Visual Arts: Contemporary Worlds Indonesia at the NGA
21 June – 27 October 2019
This exhibition looks at the creative practices of Indonesian artists working since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, an event that marked the end of three decades of the repressive, discriminatory New Order regime. (Find out more here.)
The art of liberation is an approach to expression that is grounded in an awareness of the need for the liberation of the definition of art. The forms taken by this expression prioritize declaration and the spirit of exploration, grounded in an aesthetic of liberation.
The liberation of art is the endeavor to change the definition of art. It is conscious of the principle that art is an indicator of plurality, which is grounded in a variety of frames of references. The definition of art that is recognized and in force currently is shackled to: painting, sculpture and graphic design, that is, art that is locked to one frame of reference, namely, that of art as “High Art”.
The definition of art as encompassing expression in only three fields, namely painting, sculpture and graphic design is devoid of a conceptual framework.
The definition of the Indonesian term seni rupa is based on a direct translation of the term “fine arts,” descending from a Latin definition from the Renaissance of la belle arti del disegno.
It is not fully understood that this definition of art is rooted in the principles of artes liberales (Liberal Arts) from the frame of reference of “High Art” elaborated during the Renaissance in the sixteenth century, an outlook that believes in the existence of only one (high) culture and the one type of art which it has produced.
That art is an expression of plurality. That culture has a variety of frames of reference.
The current definition of art is the result of adaptation devoid of conceptual thinking, lacking consideration of the acculturation of aesthetics.
This formulation of the definition of art is trapped. The definition of art with a “High Art” frame of reference has become completely impoverished and specific. This formulation does not see the surrounding reality where a variety of expressions of art based on other frames of reference are found.
Throughout the history of Indonesian art, this groundless and contorted definition has held sway. On the other hand, art grounded in ethnic cultures, popular art from everyday life, crafts and design (art with other frames of reference outside the old definition) stand as phenomena which never gets any attention.
This is an ironic curiosity.
(VI) Paying Attention To:
The only expression of art which is in accord with that definition of art is the only one used by Indonesian Modern Art, part of World Modern Art (derived from artes liberales) in its connection to the principle that “art is universal”.
Due to the inaccurate formulation of its definition, Indonesian Modern Art is also trapped in a narrow circle. Once again there has been adaptation without conceptual thought or aesthetic consideration. Artists and critics of Indonesian Modern Art have in truth become blind and regard modern art – painting, sculpture and graphic design – as the one and only expression of art. Outside this, art does not exist. This attitude has become popular and is seen in the expression: “… is not painting”.
This is not fanaticism for a particular idea, rather a strongly held attitude which is baseless. The reality is truly: confusion. The absence of critical attention to this contorted definition is a sign of this confusion. In fact, there is no awareness of any definition at all. The activities of modern art itself proceed in a fragmented way with painting as the most popular of these.
Modern Indonesian Artists have made an idiomatic error, using the language of Modern Art but without an aesthetic understanding. They base their artistic activity entirely on incomplete fragments of the history of Modern Art, a belief in the history of art and only one understanding of aesthetics.
Modern Indonesian artists have become consumerist. They regard a variety of concepts of style within these fragments of the History of Modern Art as a source which has to be made sacred and embraced unconditionally. A contorted imitation of lifestyle also happens. A romantic lifestyle has turned into epigonic eccentricity. Internally exploratory individualism has been replaced by megalomaniac egotism.
This advanced erroneous adaptation has led critics and modern artists into a preoccupation with matching expressions of modern art with a “dictionary” of art history. Modern artists truly do not practice a tradition of exploration.
Thinking about art in Indonesia is headed for bankruptcy.
Indonesian Modern Art, the only art consistent with the definition, is experiencing a deep stagnation. It is fixed on the early styles of Modern Art. It has stopped exploring, is incapable of reflecting inwardly in search of the basis for other developments.
Art based on other frames of reference has been expunged from thinking about art. The contorted definition of art has relegated this to obscurity. Art with a background in ethnic cultures has without exception been framed as belonging to the past. Graphic design as the product of technological and industrial progress is thought of as crude art regarded only for its surface beauty. Popular art which deals with everyday life is regarded as the product of mass culture and as devoid of value.
What is needed is the liberation of art. A framework of expression that prioritizes the dismantling of a misguided tradition of art. A framework of expression that is rational and which prioritizes expression based on an aesthetics of liberation.
What is needed is a redefinition of art, the liberation of art from the confines of a definition rooted in artes liberales, to search for a new definition capable of embracing every expression of art.
What is needed is the liberation of our thought world from a completely single perspective believing in only one frame of reference which begets one art, only one global community in a cultural form that is complete and integrated.
9. [..] Consider the description of Bambang Bujono (Tempo, 11 January 1975). “In neither the invitation to painters to participate in the 1974 Grand Indonesian Painting Exhibition nor the guidelines for the exhibition panel of judges can you find the section normally contained in art exhibition judging guidelines which states that the judges’ decision is final.
Maybe this was why there was a dispute that took the form of the “1974 Black December Declaration” and a condolence funeral wreath that was delivered on behalf of the community to the Jakarta Arts Council for the “Death of Indonesian Painting”. This happened on the last night of 1974, the closing night of the 1974 Art Festival at the Jakarta Arts Center (Taman Ismail Marzuki or TIM). The condolence wreath wasn’t effective anyway, because the security guards at TIM were the ones who “accepted” the wreath, and they then stored it away and locked it in the TIM Dance Studio.”
