Jakarta. Often called "paradise island" by tourists the world over, Bali can be a "paradise lost" for many of its local residents, who face many social issues from child marriage to mistreatment of the mentally ill.
Some of the deep-seated problems have been depicted in artworks shown in the "Mabesikan Festival: Art for Social Change" exhibition at Komunitas Salihara in East Jakarta on Thursday (06/04).
"Mabesikan" — literally "coming together" or "collaboration" — is the result of a two-year project begun in 2015 by Search for Common Ground Indonesia and sponsored by the Danish Embassy. Thursday's one-day exhibition was the final event of the project.
It involved 15 artists and eight non-profit organizations working together to raise awareness and spark initiatives in a total of 10 art projects.
Danish Ambassador to Indonesia Casper Klynge said the project shows Denmark's commitment to support culture in a broader sense, not only helping out Indonesia's creative industry but also enhancing people-to-people interactions.
"This project is all about showing if culture can be used as an instrument to resolve disagreement or conflict," Klynge said.
Search for Common Ground country director Setio Soemeri highlighted three aspects of the project: raising awareness, policy advocacy and education.
"We brought together artists who can convey real meaning in their works and NGOs whose causes are relevant to the issues brought up by the artists. We want to show that art is not only pleasing to the eye but can also raise awareness about current issues," Setio added.
Bali artists fight the power
Artist Made Bayak said one of the biggest problems in Bali is waste management, or lack of it. His project, "Plasticology," taught children to make artworks out of plastic bags and containers.
"We can't stop people from using plastic. Often women in villages know no alternatives. But at least we can stop littering, or, failing that, start recycling," Made said.
A former photographer for the defunct local edition of Playboy Magazine, Rudi Waisnawa, tackled two major subjects with his photos: the shackling of mentally ill patients and local salt production.
Rudi campaigned with Suryani Institute of Mental Health to end the brutal practice of shackling and promote alternative healing methods for the mentally ill. He also held seminars for kindergarten teachers to learn early detection of mental illness.
Rudi also found out that photographing salt farms on the coast of Bali allowed him to see for himself the long-running fight between salt farmers and the tourism industry over valuable real estate on Bali's beaches.
His photos of a disappearing salt farm in Amed, Karangasem, showed just one example of a recurring problem in Bali: beaches traditionally reserved for salt farming being turned into exclusive resorts.
Rudi taught Amed salt farmers how to take photos and together they documented the natural process of salt farming in the area, in hopes of raising awareness to the farmers' plight.
Filmmaker and farmer Dwitra J. Ariana decided to organize filmmaking workshops for young people around Bali for the project, which resulted in three films about social inclusion in Bali.
One of them, "Dilarang Masuk" (No Entry) tells the harrowing story of a friendship between a Balinese child and a child from the neighboring region of East Nusa Tenggara.
In "Welcome to Bali," Balinese and Chinese-Indonesian photographers learn about each other's culture.
"Kamar Sebelah Timur" (The East Room) excoriates the stereotype that people from Eastern Indonesia are prone to violence by showing how difficult it is for Eastern Indonesians to find a place to live in Bali because of discrimination.
Other works in the exhibition included Citra Sasmita's video and art installations that tackled the subjects of child marriage, gender-based violence and women's rights, and puppeteer I Komang Mertha Sedana, better known as Manggen, who teamed up with environmental organization Manikaya Kauci to stage a shadow puppet show about land grabbing in Ubud.