Art Collectives in Indonesia -Part 2-

Two Rounds: From Post-New Order to the Decentralization Era


Gatari Surya Kusuma

Screening Movie Gulung Tukar

→ To Art Collectives in Indonesia -Part 1-

In Jakarta, there is ruangrupa, a collective founded in 2000. The spirit of ruangrupa at that time was to create a space for young artists who were alienated from commercial galleries, along with their respective quality standards. Then, ruangrupa is present as a collective that opens up space to make mistakes and experiments. They regularly participate in exhibitions by bringing the spirit of young people to break the conventional rules and provide room for errors.
Slightly to the east, there is Ruang MES56 (2002) and KUNCI Cultural Studies Center (currently the KUNCI Study Forum & Collective) (1999). Ruang MES56 has a similar spirit to the Indonesian New Art Movement, which is challenging the Indonesian Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta campus, specifically the Photography department, which has an indefensible standard and definition of photography and is trapped in the mere definition of beauty. In addition, Ruang MES56 also has the ambition to be able to bring photography into account in the art world. Therefore, their collective method is to continue to provide a space for the experimentation of photographic mediums and to find the right tone to incorporate photography into art.
In addition to Ruang MES56, there is KUNCI Study Forum & Collective, formerly known as KUNCI Cultural Studies Center. The collective movement of KUNCI started from the spirit of publishing. KUNCI came to life after the New Order era collapsed. The presence of KUNCI can also be considered as a form of celebration of freedom. As previously mentioned, gathering and forming groups were considered wild organizations and could be dismissed with any means of violence during the New Order era. Therefore, forming a collective while issuing publications without having to “ask permission” was KUNCI's choice of celebrating freedom.
The three collectives are located in Java. Since colonial times, Indonesia has had unequal access between Java and other islands. Java is the center and everything that happens in Java will be considered as a benchmark for what happens on other islands. In reality, it is the opposite. Java and other islands possess particular capacities, characters, and qualities that are incomparable. 
In Sulawesi island, specifically in Makassar, there is a collective called Tanahindie. Tanahindie commenced in 1999 right after the end of the New Order era. During the New Order era, press freedom was also restricted. Only channels under government control were free to release news. Voices from channels other than the ones associated with the government were considered wild. Moreover, the news only focused on what happened in Java. Tanahindie emerged with a collective spirit to start the practice of public journalism. They practise public journalism and provide space so that the media can also become a space for the public to report what is happening in their own environment without any demands to reduce the news.
Thus the characteristics of groups with similar spirit patterns. The root of their collective movement is the struggle against the same regime. Obviously, the way the movements are carried out by these collectives cannot be seen as an incubation space. Their presence is a sign or response to the occurring social conditions. Perhaps, it is a bit difficult to view a collective with the logic of a gallery or museum that produces and displays objects. They will continue to move and adapt along with the development of time. However, when they feel that their struggle needs to be ended, then there would come the time for the collective to cease. 

  • Kunci 20th Birthday

Round II: Between Art Collective and the Challenges of Social and Ecological Inequality in the 2010 to present time frame.

