Ok Video was established by the Ruangrupa art collective to showcase 73 artworks by both local and foreign artists. (The Peak Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Revisiting Suharto's New Order Through Media

JUNE 24, 2015

Jakarta. The pair of crocodile skins festooned on the wall look out of place amid the multimedia installations or video art in Central Jakarta’s National Gallery, as they look more like a prop for the Crocodile Dundee movies or a natural history museum. Regardless of their prehistoric look, the skins make up the “Lubang Buaya" installation pieces made by Dutch-Indonesian artist Mella Jaarsma, a stalwart of Indonesian art who founded the Cemeti art gallery in Yogyakarta.

The piece is named after a well that was used to dump the bodies of seven military officers allegedly killed by members of the Indonesian Communist Party ahead of a planned coup on Oct. 1 1965.

Visitors are encouraged to enter their heads in the cavity of the crocodiles’ skin and hear interviews about the incident.

“I interviewed about 30 people from different generations and backgrounds about Lubang Buaya. Their responses show how [the ambiguity surrounding] the incident has lasted to this day,”  Mella notes.

The tragedy triggered a nationwide purge across Indonesia, killing up to a million suspected communists and wiping out the Indonesian Communist Party, which was among the largest of its kind in the world.

“There are still question marks [about the] ‘real story’ behind this massacre and the roles of the Indonesian Communist Party and Suharto in it," she adds.

Fellow artist and filmmaker Hafiz Rancakkale took on the same theme — albeit its hagiographic aspects — with his video essay “Menggali Buaya” ("Digging up the Crocodile"), which juxtaposes reliefs from the Lubang Buaya memorial with digging up the dark earth, just as independent efforts to find the truth contrasts with the government’s official line.

The piece hauntingly depicts the Suharto government’s efforts to portray the incident and the ensuing purge as a black mark on Indonesia, even as it was highlighted as one of the pillars of the late strongman’s New Order regime.

“Lubang Buaya was one of the most excellent communication strategies of the New Order, as well as one of its most misleading. The subjective truth was conveyed as a communal truth, presented as a series of images and visualizations,” notes the Jakarta Art Institute alumnus, a leading figure in the capital’s art scene who founded the Ruangrupa and Forum Lenteng art collectives.

Hafiz also observes how revisionism and rampant development did their part in obscuring the truth.

“[Following the fall] of the New Order, the truth is presented in various ways, while [Lubang Buaya] remains silent," Hafiz adds.

“Lubang Buaya” and “Menggali Buaya” make up two of 73 artworks by artists from 22 countries, including Indonesia, Britain, Japan and Pakistan, featured at the seventh Ok Video Indonesian Media Arts Festival. Organized by the Ruangrupa art collective since its inception in 2003, the festival took on the theme “Orde Baru” ("New Order") to mark the 50th anniversary of the regime’s founding amid the chaos of the 1965 purges.

The Ok Video exhibition also seeks to explore ways the regime used the media for its own ends.

“[The Ok Video festival] seeks to examine how [the New Order] used [analog] media to build public perception. The use of digital media controlled by the public after the Cold War or the fall of authoritarianism and the rise of democracies will also be examined,” says Ok Video artistic director and curator Mahardika Yudha.

“Many historical archives have only just been released to the public, enabling the international community to reinterpret [Indonesia's] past. Similarly, Internet media technology has succeeded in breaking the boundaries of geography and time."

The premise is reflected in the showing of digital imaging, internet-based art and other innovative artwork in addition to video, film and performance arts.

Using the media to control the masses and instil fear is perhaps reflected in posters of the 1980s children’s TV series “Si Titik," which depicts the Suharto regime’s heavyhanded attempts to settle and civilize remote areas like Papua, and satirically kitschy posters for horror movies featuring lurid titles like “Darah” ("Blood") and “Wajah Seperti Mayat” ("A Face Like a Corpse").

“‘Si Titik’ was similar to many horror movies in the Orde Baru era in that it's set in villages and dark forests,” says academic Veronica Kusumaryati. “Both areas are where the regime carried out its dirty work and reign of terror."

Foreign artists, among them the Chto Delat art collective from Russia, recounts the growth of democracy in Indonesia and its lapse to authoritarian rule in the "Songspiel Triptych." A three-part musical depicting the growth of democracy in Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the video work is equally critical of liberals who ushered in democracy, the oligarchs who control the country’s economy and promote consumerism, as well as hard-line conservatives wishing for a return to the Soviet Union. The  situation is echoed in an Indonesia split between conservatives nostalgic for the Suharto era and and progressives determined to put the past behind them.

The Peak

Ok Video Media Arts Festival — Orde Baru runs through June 28

The National Gallery of Indonesia

Jalan Medan Merdeka Timur No. 14

Central Jakarta 10110

Telephone: (021)34833954, (021)3813021

Email: galnas@indosat.net.id

Website: www.galeri-nasional.or.id