Hujatnika, Agung

Guest Author of September 2010

For September, we return to the field of contemporary Indonesian art, which was addressed one year ago in Patrick Flores’ case study on the painter Masriadi, and in Jim Supangkat’s Seni Manifesto. Like both, Agung Hujatnika is both a scholar and a curator, working within the art system and critically analyzing its mechanisms and developments (e.g. for the 2009 Jakarta Biennale XIII, “Fluid Zones”). In his text Indonesian Contemporary Art in the International Arena, he provides us with a sweeping overview of the history of the region’s artistic production since the 90ties – beginning with the emergence of Indonesian Art through landmark exhibitions such as the ‘93 Asia-Pacific Triennale or the “Contemporary Art in Asia” show in New York in 1996. While Indonesian art in the 90ties was produced against a backdrop of a repressive system and society, the resulting subversive and critical trend in art led to a nearly essentialist expectance of Indonesian art being political, to, as Agung Hujatnika writes, a “strategy of expressing local political content as a way of gaining entry into international exhibitions.” These strategies, again, have provoked critical reactions from fellow artists; a debate even more complicated by the boom of commercial art production and the continuing lack of a non-commercial infrastructure in the region.

Indonesian Contemporary Art in the International Arena1: Representation and Its Changes

The objective of this paper is to offer an understanding on the change of pattern of representation of Indonesia, mainly through an observation on the various art events outside Indonesia. By offering this, this paper aims to look at some formations that have constructed the representation of the Indonesian contemporary art, not merely from the aspect of production, but also from the specific processes of dissemination, projection and reception by public in particular contexts. The representation of Indonesian contemporary art should be analyzed through its relationship with the new and contested concept of territory forged by globalization, in which political milieus, the zeitgeist, movement of the people, access to technology and information, economic positioning, governmental regulations and institutional patronage, all converging and interconnecting within a certain period of time, are some of the determining factors.

This paper illustrates mainly exhibitions of Indonesian contemporary art since the ‘90s. This time constraint is chosen to underline the rise of a new consciousness of the era on the art climate and circuit, which eventually has accelerated and intensified a broader network of international relations. The ‘90s era marked the emergence of international exhibitions involving Indonesian artists and was a period when the Indonesian contemporary art was claimed to have entered a new ‘international stage’2. Today, it is necessary for us to reflect back on the ‘90s because, while the wave of ‘internationalism’ is still being hailed with lots of celebration, optimism and confidence, and has become a lure to many Indonesian artists, the changing interests and the shift of institutional positions during the past decades can perhaps illustrate how the situation in the international scene actually relates arbitrarily to the state of local art practices.

Regionalism of the ‘90s/Internationalism fin-de-siecle

The visibility of Indonesian artist in international exhibitions can be traced back to the ‘50s, when the late Indonesian expressionist painter Affandi became the first Indonesian artist to participate in the 2nd Sao Paulo Biennale in 1953 and in the Venice Biennale in 19643. Engaging in the issues of multilateral links and cultural exchange in the Asian region, a group of Bandung-based Indonesian artists, such as A.D Pirous and Sunaryo, have since the late ‘80s regularly taken part in the annual AIAE (Asian International Art Exhibition) held in different cities in Asia4. There were also international art forums involving Indonesia that had been initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, established in 1966). Going back further, we can also mention the presence of pre-independent Indonesian Romanticist R. Saleh Sjarif Bastaman, who was an itinerant artist in Europe throughout 1829 – 1851, and appointed a Court painter to the Dutch King, Willem II5. All those facts, to name but a few, represented Indonesia’s early experience of “internationalism” in its broad definition, which is actually as old as the history of Indonesian modern art itself.

The ‘90s, however, saw a leap in the exposure of Indonesian artists and artworks abroad. Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, the number of art events increased along with the launching of new projects and grants by state-funded art centres and foundations in Australia and Japan. The frequency of interaction in the regional art world intensified considerably. Indonesian artist, critics and curators were present in various exhibitions, symposia, workshops, artist-in-residence programs, collaborative projects and forums, such as: the ARX (Artists Regional Exchange) in Perth, Australia (1987, 1989, 1992); New Art from Southeast Asia, in Tokyo (1992); the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art or the APT, at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia (since 1993 up to now); Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions (1996) at the Asia Society Gallery, New York; Asian Modernism in Tokyo (1995), and the biannual Fukuoka Asian Art Exhibition, which started in the 1980s and was later on reformatted into Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (since 1999).

Some key topics addressed in the events echoed the vibrant debates on the weakening of the Euro-Americacentric modernist paradigm. Proliferating discussions on the belief towards multicultural perspective and pluralism in contemporary art, those events gained their momentum along with the emergence of efforts to identify platforms of art practice influenced by the local history and current circumstances and understandings. Seen from a theoretical perspective, the presence of these forums was also further strengthened by debates surrounding the buzzwords of the time, such as marginalia, post-colonialism, identity, post-structuralism, postmodernism and “Otherness,” which have previously colored the art discourse in the West.

