Jakarta’s young artists are finding themselves with increasing opportunities to present their work and hone their professional skills around the city. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Developing Jakarta’s Art Scene

JANUARY 07, 2015

The performance artist, Denny Darmawan, created an untitled piece in the Jasindo building by writing verses on a mirror and then covering it with red acrylic paint, before shattering it to pieces.

He then repeated the process, his motions getting increasingly sure with repetition. While his actions might confound viewers, there is reason behind the madness.

“The mirror reflects the self, while the verses on it convey my emotions, both happy and sad. The red paint is a metaphor for keeping other people out of my space and keeping those feelings to myself” he said.

“In short, the mirror is a ‘friend’ that I can pour my heart out to, then I will shatter the mirror to banish those feelings.” 

Seeking out new talent

Denny is one of the 40 artists who recently took part in the 2014 Jakarta 32 Derajat (Degrees) Celsius festival, a biennial event organized by the Komplotan Jakarta 32 Derajat and the Ruangrupa art collective. 

The event, the sixth of its kind, featured 10 workshops covering architecture, comics, drawing, video, performance art and art for public spaces. 

“The artists come from various universities throughout Jakarta, so the art that they make is their ongoing class project or final project that they need to graduate. They hone their work in the workshops before exhibiting it, to give them a better understanding of the stages in producing art from conceptualization, production, presentation and distribution,” festival director Andang Kelana said. 

The sense of novelty isn’t confined to the budding artists. “This edition [of the Jakarta 32 Derajat] was held in the Old Town instead of its usual venue in the National Gallery to allow artists to make the most of the area’s public spaces to introduce their work to a wider, eclectic audience.” 

“The venues also vary from the outdoor Taman Fatahillah area to inside buildings like the Historia Food and Bar as well as Kedai Jakarta cafe and the Jasindo Building” Andang said. “We hope the artists can make the most of the Old Town’s history and atmosphere to make innovative art, instead of getting trapped by nostalgia.”

Creating Jakarta as an arts center

The Padjak (or Performance Arts Djakarta collective) embraced the Old Town’s spaces. With the theme “Bebas” (“Free”), the group contorted, wriggled and twisted their way through the Jasindo building and surrounding areas, lighting their way with candles, leaving a trail of candle wax to trace their path. 

“I want to raise awareness of performance arts among the public, and show them that art is more than just paintings or sculptures. I want to bring up the frequently overlooked aesthetics of Jakarta’s dynamic, urban and tough character,” Padjak performing artist Ridwan Rau Rau said. 

“It is these elements, among other things, that give the capital its artistic character. Jakarta is neither as avant garde as Bandung nor as traditionally timeless as Yogyakarta. The capital’s artists aren’t always aware of this, though I’m certain that their awareness will improve by 2015.”

Veteran artist FX Harsono, a stalwart of contemporary Indonesian art, is also aware of the need to build Jakarta’s art scene. 

Best known as one of the founders of Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru, also known as the New Art Movement, he sought to develop the capital’s arts through its youthful artists with “Exi(s)t” an annual artistic initiative held at the dia.lo.gue art gallery, which is entering its third year. 

“Jakarta has a lot of undeveloped artistic talent, many of whom are unaware of where to go to tap it. Most galleries won’t take a chance with new artists, as they doubt the newcomers’ commercial viability” said Harsono, a recently recipient of the Prince Claus cultural award from the Netherlands. 

“[Exi(s)t] gave young artists a chance to improve their artistic skills and techniques without the markets’ distractions or demands. Many of the works in Exi(s)t are experimental and unlikely to be found in galleries.” 

Among the experimental art shown in Exi(s)t is “Intervensi,” created by up and coming artist Nastasha Abigail. 

The work features a prancing doll superimposed on slides of past elections in Indonesia. 

While the work initially seemed whimsical, it has a sinister undercurrent with the doll’s looping, mocking voice over recording. 

“The use of past footage in [‘Intervensi’] reflect my anxiety over the [House of Representatives’] decision to revert to closed elections following a decade of open, democratic elections. The voice over set out to mock the politicians’ bid to tamper with the political process,” Nastasha said.

“The videos are selected to make the doll’s ‘intervention’ as natural as possible. Their naturalness also highlight the politicians’ efforts to turn back time.”

Fellow artist Aditya Pratama also took on the motif with his work “Tanah Tindih” or “Overlapping Land.” 

“[‘Tanah Tindih’] refers to how people misuse their position on top of the evolutionary chain to alter and destroy their environment. The blueprint shows how humans are bent on laying out nature according to their will” he said. 

“Their actions often take shape in the form of environmental destruction or the endangerment of various animal and plant species. Interestingly, their actions are motivated by survival, not to destroy on a whim.” 

Curator Mia Maria is certain that the rookie artist’s feats will bode well for the coming year. 

“I expect the arts will thrive more than ever in 2015, due to greater public awareness of performance arts or intervention of public spaces. These mediums and their involvement of the wider public will raise awareness about art’s social value, and make it live up to its billing of ‘Seni Milik Kita,’ or ‘Art Belongs to Us,’ ” she said. 

“Though obstacles like widespread ignorance of the arts and its enduring image of exclusivity still remain, the artists managed to take art to the masses by taking it out of the galleries and onto the streets more than ever before. 

“After all, art will make people more aware of their roots and reflect national pride.” 

Harsono agreed with Mia. “On the one hand, Jakarta’s size and makeshift infrastructure might be obstacles in making the capital a center of the arts, while the lack of urban spaces might hinder performance and installation art. On the other hand, the capital’s artists can take advantage of these circumstances to make art that reflects Jakarta’s diversity and eclecticism,” he said.

“It’s time to prove that Jakarta can develop an art scene in its own right, not just be an art market for artists from other parts of Indonesia.”

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Jakarta art