Compare this to the description of Miklouho-Maklai (1998: 36-37). “On 31 December 1974, during the Grand Indonesian Painting Exhibition held biennially at TIM, an incident occurred that marks the start of the New Art Movement. There was a protest against the judges who awarded prizes to a number of paintings which took the form of a funeral condolence wreath emblazoned with the words, “With condolences for the death of our painting.”
The condolence wreath was delivered on the last day of the exhibition when the prizes were awarded to the winners of the competition that traditionally accompanied the Biennial. This was intended to publicize the students’ anger at the judges who in their view valued only what they described as “decorative and consumerist” painting. The protesters called themselves the “Black December Movement” and it was also supported by students from the Indonesian Academy of Visual Arts (ASRI).”
Look at this photograph:
[..] The first paragraph on page 69 states, “Apart from the wreath, the protesters also wrote a manifesto. Many names signed it especially from Bandung, Jakarta and, of course, the five people from Yogya.”
The question is who were the “five people from Yogya”? It is very surprising that even with his overactive imagination the writer of this book is not able to answer this question.
A short explanation on page 67 of the book makes it possible to speculate about the “five people from Yogya”. But the page only mentions four people, Bonyong, Harsono, Hardi and Nanik Mirna. So who is the person who isn’t mentioned? Because the answer is not provided by the book, we have to consider the historical facts about the Group of Five Young Yogya Painters.
As I mentioned earlier, according to Harsono (2013), the Group of Five Young Yogya Painters that formed in Yogyakarta in 1973 under the “guidance” of Fadjar Sidik (painter, STSRI “ASRI” lecturer and member of the panel of judges for the “Good Paintings” exhibition) was composed of five students from STSRI “ASRI” Yogyakarta, namely, Bonyong Munni Ardhi, FX Harsono, Hardi, Nanik Mirna and Siti Adiyati. (Also see Hendro Wiyanto, “FX Harsono dan Perkembangan Karyanya (1972-2009) [FX Harson and the Development of His Work (1972-2009)]” in Re: Petesi/Posisi FX Harsono [Re: Petition/Position of FX Harsono], (2010: 41-187)*; Dermawan T (2013) and Miklouho-Maklai (1998: 33-34)).
At the 1974 Grand Indonesian Painting Exhibition, or Jakarta Biennial I, they were invited to participate. Apart from them five other STSRI “ASRI” students were listed in the catalog who were also invited, namely, Nyoman Gunarsa, Ris Purwana, Suatmaji, Sudarisman and Subroto SM.
Given these historical facts, I hope no reader will be tempted to speculate and answer that what was meant by the writer of this book by the “five people from Yogya” is Bonyong, Harsono, Hardi, Nanik Mirna and Siti Adiyati, because such speculation would take one down the road of historical liars and the anti-“Red Coat” brigade.
How could it be otherwise, because you need to know that despite being invited to participate in the 1974 Grand Indonesian Painting Exhibition, there were only four members of the Group of Five Young Yogya Painters who signed the “Black December” manifesto, namely, Bonyong, Hardi, Harsono, and Adiyati. (See Harsono (2013); Dermawan T. (2013); Wiyanto (2010: 70) and Miklouho-Maklai (1998: 36-38)). The one person who did not sign the Declaration, of course you can guess, was Nanik Mirna. This is why Nanik did not receive the academic sanction of being “suspended without time limit” from STSRI “ASRI”, as was the case with Bonyong, Hardi, Harsono, Adiyati and Ris Purwana. (See “Skors di ASRI”, Tempo, 15 February 1975; Dermawan T. (tt.: 135); Dermawan T. (2013); Miklouho-Maklai (1998: 38) and Dermawan T. (1979: 2)).”
1974 Black December Declaration
Recalling that over the past few years, artistic and cultural activities have been carried on without a clear cultural strategy, we have come to the conclusion that art and culture entrepreneurs do not display a shred of evidence of the slightest understanding of the most fundamental problems of our culture. This is an indication that for some time a spiritual erosion has been destroying the development of art and culture.
For this reason, we feel the need in this black December of 1974 to declare our opinion regarding the symptoms apparent in the works of Indonesian painting today.
1. That although the diversity of Indonesian painting constitutes an undeniable fact, nevertheless this diversity does not by itself indicate a positive development.
2. That for development that ensures the continuation of our culture, painters have a high calling to provide spiritual direction which is based on humanitarian values, oriented around the reality of social life, and oriented towards the realities of social, cultural, political and economic life.
3. That creativity is the essential nature of painters who employ whatever means to achieve new perspectives for Indonesian painting.
4. That therefore the identity of Indonesian painting in itself has a clear position.
5. That what has hindered the development of Indonesian painting to date is worn out concepts that continue to be professed by the establishment, art and culture entrepreneurs and established artists.
In the interest of saving our painting, now is an appropriate time for us to award an honor to that establishment, the honor of being retired cultural veteran.
Indonesia, 31 December 1974
Muryotohartoyo, Juzwar, Harsono, B. Munni Ardhi, M. Sulebar, Ris Purwana, Daryono, Adiyati, D. A. Peransi, Baharudin Marasutan, Ikranegara, Adri Darmadji, Hardi, Abdul Hadi W