The Japan Foundation, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) were some of the institutions that have played the most active roles in the regional events by conducting big exhibitions, buoyant researches and publications. Without any intention to neglect the importance of many other international exhibitions involving Indonesian artists during the era, I think the flagship of events campaigned by these three state-funded institutions seemed to reflect the most ambitious agendas that eventually formed a new contemporary art cartography in the Asia-Pacific region in the ‘90s.

The 1st APT (1993) could be identified as one of the first events that commenced the thesis on the decline of the western paradigm6. The exhibition brought together nearly 200 works from twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Extensive efforts in the building-up of the issue were obvious in the international conference and major publications that came out prior to the exhibition. It was during the time that the use of the term ‘contemporary’ became increasingly common, gradually replacing that of ‘the modern’. This was also the period in which Caroline Turner put forward a definition of contemporary art in the region:

bq.“Today’s contemporary art is a product of tradition, historical cultural encounters, the confrontation with the West in more modern times, and the recent economic, technological and information changes which have pushed the world to a ‘global’ culture and greatly accelerated those interactions7.”

Animated with varied scales of artistic and curatorial collaborations, research visits and public programs, the APTs 1 – 3 have been successful in introducing Indonesian contemporary artists and curators to a wider audience. The exhibition series presented works by a mixed generation of Indonesian artists consisting of Dadang Christanto, Heri Dono, Nyoman Erawan, FX Harsono, Sudjana Kerton, A.D. Pirous, Ivan Sagito, Srihadi Soedarsono, Dede Eri Supria (APT 1); Agus Suwage, Marintan Sirait, Arahmaiani, Nindityo Adipurnomo, Anusapati (APT 2, “Present Encounters”, 1996); Mella Jaarsma, Moelyono, Tisna Sanjaya, S. Teddy D., Heri Dono, Dadang Christanto (APT 3, “Beyond the Future”, 1999).

Throughout the ‘90s, the Japan Foundation also did a series of art events with a similar regional agenda. Following the founding of The Japan Foundation’s ASEAN Centre in 1990, the initiative started with the exhibition of “New Art of Southeast Asia” in 19928. Involving Indonesian artists Heri Dono, Dadang Christanto and Teguh Ostentrik along with other 14 Southeast Asian artists, the exhibition presented an important question of Asian-ness. Accompanying the exhibition, the noted Japanese curator Ushirosoji Masahiro set forth the issue of the search for a Southeast Asian self-identity, while art critic Tani Arata proposed an agenda toward an Asian school of contemporary art9. Nakamura Hideki, the chief curator of the show, asserted that the essence of Asian contemporary art lies in the fact that it never creates fixed identities, and it can serve as an important key to transcend the European modern art10.

In the aftermath of the exhibition, a series of symposia and exhibitions were held, clearly showing The Japan Foundation’s extensive efforts to focus on the contemporary art in Asia. “Contemporary Art Symposium 1994: The Potential of Asian Thought” was held in 1994 with a focus on showing the modernism and realism in Asia as differed from the Western concept. Fifteen art critics and artists from five Asian countries, including Indonesia, were involved in the forum.

The inclusion of a focus on other Asian countries, such as Korea, China and India, became a new objective as the centre was expanded to become The Japan Foundation Asia Center in 1995. A big survey exhibition “Asian Modernism: Diverse Development in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand”, in which works by fifteen Indonesian artists were on display, was launched in the same year. After the show, two big international symposiums, “Asian Contemporary Art Reconsidered” and “Asian Art: Prospect for the Future”, which started to include China, Korea and India, followed in 1997 and 1999 respectively.

A similar entry path of discussing the Asian contemporary art was taken by the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum as seen in their initial Asian Art Triennale in 1999. Presenting works by Indonesian artists Chusin Setiadikara and Krisna Murti, the exhibition put forward the issue of communication as a theme, concentrating on artists and works that created collaboration with the viewers, local communities and experts of other disciplines11. The exhibition did tend to include artists of Asian countries solely on the basis of continuing a tradition since the triennial is the successor of the Asian Art Show, which already had included Indonesian artists since 1980.

Apart from those regular or series of regional event, another important exhibition was the “Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions”, organised by the Asia Society Gallery, which toured to the U.S., Canada, India, Singapore and Korea throughout 1996-1998. With the inclusion of works by Indonesian artists, Heri Dono, Dadang Christanto, Nindityo Adipurnomo and Arahmaiani, the exhibition was hailed as a groundbreaking event, particularly in the American context. Apinan Poshyananda, who curated the show, put forward a framework of the Asian contemporary art practice through works that show Asian artists’ strong tendency in dealing with their sense of tradition, yet moving beyond the narrower context of traditional culture12.

