This week, Kill Your Darlings, in partnership with Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, is proud to present our second showcase of new writing from Indonesia. Our first Indonesia Showcase, back in 2017, gave us just the briefest glimpse into the brilliant fiction, memoir and essays being produced by our northern neighbours. From over 50 submissions from across Indonesia and the world, I am delighted to once again dip back in to this immense pool of literary talent and share these stories with you. (Find out more by clicking here.)
THE ART OF LIBERATION
THE LIBERATION OF ART
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.
Jakarta, May 2 1987
(*) 1987 Manifesto of the New Art Movement is partly based on the work of the Digital Archive of Contemporary Indonesian Art and available in the original at Manifesto Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru 1987. It represents the manifesto used by the New Art Movement for the Fantasy World Supermarket: Project 1 (Pasaraya Dunia Fantasi: Proyek 1) exhibition in 1987.
“Probably composed in the late 16th century, Hikayat Inderaputera was one of the most widespread and popular Malay tales, and is known from over thirty manuscripts dating from the late 17th century onwards. The story is found from Sumatra to Cambodia and the Philippines, not only in Malay but also in Acehnese, Bugis, Makasarese, Sasak, Cham, Maranao and Maguindanao versions (Braginsky 2009). At its core is probably a Persian mathnawi based, in turn, on the Hindi poem Madhumalati written around 1550 (Braginsky 2004: 388), but it also drew on Malay Islamic epics such as Hikayat Amir Hamzah and Javanese Panji stories.” (Read more.)
Opening pages of the Hikayat Inderaputera, with the double decorated frames digitally reunited (as the MS is currently misbound). British Library, MSS Malay B.14, ff. 1v-2r.
Over recent years, concerns about Indonesia’s food security have seen a sharp increase in industrial-scale agriculture across the country, including into the forests of West Papua. At the same time, the environmental and social ramifications of monocropping, particularly palm oil, are becoming well-known. (Read more at https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/talking-indonesia-palm-oil-and-indigenous-peoples-in-west-papua/)