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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 9:42AM   |  7 comments
Indonesia Visual Art Archive

Blog written by Patricia Zimmerman, Shaw Foundation Professor, Nanyang Technological University and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

In the final throes of the Suharto era in the 1990s, the underground art scene in Indonesia incubated alternative spaces repressed in the rest of society.  Art, politics, and activism commingled.  And now, thanks to the Indonesian Visual Art Archive, this history will be accessible online.

This combustion between artistic necessity and historical urgency propelled one of the most exciting national art movements of the last 15 years.  By 2010, Indonesian art—painting, performance, installation, DJs, sound artists, new media collectives, video, documentary—populates  galleries and festivals from New York to Singapore to Dubai.  And these works command high prices from collectors eager to invest in this vibrant southeast asian art movement.

The history of Indonesian experimental and visual art did not start with reformasi, the  people’s movement that brought down the Suharto regime in 1998,although it was intricately linked with these politics.

In the 1970s, Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement), inspired by Fluxus, sought to make breakthroughs in contemporary art through performance,video and installation through the use of everyday objects and concepts. The movement rejected Western ideas about art and sought an Indonesian artistic identity. A key figure of this period –and a towering figure in contemporary Indonesia art--is F X Harsono, recently featured in a large, stunning major retrospective at the Singapore Art Museum in a show entitled Testimonies.

But Indonesian art involves a much more complex history than the 2002 art boom or the current international auction market eager for new discoveries.

Enter the  Indonesian Visual Arts Archive( IVAA), founded in 1995 as an outgrowth of the Cementi Art House galleries in Yogjakarta.  Despite the explosion in art practices, no institutions in Indonesia were archiving these movements for the historical record.  Artists also were not documenting their work with photos, reviews, and other written materials. 

IVAA set out to retrieve and archive these materials ranging from letters, catalogues, publications, proposals, posters, pamphlets and audio interviews. Researchers, students, and artists use the archive to learn the complex histories of Indonesian contemporary art. The board of directors is composed mostly of artists, including Agung Kurniawan, Mella Jaarsma, and Yustina W. Nugraheni.

I met up with Farah Wardani, executive director, and Pitro Hutomo, the archivist mounting IVAA’s digital archive, on a recent trek down to Yogjakarta.  After a 20 minute taxi drive through streets crammed with motor scooters in black, purple, red, and green, I ended up at their office on Jalan Patehan Tengah. It’s a quaint street with low rise, open air shophouses and lush tropical greenery in the district surrounding the Kraton, the Sultan’s palace. Entering IVAA’s office, the first thing I noticed was floor to ceiling plain bookshelves crammed with art books.  Various Asian art magazines and journals perched on the large tables.

It seems logical that IVAA is located in Jogja, as the locals call it.  Jogja is the center of the arts culture in Java.  Rather than marginalizing artists, traditional Javanese society accepts artists  as part of their culture.  Javanese are not confrontational with modernity; rather, according to Wardani, they blend with it but do not forfeit their values of respecting the land.  A smaller city than Jakarta, it is cheaper for artists to live and work in Jogja. 

According to Farah Wardani, who has lived through and participated in the turbulent politics and arts movements of the last two decades, the period of the 1990s propelled a very politically driven artistic practice.  The Suharto regime was very repressive, the media were controlled, and the right to assembly restricted.  Art functioned as a safe zone where people could gather.  An artistic language rich in metaphor developed as a way to circumvent repressive measures and constrictions.  Art—and the spaces that emerged around it—gave space to make statements prohibited—and dangerous—in Indonesian society.

In 2006, another boom in Indonesian art erupted. According to Wardani, it got ugly: the heartless, acquisitive art market exploited young Indonesian artists.  They were not prepared to mount their portfolios for the international market—many did not have a resume nor had they saved reviews and catalogs of their work. 

IVAA helps artists by maintaining the historical record, as a throughline, a touchstone, and a community.  And , because the universities do not engage art or visual theory, IVAA also functions as an alternative learning center for theoretical work.  For 2010-2011, the archive will focus on four key areas: women and gender in art, environmental issues in art, urban marginal communities, and mapping the creative industry in Yogjakarta. The archive is also reaching back to collecting materials from the 1940s, the period of the Indonesian “old masters” of contemporary art.

Archivist Pitra Hutomo, with help from Engage Media, the nongovernmental organization in Australia and Indonesia working to making new technologies accessible, is the behind-the-scenes expediter of the online archive which features documents, a library and video. 

As we drank thick, black and complexly flavored Javanese coffee, Pitra and Farah explained the differences between the artists from the reformasi period of the 1990s and the younger generation raised in a more open society with more access to technology.  The younger artists (which Pitra, younger than Farah, identifies with) see the older generation as too didactic. The older artists view the younger generation as not sufficiently engaged with politics.  The younger generation embraces new technology, pop references, and urban culture.  Urban art activism in places like Jakarta proposes to make social interventions into urban space.

IVAA sees arts education, dialogue and convenings as important fulcrums for the development of arts discourse and community. More than just a repository for exhibition catalogs, reviews and other documents, the archive also programs discussions, workshops, and seminars on Indonesian contemporary art. 

In 2009, IVAA published video activist and artist Krisna Murti’s Essays on Video Art and New Media: Indonesia and Beyond, an absolutely essential book for anyone wanting to understand the context and debates in Indonesian new media in a more nuanced way. Describing numerous new media collectives like the House of Natural Fiber, Bandung Center for New Media Arts, and ruangrupa and various festivals in Indonesia with their myriad contentious debates, the book jolted me into the rather discomfiting realization that so much scholarship on documentary, video art and new media operates on a latent and rather unexamined Euro/American axis.