All the facts described above could perhaps illustrate how the issue of regionality was central in the ‘90s. The use of geographical inclusion—of Asia, Southeast Asia or Asia-Pacific—became common, slowly replacing the practice of simply using the term ‘the East’. Apinan Poshyananda, one of the key figures who took part in developing the early framework of the discourse, pointed out on this new regional propensity as a consequence of the international political milieu that had undergone a transformation following the end of the Cold War era, the bankruptcy of communism, and the rise of the Asian economic tigers, all of which serving to enable the creation of new networks that had not been previously possible. The post-ideology situation led to the implementation of new cultural policies by governments in the region. This was particularly true in countries within the Asia-Pacific region, who were exploring new policies to minimize the potentials of military conflicts while maximizing opportunities to boost trade and economic development13.

Settings: Impacts, Responses and Leitmotifs

An early impact of regional events on the Indonesian art discourse can be felt in the holding of the 9th Jakarta Biennale, a national-scale biennale organised by the Jakarta Art Council at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta (December 1993 – January 1994). Curated by Jim Supangkat, who was involved in the early regional gathering of ARX in Perth, 1992, and was the networking curator for the previously held 1st APT, the exhibition attempted to formulate and introduce a new way of looking at the Indonesian contemporary art practice through post-structuralist/postmodern frameworks such as ‘deconstruction’ (Jacques Derrida), ‘double-coding’ and ‘the post-avant-garde’ (Charles Jencks).14 The biennale was the first exhibition to use a definitive term of ‘contemporary art’ as something that differed from the modern art.

The exhibition triggered a long and heated debate among Indonesian critics, artists, philosopher and academicians15. Happening at the same time with euphoric celebrations of the postmodern issues in the fields of Indonesian literature and philosophy, the biennale was also regarded controversial due to the inclusion of young artists whose works — mostly in the form of installation, video and performance art — diverged from the convention of the previous biennales which most of the time presented only paintings and sculptures. Amongst the artists in the exhibition were Dadang Christanto, FX Harsono, Arahmaiani, Krisna Murti, Agus Suwage and Heri Dono, some of whom had previously been included in the 1st APT. Supangkat described the biennale artists as the “‘80s generation,” whose works represent a continuation of the tendency started by the earlier Indonesian avant-gardist movement, Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (Indonesian New Art Movement, 1975–1980s).16

Apart from the confusion and misunderstanding caused by the different interpretations of postmodernism in Indonesia, the 9th Jakarta Biennale debate reflected the fact that a new theoretical platform was required to explain the ongoing practices at that time. At the time, some members of the ‘80s generation—particularly Heri Dono, Tisna Sanjaya, Andar Manik, Nindityo Adipurnomo and Arahmaiani—had just returned from their residency programs and studies abroad. Their progressive and experimental works did not gain much exposure in the mainstream gallery system in the country—the only space that would show their works at that time was Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta. Some other artists, such as the late Semsar Siahaan, Moelyono and Andar Manik, were active in non-governmental organisations, using their artworks as a tool to campaign for civil rights. The biennale really promoted the practice of this group of artists.

Prior to the biennale, throughout mid ‘80s – mid ‘90s, the Indonesian art experienced a market boom due to the rapid economic growth17. Triggered by the art boom in Japan in the ‘80s, artworks, especially painting, in Indonesia became a hot commodity as many commercial galleries sprang up in big cities. This commercialization, however, did not result in a better growth of the art infrastructure. Rather, it resulted in a ‘desolateness’18. When the painting boom took place, artists of the ‘80s generation did not have any access to the market, as their practices were also far different from the collectable, commercial tendency. Most of the galleries displayed pleasantly beautiful paintings, while the ‘nearest’ auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s—established in Singapore in late ‘80s and early ‘90s respectively—were more busy showing Indonesian masters for the consumption of new Indonesian collectors.

It has to be asserted that in most of the regional events during the ‘90s, the role of the national government in supporting the participation of Indonesian artists in such forums was rather minimal, if not altogether absent. As the support to the national museum and gallery management remained poor, the cultural policies applied by the New Order government during the time mostly related to the promotion of the official ‘national culture’, or in Suharto’s words, “the pinnacle of local-ethnic cultures”, and practically meant to assist only the ‘traditional’ touristic arts. Even worse, during the New Order era, the access to and the distribution of government’s funding support to the art was rife with graft, and really much depended on nepotism and collusion. Such situations made the development of the contemporary art in Indonesia until the early ‘90s subversive and stagnant in the local context.

