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

‘Breakin’ the Wall’: From street art to art space

 

 Tree monster: Toy robots made of plastic waste have been placed under a banyan tree in Theater Jakarta’s open space as part of an installation by Atap Alis Community.

Tree monster: Toy robots made of plastic waste have been placed under a banyan tree in Theater Jakarta’s open space as part of an installation by Atap Alis Community.

If you make street artists who normally thrive on creating art on a deserted overpass without getting caught by authorities work in the comfort of a contained art theater’s open area, do their creations loose the free spirit of street art?

Differing opinions emerged during a press conference held last week before the opening of Jakarta Arts Council’s (DKJ) visual arts exhibition “Breakin’ the Wall: The Street Art Show”.

Curator Bambang Asrini Widjanarko invited six street art communities to exhibit their works in the form of murals, art installations, 3-D illusion paintings, and balloons at the open space of the Theater Jakarta at Taman Ismail Marzuki.

The exhibition, part of DKJ’s December program titled “Diluted Boundaries, Managing Diversity”, runs from Dec. 8 to 18.

Art community Popo and Kampung Segart created a mural criticizing the appalling quality of sinetron (soap opera) on local television. Trio Lintas Mentawai paid a tribute to the late Mount Merapi gatekeeper Mbah Maridjan by drawing a 3-D illusionist painting of a buff Mbah Maridjan falling into a burning crater.

Jakarta Art Institute’s Action Painting created a 3-D illusionist painting of imprisoned tax officer Gayus Tambunan as Santa Claus. Atap Alis, headed by Baja Panggabean, recruited children to create an art installation that serves as a political parody. Art collective Xserut also created a 3-D painting of an underground Indonesian city and Amel and friends put together a balloon installation.

In his introductory piece to the exhibition, Bambang wrote that the theme was “intended to help understand street art as an alternative attitude when choosing new possibilities for independently growing forms or art and their diverse realization on the street”.

During the press conference, he said street artists had gained acceptance in mainstream galleries around the world.

“There’s no distinction between high and low art anymore,” he said.

Word play: The words “Tiada rotan Raam Punjabi” are painted under the nose of a picture of a man. Popo and Kampung Segart are playing with the Indonesian proverb “Tiada rotan akar pun jadi”, to represent the overwhelming presence of sinetron tycoon Raam Punjabi.
Word play: The words “Tiada rotan Raam Punjabi” are painted under the nose of a picture of a man. Popo and Kampung Segart are playing with the Indonesian proverb “Tiada rotan akar pun jadi”, to represent the overwhelming presence of sinetron tycoon Raam Punjabi.

 

The theme “Breakin’ the Wall” signals the fluidity of visual art, he said.

“Everything is fluid now. Visual arts owes much to literature and theater. ‘Breaking Art’ also shows the use of other mediums than walls,” he said.

However, art critique Yusuf Hadi Susilo Hartono, editor in chief of Visual Arts magazine, was not convinced the works presented displayed the free spirit of street art. It was, he said, a “tamed” version of street art.

“There is no tension from being chased [by authorities]. It’s far from the spirit of street art,” he said, adding it was “cold”.

Art writer from Surabaya Henri Nurcahyo noted the context of the art works was missing. “Art is a combination of text and context. If you take street away from street art then the context is lost,” he said.

He suggested bringing context to the street artworks by displaying information about the locations of the artists’ work in the street.

Bambang, however, disagreed. He argued many street artists’ works around the world had entered galleries, museums, and auction houses. There is no clear definition of what and how the ideal artists and street art works are supposed to be, he added.

“And soon, the notion of resistance against everything established and the spirit of removing the boundaries between high art and low art may gradually be considered obsolete.”

Ryan Popo, the founder of Popo and Kampung Segart, said creating art in the street and in the Theater Jakarta was definitely different. “Tamed is the right word,” he said.

“It’s wilder in the street,” he said. “Here, the feel is different.”

Popo, who creates murals at Jl. TB Simatupang among other locations, said that in the street, a honk of a car, a sound of someone talking can set them on edge.

“Here, we can chat and have coffee and buy some time,” he said.

“There is also more negotiation in the process,” he said.

Despite the differing opinions, the works displayed at Theater Jakarta still hold power in humor.

Popo’s works for example consists of portraits of people with words written across their faces criticizing Indonesia’s sinetron.

The Indonesian proverb “Tiada rotan akar pun jadi”, which means be resourceful and use anything around you, was twisted into “Tiada rotan Raam Punjabi”, referring to Indonesia’s sinetron mogul.

Lintas Melawai’s work was darker as they painted a bare-chested Mbah Maridjan with the body of Hercules falling into a crater.

 

Larger than life: Members of Lintas Melawai stand on the 3D illusionist painting titled In Maridjan We Trust.
Larger than life: Members of Lintas Melawai stand on the 3D illusionist painting titled In Maridjan We Trust.

“Mbah Maridjan is someone who held much responsibility,” Sukadi Prabhu Suti said. “That’s why we painted him in the body of Hercules,” he said. “He is someone who was pious but also held on to Javanese traditions,” he said.

Atap Alis, an artist collective that opened a learning studio for children, worked with children to create toys from waste. They place the toys under a banyan tree as a political parody of the sign of Golkar, the political party that ruled during the New Order regime.

Head of DKJ Firman Ichsan said that this month’s theme on managing diversity aimed to increase people’s awareness of the plurality of Indonesian society.

“There are many clashes because diversity is not appreciated,” he said. “Our goal is to show people that difference is not a threat,” he said.
— Photos By JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Tue, December 14 2010