Even though FLEFF has programmed several small political documentaries on environmental issues about the pollution of the coasts from chemicals and overfishing  over the years,  the gaps in my knowledge led me back to the IVAA website and archive for repair and rehabilitation.

CODA: Farah and Pitra will be presenting about IVAA at the Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia sessions I've helped to curate for the International Communication Association conference at the end of June here in Singapore.  See you there!






Reading this blog entry, I can't help but be slightly envious of the rich cultural and ethnic diversity that Indonesia has. This obviously would be greatly reflected in the arts as well. Instantly, I made that comparison between Indonesia and Singapore (which is where I'm from). Like them, Singapore is rich in diversity, being a country full of immigrants and as such, multiple races. Our forefathers were likewise. What struck me the most was that there seems to be a sense of Indonesian Identity in the Arts which I find somewhat lacking in Singapore. Maybe I'm just unaware or that the society where I'm in has somewhat cast aside the impact (or perhaps afraid of it) that it brings.

Surely something of a similar nature is underway here in Singapore, perhaps more can be done about it and I look to the IVAA as a type of example that perhaps we could emulate. Oh, is the IVAA government funded? In short, I look to their presentation at the ICA 2010!

Impressed with the description of the IVAA by Prof. Zimmerman,I went to take a look at it's official website and is once again amazed by how comprehensive their collections are. With arts collections that dates back to more than 10 years ago,it is interesting to have a look through those digitalized artworks and publications and at the same time understand the historical changes of which Indonesia has been undergoing during those years. With that,I look forward to IVAA presentation in the coming ICA conference and hope that many will come to have a better understanding of the art industry in Indonesia as well:)

Online portals like IVAA have indeed open up new boundaries for the sharing and preservation of art and culture, even under a repressive regime. It moved my heart to see the effort being put into saving Indonesian Art. I'm more a film person, and personally, I have seen two great films from Indonesia, Eliana,Eliana and Identitas, and they have impacted me a lot by showing me the subtly in expressing the opinions against the government. I look forward to see IVAA's presentation in Singapore.

Art inspired by politics has always intrigued me and this post certainly struck a chord with me. Since I was exposed to their works, I have been a fan of works by Indonesian artists such as Hendra Gunawan and Sudjojono (although more so, the former). His depart from the Western ideals of art, in my opinion, played a part in forging a name for and establishing a more Indonesian "style" of painting. Initially, I was wary and not used to such politically charged art work but I have since changed my opinion, because art is ultimately the expression of the world around the artist and the world inside the artist. Especially with the vivid colour, expressive brushstrokes, abjective use of subject matter and the injection of Indonesia's cultural objects such as the Wayang Kulit which he mapped upon his characters. When I was first saw his works, I was struck by the garish figures and emotionally charged message behinf the painting, with one painting in particular, Bandang as a sea of fire, that was laden with the artist's and society's inner sentiments of the political situation at the time and transversed "normal" art or simply "pretty art" by bringing across the artistís intention of showing the effects of the destruction of war on Indonesian culture and the Indonesian people.

However the above beind said, I am not as well versed with the new generation Indonesian art forms utilising new media as I am with traditional art forms from the older generation perhaps because I have not been as exposed to these newer more contemporary art, and then again, there are many aspects and parts of Indonesia's art history that I am not aware of either. Certainly, as the years go by, more of these art and art forms will be lost to me and to the world, I am thus glad that the IVAA has come up with an initiative such as the archive. Looking through the website and reading a little here and there, I've realised that there has been a lot of progress in the Indonesian art scene that i have totally missed out on and I must catch up! Works certainly no longer deal with the similar issues as last time and they certainly no longer take the form of traditional art! Well, it's time for traditioanl ole' me to update and reeducate myself thanks to IVAA and I can't wait to hear them speak at the conference! Hmmm, I wonder if it'll be like a modern "art history" lesson! :)

Dear colleagues,

first of all I would like to thank Patty for the greatly insightful writing, it is our great honor, really appreciate it. And then to everyone who have posted their comments, thank you so much for your wonderful responses to our work as described in the essay.

To Nurbaya, no we are not being funded by the government. It has been a long struggle for alternative spaces/independent cultural institutions like us to find recognition from our own government. It has been a bit getting better now as they give more attention to arts and culture more than before, in terms of providing more simplified bureaucratic access, tax reform, and the sorts, yet it is still a long way for us I guess to achieve the best forms of infrastructural collaboration with them.

To Joyce, we are very delighted to read your comment and also to find your great understanding of our arts, along with the discourses and issues underlying the practice in our country. The issue of media convergence and identity has always been one of the most intriguing themes in Indonesian art practice, and it reflects the social and cultural constructions of our contemporary generations. This is what IVAA has always been focusing in our research and documentation work as well, especially since mid-2000s.

To Samantha and Lim, thank you so much, we will try our best at the conference with our presentation and look forward to sharing more with you and also be updated about your work!

We do believe that art is a powerful means to speak about what was, is and has been happening in society, and especially in our case, art has long been a medium of expression to speak about issues, problems, conflicting values and identity constructions in the diverse structures of Indonesian culture. The power of art lies not in the sense of commercial media that often brings out issues in one-dimensional and hegemonic approach. But more as giving out alternative perspectives and grey areas that are open for discussions, debate and creating discourses directed to produce deeper understanding of our complex cultural layers. That is why IVAA documentation and archiving work is not just conducted to the extent of collecting and cataloging only, but also elaborating it further with research,analyses and various outreach programs.

Last but not least, all of the responses are very insightful and valuable for us to improve our archiving work, again thank you very much and hope to see you all soon in Singapore!

Having read this I thought it was rather informative.

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