In an interview with the Indonesian curator Enin Supriyanto in 1996, Nindityo Adipurnomo reflected back on what happened during those years:

bq.“The situation at the moment is difficult too. Many artists face a dilemma, because if their work is progressive, they look for overseas recognition first. After this—it’s easy, isn’t it—those at home will follow. Heaps of artists of my generation have had works collected by galleries and museums overseas. The irony is that our conglomerates are now busy buying back the masterpieces of our older artists to be shown off in our country. Looking at it one way we have to give thanks that our artists have started to be in demand overseas, even though this is still at the Asia-Pacific level19.”

Relating the local situation to the dissemination of Indonesian contemporary art abroad, one can perhaps say that the emerging trend of regionalism met the acute local needs for an institution that was capable of validating the significance of contemporary art practices. This is especially true when we bear in mind, for instance, an unpleasant experience in 1990-1991, when The Festival of Indonesia in the U.S. (KIAS, or Kesenian Indonesia di Amerika Serikat) featuring Indonesian modern and contemporary works was rejected to be shown in an art museum, and eventually displayed in an anthropological museum. The event became a national issue and prompted mixed reactions at home. While critiquing the American arrogance, some Indonesian artists and scholars even argued about the legitimacy of Indonesian modern art history.

Another reason why the regional events and projects had been greeted with lots of enthusiasm in the local context was also because they provided an ample space for new and critical issues. Being the nonconformists in their own scene, many of the ‘80s artists tended to relate their art practices much to their sociopolitical comments and criticism towards the repression of the government. Since it was truly risky to do something critical to the government at that time, the regional forums became the only space where the Indonesian artists could speak more freely about the situation in their country. The exhibitions had constructive impacts, namely the dissemination of works, which may otherwise have remained unrealized or underground within Indonesia, due either to the lack of resources or to censorship20.

Apinan Poshyananda wrote about the role of QAG’s APT as something different from the model of “slippery lubricants” that make political mechanism function with ease21. He also stressed out that the forum such as APT seemed to be more interesting than the polite, correct, predictable and self-censored nationalism22. From such a point of view, it is therefore tempting to attest the role of the QAG as one of the agents in the dissemination of Indonesian sociopolitical art practices.

To start with a proposition, we can, on the one hand, actually doubt Apinan’s thesis if we look at Australia as the locus of APT. Throughout the late 19th century until the end of World War II, Australia had always been representative of the British Anglo-Saxon world. During the time, Australia’s understanding about Asia had been more influenced by the colonial perspective. The ‘90s, however, was the decade of a turn. The contemporary art in Asia-Pacific became a new forum within a situation when the Asia-Pacific started to emerge as a new economic region, following the founding of APEC in 1989 and the initiation of the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating’s campaign of “Australia-in-Asia discourse” in 1991.

Observing the selection of Indonesian artists and works in the three consecutive APTs, however, one could hardly see the tendency to ban sensitive, critical and political issues. The gesture as such was obvious, for instance, in the 1st APT, in which works by artists such as Dadang Christanto, Heri Dono and FX Harsono were displayed, and furthermore received a great attention from the Australian public23. Both Heri Dono and Dadang Christanto have even participated in the four consecutive APTs (1993 – 2002) more than once.

On the other hand, therefore, although we can always speculate that the APT initiative has always been linked to the agenda of the Keating government, the presence of those three particular artists and their works could actually reveal a kind of “betrayal”, as the relationship between Paul Keating and Indonesia was particularly “special”. The prime minister frequently averred that there was no country in the world more important to Australia than Indonesia. He also publicly declared that Suharto’s rise to power in Indonesia in the mid-1960s was the most fortunate strategic development for Australia since the end of World War II. Keating’s deputy Tim Fischer even once nominated Suharto as the man of the 20th century24.

The 2000s: Indonesian Post-Reform and Post-Regionalism

During the ‘90s, the presence of Indonesian artists in museum-scale exhibitions such as the APTs seemed to gain its repercussions elsewhere. As the tendency to consume contemporary Asian art also turned into a boom outside Asia, during the ‘90s we would see virtually the same old Indonesian artists, globetrotting and circulating in different international exhibitions — Heri Dono, Dadang Christanto and Arahmaiani, amongst other. It also came about as a consequence of the stereotyping of assumptions by international curators interested in illustrating the socio-political expressions in contemporary art. As another consequence, in most of the exhibitions of Indonesian art that took place internationally during the ‘90s, the “localness” of Indonesia was mainly presented as the tendency to engage with socio-political problems, such as violence, communal trauma, gender inequalities, minor identities, urban marginalia, etc. The regional and international initiatives of the ‘90s have played a central role in shaping a desired representation of Indonesia.

