There are many different ways of rewriting, reimagining and retelling history. Ruang Rupa, the famous artists collective from Jakarta, has chosen its own way to speak about Indonesia’s hidden history in the 1970s, putting an emphasis on a connection to the music scene.
The collective’s brand new project is now on display at the prestigious Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane, which opened in early December and runs through April 14.
For the opening night, Ruang Rupa invited legendary Brisbane band The Family Butcher to perform. Inspired by punk music in Brisbane in the ’70s, when bands like the Saints, the Go-Betweens and radio stations like 4ZZZ were active, Ruang Rupa linked the Brisbane music scene to the history of an imaginary Indonesian band called The Kuda.
At first sight, visitors wouldn’t even realize that The Kuda is a fictional story, as Ruang Rupa has done an amazing job to create the fictional band displaying artifacts as proof of their existence.
Through the imaginary band, Ruang Rupa investigates what happened in Indonesia during the ’70s, in particular examining popular culture and its social political context. The invented Kuda band was presented as significant to Jakarta’s music scene and becoming part of the young people’s movement in the early days of Suharto’s regime.
Ruang Rupa shows how The Kuda lived through a period of transition in Indonesia and how they built a strong connection with the people in the city. Video documentaries, interviews, and research on the development of pop-culture in Indonesia stand side by side with make-believe interviews of prominent figures who talk about the band’s importance. Working in collaboration with local artist Fintan Magee, Ruang Rupa have created a huge mural installed in the lobby of the museum. Also on display are items considered historically important: cassette tapes, song notes, clothes, posters, magazines, archival footage — anything a rock group living in the ’70s may have collected over the years. The most visible object is the Vespa scooter “used” by the group during that time. To give a better context of the Indonesian music scene, the artist collective also set up music stations where visitors can hear rock music from the 1970s.
Rather than talking only about music, Ruang Rupa’s main focus in this project is the subject of history. They explore the thin line between reality and fake, how history can be traced through daily phenomenon and how the history also influenced the life of common people.
The Kuda is just one of six projects presented by Indonesian artists in the triennial. Others featured are Uji Handoko aka Hahan, Wedhar Riyadi, Edwin Roseno, Tintin Wulia and Tromarama.
This extensive display of creativity on show comes after a decade of very few Indonesian artists involved in the exhibition. This was mainly due to the unstable political relationship between Australia and the archipelago.
The exhibition, that has predominately been developed by a younger generation of Indonesian artists, presents a great opportunity to introduce the Australian audience to shifting political ideas among young Indonesians. Of course, some might argue that these younger artists seem less political and more concerned with expressing fun. To a degree this is true. The young artists representing Indonesia at this year’s triennial come across as funny, colorful, light and heavily influenced by the language of popular culture. However it is important to remember that the emphasis of this particular exhibition isn’t necessarily on the question of how political the artworks are. Instead, what needs to be examined is how the notion of being political itself has changed.
The artists show the importance of paying attention to the reality in our everyday life, often in a humorous way. Tromarama’s work “Everyone is Everybody” consists of a stop motion video that captures the modern person’s fetish toward global expensive brands. Edwin Roseno displays 150 photographs that juxtapose the discourses of global-local, natural-man-made, and industrialization-agriculture.
Wedhar Riyadi introduces a series of paintings that discuss issues of violence in a post-reformation society. He used images from old photographs that are painted over in his signature comic style.
Uji Handoko also uses a comic style to criticize what has been happening in Indonesia’s art scene. He tries to find answers to the role artists play in our modern and consumerist society.
Tintin Wulia’s project forms a different approach. Her work includes a vending machine where she has inserted passports from all over the world inviting the audience to try their luck in connecting to their identity. It questions that if we believe identity is something constructed, does it really connect with our luck?
Besides the presence of Indonesian artists at the triennial, another interesting sight is how the concept of the Asia Pacific itself has changed and expanded.
This year’s Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art leaves a feeling of comfort, knowing that the region’s art scene will be in good hands. Not only are the artworks politically engaging, they are also thoughtful and intriguing.