The worrying results speak for themselves.

The study shows 62 percent of the surveyed Islamic teachers, including those from Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – the country’s two largest Muslim organizations – rejected the notion of having non-Muslim leaders.

Almost 70 percent of the respondents were opposed to non-Muslims becoming their school principle and close to 35 percent were against having non-Muslim teachers at their schools.

Around 75 percent of the teachers didn’t want followers of other religions to build their houses of worship in their neighborhoods, the survey found.

Eighty five percent of teachers prohibit their students from celebrating big events perceived as Western traditions, while 87 percent tell their students not to learn about other religions.

In addition, 48 percent of the teachers would prefer female and male students to be separated into different classrooms.

The survey also shows 75 percent of the respondents had asked their students to call on non-Muslim teachers to convert to Islam, while 61 percent reject new Islamic sects.

In line with their strict beliefs, 67 percent said they felt more Muslim than Indonesian.

The majority of respondents also supported the adoption of sharia law in the country to help fight crime.

According to the survey, almost 60 percent of the respondents were in favor of rajam (stoning) as a punishment for all kinds of crimes and almost 50 percent said the punishment for theft should be having one hand cut off, while 21 percent want the death sentence for those who converted from Islam.

Only 3 percent of the 500 surveyed Islamic studies teachers said they felt it was their duty to produce tolerant students.

Jajat said the state had failed to take measures to contain a growing radicalization of Islam in public schools.
“The seeds of conservatism start early and educational institutions have always been the place to spread a certain ideology,” he said.

Islam-based political parties are actively collaborating with high schools to create “integrated” schools, he added. “It is part of a deliberate strategy to Islamize public schools,” he said.

While religious groups should not be stopped from opening day schools or boarding schools – even if those end up spreading their ideology, Jajat said, the situation becomes a worry when proselytizing happens in public schools.

“It shouldn’t happen in public schools. The government funds public schools with tax payers’ money. All religions should be treated equally,” he said.

He said democracy and universal values should be taught at school, while “the strengthening of primordial religious identity be avoided”.

Children should be exposed to different faiths as early as possible so they become accustomed to differences in society, Jajat said.

They should also be encouraged to have interfaith dialogues or join activities with people from different faiths.
“It can be something completely unrelated to religion, like how to tackle the problem of garbage,” he said.

The Indonesian religious education system, in which students are given religious studies based on the faith they adhere to, is very compartmentalized and does not stimulate tolerance and understanding between different faiths, Jajat lamented.
“At the same time, there is no effort to make the students see beyond religious symbols,” he said.

Recently a Facebook page titled “Replace religious education in high school with studies about ethics, humanity and basic philosophy” was created. The page now has 400 fans.

When asked about the page, Jajat said he fully agreed with the message.
“Basically, we should hold on to universal values,” he said.

One of the group’s fan, Karl Karnadi, an Indonesian atheist who lives in Germany, said he supported the group because he believed the current religious education system did not promote pluralism.

“In my opinion, intolerance tends to arise when a person is only taught about one religion all of his/her life without having been given the chance to know about other religions and their followers,” he said.

“Why not use religious studies for that? Teach people about more than one religion. Teach them at least about Indonesia’s six ‘official religions’. Give children a chance to get to know different religions outside the ones they adhere to. And in a descriptive way [like Wikipedia] rather than by indoctrinating them [like at church or with Koran readings],” he said.
“That’s an interesting idea, don’t you think?” Karl mused.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, February 17 2010

Religious TV jeopardizing pluralism

Pervasive medium: Three people watch a television program in a shop at a railway station in Jakarta. Activists argue that many religious TV programs play a symbolic rather than a substantial role in religion, and tend to marginalize minority groups. JP/Nurhayati
Pervasive medium: Three people watch a television program in a shop at a railway station in Jakarta. Activists argue that many religious TV programs play a symbolic rather than a substantial role in religion, and tend to marginalize minority groups. JP/Nurhayati

A recent episode of an Islamic religious program aired on a private TV station broached the topic of tattoos, questioning whether they were haram (prohibited) or halal (allowed).

The TV show presenter then pointed his microphone to people with tattoos, asking if they knew the marks on their skin were prohibited under Islamic law.

The episode in itself begs the following questions: Was singling out people with tattoos in a religious program right or wrong?

How about other minorities whose lifestyles are not in line with certain religious teachings, such as gay men and lesbians, or people who drink alcohol?