By the late ‘90s a number of well-traveled Indonesian artists have started gaining bigger reputations. Their success abroad echoed strongly at home, influencing many younger artists. The role of the curator, as the agent who actively takes part in the exhibition pact, also became increasingly important in the local scene25. A big shift of the artistic attitude was seen in the increase of Indonesian political and pseudo-political art, particularly following the downfall of the New Order government in May 1998. While the Indonesian sociopolitical art has already gained international recognition, more and more Indonesian artists became engaged in activist art, including those who used to be non-activists and even the “pro status-quo artists26”. This was demonstrated by the proliferation of Indonesian political and pseudo-political art works. In the late 1990s, the majority of Indonesian works seemed to respond to the political problems with protests and open criticism towards the government, often in expressive and glaring ways. Open oppositions towards laws and regulations passed by the corrupt government were abundant. Younger artists even started using this strategy of expressing local political content as a way of gaining entry into international exhibitions.

Trying to put the situation in proportion, the Indonesian curator Asmudjo Jono Irianto assumed that the upsurge of Indonesian political contemporary art works in the international market was just one of the triggers that eventually gave rise to the mannerism of political art in Indonesia. He believed that this tendency in the local art practices was in fact also a form of response towards the worsening actual situation in the country:

bq.“The resignation of Soeharto has not brought recovery to the country; on the contrary, worsening chaos has marked the reform era. People’s expectation of reform have increased, many distrust the rule of law, and some are imitating the method used by the former government to solve problems: violence. In other words, because of the pressured and chaotic situation, Indonesian artists have no choice but to explore sociopolitical content in their work. Consequently it is difficult to talk about aesthetics, especially when an artist’s political agenda, his or her political position, has to be considered. In this sense, such works are often politically correct, but not aesthetically so27.”

In the post-reform era, increasing prominently was the awareness among Indonesian artists on the politics of representation in international exhibitions. “Awas! Recent Art from Indonesia”, an exhibition held by the Cemeti Art Foundation, presented significant responses to the matter from several Indonesian artists, such as Agus Suwage, Samuel Indratma, Agung Kurniawan, S. Teddy D., Hanura Hosea and Krisna Murti. The exhibition aimed at presenting different, more open attitudes toward the socio-political condition in Indonesia after the political reform28. Responding to the mannerism of political works in Indonesian art, the artists in the exhibition self-consciously expressed scepticism and self-criticism towards the repetition and loss of message as Indonesian socio-political art became an international commodity. Commenced in 1999, the exhibition then toured to several cities in Europe, Japan and Australia for three years before returning to Indonesia in 2002.

One of the works in the exhibition was an intriguing drawing series by comic and mural artist Samuel Indratma, Seni Rupa Ajaib (Weird Art, acrylic on cardboard, ten panels, 90×60 each). On one of the drawing panels is the text, “Mr. Kurator… Mr. Kurator… I am waiting for you. I bring package from Indonesia”. The particular panel is intended as an ironic and sarcastic comment on the reality he found in Yogyakarta, one of the most active pivots for Indonesian contemporary art, in which “…many curators, be they from Indonesia, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, America, Germany and more, make their short trips, photographs and interview in artists’ studio, and go back home full of ideas. They make their trip like window-shopping, without having to grasp the actual condition. They are so confident, as if the exhibition they prepare will make a great impact. All of those things make the Indonesian contemporary art so weird, so instant29.”

Another self-critical work was an installation by Agung Kurniawan, Souvenirs from the Third World (wood, aluminum, fiberglass, approx. 150×400 x 600 cm, 1997 – 1999), which comprises ten pieces of carts — or Indonesian street vendor stalls, to be precise. Sitting atop the carts are three-dimensional objects of painted resin — figures of soldier, artist as a capped hero with a Pinocchio nose, the supreme judge as a clown, curator as grotesque rats and politicians, nun, etc — all served up like goods ready to get packed, exported and sold far away. The whole objects are associated with a myriad of “saleable” themes for international exhibitions: religious clash, corrupt government, military violence and, no less interesting, the artist’s hypocrisy. Instead of using the government as target, the artist made himself the object of criticism. The “AWAS!” exhibition marked a turning point in the Indonesian contemporary art of the ‘90s, as the political reform, which many artists had strongly demanded during the Suharto era, has somehow brought the socio-politically engaged art in Indonesia to an end.

After a decade of showcasing thematic exhibitions and symposia with an emphasis on Asian-ness, The Japan Foundation’s Asia Centre succeeded to introduce a new format of exhibition entitled “Under Construction: New Dimension in Asian Art” by involving younger artists and curators. Conducted in a period of two years (2001-2002), the collaborative project brought together nine curators from seven countries (China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand) to confront the overall theme “What is Asia?” They were asked to initiate a research across Asian countries and set up an exhibition in their own country based on their own curatorial perspective, after which a collective exhibition took place in Tokyo in 2002.

In trying to locate both the importance and and problems of Indonesian artists’ connection to international circuit, the Indonesian curator Asmudjo Jono Irianto proposed a series of questions: “[…] does the existence of this small number of artists and curators truly represents a symbolic cultural practice of Indonesia itself? […] do they stand for and represent the reality of art itself in Indonesia, if their presence is an anomaly and they are not known or understood by their own public in Indonesia?”30 Compared with various themes initiated by other curators in the project, Asmudjo’s questions actually touched on a different, yet more concrete, issue. It dealt with the visibility of contemporary art in Indonesia, considering the lack of proper art infrastructure in Indonesia, which has made it difficult, if not impossible, for contemporary artists to communicate with their own public. The questions urged a deeper reflection about how to create a contemporary Asian identity while there have been vast differences in the social dimensions of modernization among the countries. He wrote further:

bq.“Regularly organized exhibitions are not just property for developed countries, but in terms of quantity and quality, public interest and support may be something that takes pace more smoothly in developed countries. However, it does not work in this way in Indonesia31.”

To realise the initiative in the project, Asmudjo worked with young artists, an architect and designer, and constructed a semi-permanent gallery in Bandung as a work, instead of doing a conventional exhibition in a gallery space.

I intend to touch on the issue of the art infrastructure above to describe later on how the shift of patronage actually impacted the rise of a new generation of Indonesian artists. Arguably, after 2000, the frequency of foreign government-supported regional projects and exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific underwent a slowdown. A reduction of the Japanese government subsidies to art and cultural programs occurred in 2004, when the Japan Foundation Asia Centre conducted “Have We Met?” as their ‘last’ show in the Asian exhibition series. It is interesting how the title of the show—“Have We Met?”—seemed to suggest an answer of the whole questions explored in the Asian exhibitions during the previous decade. In her curatorial notes Kohno Haruko wrote:

bq.“[…] to meet Asia is difficult because there is no way to locate her. Asia is suspended in many confusions and contradictions in the present. […] This exhibition challenges preconception about identities, both of Asia and of contemporary art, and by doing so debunks the assumption that there is a single way of pinning down what ‘contemporary Asian art’ is. […] Many of us are still faced with the clichés of our own cultural sensibilities32.”

While artist-curator Ade Darmawan, who represented Indonesia in the exhibition, also remarked in his soliloquy:

bq.“During the last one to two decades, the art world has become very open and shown a capacity of self-improvement. Now it even has a great ability for extending itself. It swallows—and immediately mixes—everything, everyone: social workers, commercial painters, auctioneers, collectors, philosophers, artist-activist, and museum pieces artists. It’s a global franchise33.”

The September 11th tragedy, followed by the Iraqi invasion by the United States and the ‘Global War on Terror’, the Bali bombing in 2002 and 2005, are some of the reasons to blame. All those international news on Islamic terrorism created pseudo barriers in the previously fruitful art environment in Indonesia. Researches and exchange visits for regular triennials and biennales were obstructed due to government travel bans and bureaucratic restrictions. These obstacles impacted the projection of Indonesian contemporary art on the international stage, particularly after its rise in the 1990s.

In Indonesia, the lack of art infrastructure eventually pushed the emergence of new models of networking. Inspired by their predecessor, Cemeti Art House, some artist collectives like ruangrupa in Jakarta, Common Room Network Foundation in Bandung and Mess56 in Yogyakarta have managed to keep in touch with the international art community through their own strategies. While the lack of support from the government remains, their peer-to-peer and personal networks have made it possible for them to organize international events at home, albeit struggling with the short-term, self-funding problems. Owing much to the internet, their activities also signify a new development of artists’ network in the new world information order. Their presence in several international exchanges and exhibitions has come to represent a broader image of the Indonesian contemporary art. Their independent attitudes have been a great contribution amidst the “unsettled” artistic climate in the post-Suharto era.

In the last three years, major transformations in the Indonesian art scene have occurred as a consequence of greater social, political and economic changes within the society. The post-Reform government has become much more open and less repressive. Official censorship has weakened. The result is that most artists have consciously left the tendency to express political issues, and become more inclined to deal with personal issues. This is not to say that most Indonesian artists have become non-political, but it reflects the fact that the majority of Indonesian artists today intentionally avoid grand-narratives in their works. If there are still any, the works are much more related to the personal interpretation of more subtle issues, often imbued with humor and tending towards the playful.

Entering the second-half of 2000s, rapid changes in the development of Indonesian art have been propped up by new commercial networks. The international market boom caused in part by the rise in popularity of the Chinese contemporary art has triggered a new impulse in the market for Indonesian art. In the last three years, new galleries and auction houses, with their aggressive programs, have mushroomed in Indonesia. Consequently, a new regional Southeast Asian market has also taken shape. After a decade of “honeymoon” with the regional triennials and biennales, which made art development dependent too much on regional diplomatic and political relations, the Indonesian artists now face more rhizomatic structures created by the international market. New artists are emerging faster and getting more involved in the globalized art world—through auction houses, art fairs and gallery shows.