How would broadcasting a strict right or wrong label on people affect the pluralist nature of our society?

Religious programs, which have been around since the early days of TV — when the country only had one public television station, TVRI – usually take the form of sermons delivered by ulemas, priests or Buddhist monks.

In recent years, producers of religious programs have been experimenting with reality-TV types of shows. While some shows focus on one particular topic, such as debating whether something is halal or haram and then interviewing people about the matter, others are a blend of reality shows and religious programs, with family members attempting to get their relative who has strayed from religion to return to it.

Through religious programs, TVs are bringing into everyone’s living rooms strict interpretations of religious teachings in a modern context, which could jeopardize pluralism and religious tolerance.

The head of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), Sasa Juarsa Sendjaja, said Indonesian media was generally doing a good job promoting pluralism.

“However, there are attempts, here and there, from the majority to dominate the minority,” he said.

The majority of people in Indonesia are Muslims. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has often stipulated divisive edicts or fatwa. In 2005, the MUI released an edict stating that pluralism, liberalism and religious secularism were haram.

Since then, a number of fatwas have been released, including a ban on smoking, women riding on the back motorcycles, hair straightening, hair-dyeing and on taking pre-wedding pictures.

Artist and politician Guruh Soekarnoputra said TV programs promoting intolerance reflected the changes permeating Indonesian society.

“We’re not a Pancasila country anymore,” he said, referring to the country’s principles. The country has a motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity that represents Indonesia’s pluralistic society.
KPI, Sasa said, regulates what can and cannot be broadcasted on TV.

“And one requirement is that television stations should respect pluralism. Minority groups like gay men and lesbians, not just people from different religions, should also be respected,” he said.

After all, the KPI – through the Press Board (Dewan Pers) – monitors news, entertainment or infotainment programs to ensure they adhere to a code of journalism ethics.

“For talk shows or regular television programs, we do the monitoring ourselves,” he said. “There are programs that could be construed as fuelling intolerance. But we have to see to what extent,” he said.
Director of the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), M. Syafi’i Anwar, said many religious programs on television acted more as symbols than anything else.

“Television makes sure religious programs are merely entertainment,” he said.

“The programs are artificial and symbolic. Therefore we see a lot of people go to haj but corruption is still rife; many mosques are being built while many people are still homeless,” he said.

Because programming on TV channels is driven by ratings and profits, much of the preaching or dakwah on TV is not educational, Syafi’I went on.

“Sometimes, the programs even contradict religious teachings.”

Syafi’i said dakwah should not be judgmental. “It [the preaching] should be persuasive instead.”

“Dakwah should be carried out with wisdom… meaning we should not be judgmental,” he said.

Even if religion disagrees with certain activities or attitudes, one should not be judged by them, he added.

“The only good way to preach is by highlighting role models, or leading by example, not by being judgmental.”

Islam spread across Indonesia through persuasion and dialogue, Syafi’i said. The nine wali or saints who spread Islam in Java in the 15th century used local arts and culture influenced by Hindu and Buddhist culture.

“That’s why Islam in Java has rituals such as sekaten… because of the mix of culture,” he said of the ritual welcoming the Islamic New Year.

Television is a very important media to promote pluralism, Syafi’I said. Religious leaders in TV programs should use a persuasive method that will give religion a friendly face.

Progressive Islamic scholar Maman Imanulhaq Faqieh who leads the Islamic boarding school Al-Mizan in Yogyakarta said intolerance stemmed from religious leaders applying religious teachings out of context.

“Some religious leaders lack wisdom when examining the problems plaguing society,” he said.

“Religion is supposed to be the energy that can bring change and promote messages to humanity.”

However many religious programs in Indonesia are still very shallow and do not touch the substance of complex problems in society, he said, as they have misunderstood how to apply religion to modern life.

“Therefore, [religious] TV programs now are merely judging and blaming people for society’s ills.
They do not try to delve into the problem, and in the end it alienates religion from society,” he said.

Maman said the current religious programs on television reflected a more Arabic interpretation of Islam, with preachers wearing long robes and sermonizing about strict interpretations of the religion.

When preaching religion, Ma-man said, religious leaders should focus on the liberating and emancipating aspects of the religion, and address human rights violations and other social problems in the community.

“It is time for religious leaders to tackle societal problems seriously. There should be a dialogue between religious leaders and the community, in which both parties respect and appreciate each other,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, February 10 2010