In the last two to three years, the practice of art has seen a certain productivity: the number of artists in Indonesia has expanded, the art works produced swelled, and the frequency in which exhibitions are held has increased. One can draw a conclusion by observing the various advertisements and news of exhibitions in a variety of mass media that have also mushroomed in the country. Aside from being spurred by the emergence of young artists, the high demands for art works also causes the artists who have previously been inactive to “return to the arena” and become involved in an array of exhibitions. One cannot deny the fact that the increase in the number of art galleries in Indonesia within the last two to three years has been a logical consequence of the upsurge in the local demands and supplies of art works. The most obvious thing in this art boom has been the euphoric attitudes, a kind of passion and posture to celebrate the extravagant. This boom has been happily welcomed by almost all parties, as if there is nothing more important. Following this development is the market fundamentalism that has dispensed with ethics, as if the relationship between humans in the art market is merely a relationship of trade. At the extreme, the artist becomes a factory of sorts, art works are merely items of trade, curators are advertisement designers, galleries are fences, while brokers and collectors are only speculators.

Such rapid, yet fragmentary changes, however, are yet to be balanced by a proper government support towards the development of the art validating institution, which should take part in establishing the historical parameters and symbolic and cultural value of the Indonesian art practice—as Asmudjo has emphasized in his show. A new cartography has emerged as the state-funded museums in Singapore are trying to play a role by showing Indonesian artists in cooperation with commercial galleries. As one ponders upon the future autonomy of the Indonesian contemporary art, its inadequacy is still woefully felt.


1 Paper presented for the Global Art and Museum Seminar, organized by ZKM, 21 – 30 June 2009. For the paper’s title and part of the essay’s structure, I am indebted to Chaitanya Sambrani’s essay, “Home and Away: Contemporary Indian Art in the International Arena”, which provides a critical analysis on the consumption and dissemination apparatus of the Indian contemporary art in international exhibitions, Art Monthly Australia #153, September 2002. Pp. 7-11.

2 Dr. Yustiono, Seni Rupa Kontemporer Indonesia dan Era Asia-Pasifik [Indonesian Contemporary Art and the Era of Asia-Pacific], Jurnal Seni Rupa, volume II/1995, 1995.

3 M. Agus Burhan on Affandi, in Modern Indonesian Art, from Raden Saleh to the Present Day, Agung Hujatnikajennong (et al.), Koes Artbooks, 2006. p. 29.

4 Asian International Art Exhibition (AIAE) is an artist-initiated regional art event that uses the model of peer-to-peer networking and relies on the ‘spirit of friendship’ among the members. Held annually since 1985, it started with an exhibition in the National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul, Korea, involving three member-countries of the East Asian region (Japan, Korea and Taiwan). By 2008, its membership has increased to 13 countries, with Indonesia joining in 1987.

5 Suwarno Wisetrotomo on Raden Saleh, in Agung Hujatnikajennong (et al), op.cit., p. 21.

6 As Caroline Turner put it, “While there is no theme for this exhibition there is a thesis; that is that Euro-Americacentric perspective is no longer valid as a formula for evaluating art of this region. […] The opportunities for intraregional exchange generated by forums such as the triennial will, it is to be hoped, provide new ways of looking at art on the basis of equality without a centre or centres… as well as an approach to cultural interchange open to the future in which we can recognize what we have in common, and yet respect what is different” , catalogue of the First Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, 1993. p. 9.

7 Caroline Turner, “Internationalism and Regionalism: Paradoxes of Identity”, in Tradition and Change, Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific, Caroline Turner (ed.), Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1993.

8 Kajiya Kenji, an associate professor at Hiroshima University marked the exhibition as a landmark in the Asian contemporary art boom that took place in the Japanese media in the mid-1990s. See Kajiya Kenji, “Asian Contemporary Art in Japan and the Ghost of Modernity”, paper presented at the symposium Asian Art after Postmodernism, published in Count 10 before You Say Asia, a symposium report, Furuichi Yasuko (ed.), The Japan Foundation, 2009. p. 211.

9 Ushiroshoji Masahiro, The Labyrinthine Search for Self Identity – The Art of Southeast Asia from the 1980s to the 1990s. See also Tani Arata’s essay, “Toward an Asian School of Contemporary Art”. Catalogue of New Art from Southeast Asia, Furuichi Yasuko (ed.), The Japan Foundation ASEAN Culture Centre (1992).

10 Kajiya Kenji, “Asian Contemporary Art in Japan and the Ghost of Modernity”, paper presented at the symposium “Asian Art after Postmodernism”, published in Count 10 before You Say Asia, a symposium report, Furuichi Yasuko (ed.), The Japan Foundation, 2009. p. 211.

11 Kuroda Raiji, “On Exhibition Theme: ‘Communication: Channels for Hope’,” catalogue of Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, 1999, p. 15.

12 Vishaka N. Desai, “The Asia Society – traditions and tensions”, Art Asia-Pacific, Volume 3, No. 4, 1996.

13 Apinan Poshyananda, “The Future: Post-Cold War, Postmodernism, Postmarginalia (Playing with Slippery Lubricants)” in Tradition and Change, Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific, edited by Caroline Turner (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1993). pp. 3-24.

14 Jim Supangkat, “Art of the 80s: Introduction to the Jakarta Biennale IX”, Catalogue of the Jakarta Art Biennale IX, Jakarta Art Council, 1993.

15 The debates had been featured mostly in newspaper articles, academic journals, book and magazines for almost a year. For the archive and analyses on the prolonged disputes, see Agung Hujatnika, “Diskursus Posmodernisme dalam Seni Rupa Kontemporer Indonesia, Perdebatan Seputar Biennale Seni Rupa Jakarta IX” (Postmodern Discourse in Indonesian Contemporary Art, A debate surrounding the 9th Jakarta Biennale), graduate thesis (unpublished), Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology, 2000.

16 Jim Supangkat, 1993, op.cit., p. 13.

17 There would be no Indonesian painting boom without the oil boom. The dramatic increase of the painting price in Indonesia took place in late ‘70s when a surge of foreign investments came in. Another decisive moment was the painting commission project ordered by the state oil company, PERTAMINA, in 1974, which put a higher price on each of the paintings compared to the standard at the time, and eventually gave rise to a new trend of collecting art among the newly emerging urban high class in the ‘80s.

18 Supangkat was referring to the term coined by the late Indonesian critic Sanento Yuliman who considered that the exploration of new media by the New Art Movement in the late ‘70s had been under-exposed. See Jim Supangkat, “In Search of Politically Correct Work of Art”, catalogue of the Asian Art Triennale, op.cit., p. 122.

19 Enin Supriyanto on Nindityo Adipurnomo, “Java”, Art Asia Pacific, Vol. 3, no. 4, 1996, p. 91.

20 As also confirmed by Chaitanya Sambrani in his essay on APTs, “Austerity—Excess—Invention, Asia Pacific Triennial 2002”, Art Monthly (Australia).

21 Apinan Poshyananda in Turner (ed.), 1993, op.cit., p.5.

22 Ibid., p. 17.

23 The work by Dadang Christanto in the 1st APT, For those Who are Poor, Who are Suffering, Who are Oppressed, Who are voiceless, Who are Powerless, Who are Burdened, Who are Victims of Violence, Who are Victims of a Dupe, Who are Victims of Injustice (installation comprising bamboo and palm leaves, organic materials and performance, 1993) is a work that pays tribute to his lost father who had been murdered during the communist purge and Chinese ethnic cleansing done by General Suharto prior to his reign as the second Indonesian president in 1966. While Heri Dono’s painting in the show, Campaign of the Three Parties (acrylic on canvas, 1992) sarcastically depicts, in a mixture of wayang and American cartoon styles, the involvement of the military in the Indonesian General Election, which for decades always resulted in the election of Suharto. The exhibition of such works would have been impossible in Indonesia during the time as Suharto kept the ban and censorship policies on critical voices.

24 I would personally consider such an idea controversial, if not ridiculous. Keating’s admiration of Suharto was quoted by Greg Sheridan, “Farewell to Jakarta’s man of steel”, The Australian online, January 28, 2008, accessed on 1 June 2009

25 It is worth noting that in most of exhibitions projects, symposia and exhibition catalogues involving Indonesian art in the ‘90s, we can simply find one name: Jim Supangkat.

26 Asserted by Arahmaiani, quoted by Asmudjo Jono Irianto in An Unsettled Season, Political Art of Indonesia, Art Asia Pacific, issue 28, p. 62.

27 Asmudjo Jono Irianto, ibid., p. 82

28 See Alexandra Kuss, “Proximity and Distance – The Field of Tension between Individual and Society”, catalogue of AWAS! Recent Art from Indonesia, Cemeti Art Foundation, 1999, pp. 25 – 40.

29 Samuel Indratma, in a conversation with the author, 17 May, 2009.

30 Asmudjo Jono Irianto, “Asia Now: Under Construction?”, catalogue of Under Construction, New Dimension of Asian Art, The Japan Foundation Asia Centre, 2002, p. 93.

31 Asmudjo Jono Irianto, ibid., p. 93

32 Kohno Haruko, “Dear Asia, Have We Met?” exhibition catalogue, The Japan Foundation, 2004, p. 12.

33 Ade Darmawan, “knots not notes”, ibid., p. 58