Moving forward to the years 2009-2010 to the present, the emergence and reverberation of post-New Order collectives seem to have provided young artists with alternative styles and options for practising art, apart from approaching art galleries and institutions. Art collectives and their "home" are the alternative spaces for young artists. They see that collectives provide freedom and options as a strategy to survive. In addition, art collectives also provide answers to academic unrest that occurs on campus, for instance, the inability of teachers to accommodate students' freedom of thought and expression, the outdated learning curricula, and the lack of access for students to develop networks independently outside the campus. And all these needs are more or less accommodated by the existence of art collectives. This is reasonable, as art collectives are initially formed on the basis of these demands.
Within these five years, when there were countless discussion spaces to talk about the recurring social and ecological injustices in Indonesia, the movement of art collective discourse has also expanded. This was triggered by the discourse of the climate crisis in the northern hemisphere and the fact that the southern hemisphere is also enduring ecological and social injustice as a result. Likewise, discourses circulating within art collectives have also expanded. They no longer place art as the center, but expand art and cultural works as a language and a means of movement. In fact, this value has also been proposed by Lekra, but it was never discussed properly because all traces of the intellectual property of the Lekra members were erased.
As I recall, there are several groups that also combined this value into their collectivism. In fact, a new collective embryo also emerged on the basis of the need to respond to this injustice situation. This is unavoidable. If you respond to my question at the beginning of this writing, maybe this could be the answer or maybe this provides a clue to the question: has the function of art collectives changed as challenges arose throughout the changing of times? 
It began with the Mosintuwu Institute. The Mosintuwu Institute is an association in Poso, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, which emerged as a form of peacekeeping efforts during the conflict and post-conflict of religious-based violence in Poso. This association started in 2009. Their main program is gathering mothers and children and supporting them through their healing process. This is in response to the violence in Poso in 1998 (coinciding with the reformation) that left deep wounds that led to prolonged trauma. They use arts and culture as their main methods. The Mosintuwu Institute must absolutely be counted as a part of art collectivism that is currently happening and evolving in Indonesia. For example, they conduct storytelling workshops for mothers and children to train self-confidence and as one of the post-conflict healing methods. Art is no longer seen as a single product but as a method and extension of cultural works that cannot be separated from our daily lives.
Within a close range, there is the Forum Sudut Pandang in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are a group of young people in Palu who were active after the big earthquake and tsunami in 2018. They realized one thing, namely the lack of knowledge about disaster mitigation as residents who live in areas prone to natural disasters. Not to mention, the problem of centralization. Therefore, Forum Sudut Pandang used artistic and cultural approaches in starting their collective work. They do not only produce artworks, but also use their art and culture ideas and practices to distribute disaster mitigation knowledge and create a space to strengthen the community's ecosystem network, especially in the realm of art and culture.
A similar thing was also done by Lakoat Kujawas, a group of young people working in the arts and culture sector in Taiftob, South Central Timor, East Nusa Tenggara. They carry the passion to build their own independent strategy as a group. This initiative also emerged due to the centralization of the island of Java, which prevented other islands from getting an equal share of access and information. Not to mention, the New Order government also contributed to exacerbating this inequality, especially in terms of food. Suharto forbade planting seeds other than those specified by his regime. This rule resulted in the loss of local knowledge and residents becoming dependent on the center and the city to find a job. Departing from this problem, Lakoat Kujawas developed cultural arts practices to jointly work on ways to be independent and create a network to strengthen their group.
In East Java, Indonesia, there is a city called Tulungagung. Even though the city is located in Java, the problem of equitable access and infrastructure, especially in terms of arts, is not evenly distributed.  Gulung Tukar emerged as a cultural arts group dedicated to starting a more sustainable arts and culture ecosystem. They try to create their own ecosystem to not depend on central arts ecosystems such as Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Their various activities also depart from local cultural roots and they try not to follow the flow carried out by the center.
Back in Yogyakarta, there is also an arts and culture collective focusing on food issues and their relation to politics, history, and culture called the Bakudapan Food Study Group. Apart from producing artworks, they are also active in using cultural activities such as initiating cooking workshops with communities, drawing, and initiating discussions to discuss food issues. They use art as a medium to tell stories and build a circumstance where they can talk about topics that are not normally discussed easily.

  • Screening Movie Gulung Tukar

Back in Yogyakarta, there is also an arts and culture collective focusing on food issues and their relation to politics, history, and culture called the Bakudapan Food Study Group. Apart from producing artworks, they are also active in using cultural activities such as initiating cooking workshops with communities, drawing, and initiating discussions to discuss food issues. They use art as a medium to tell stories and build a circumstance where they can talk about topics that are not normally discussed easily.

Currently, Ruangrupa is developing itself into a meta collective, the Gudskul Ecosystem. The Gudskul Ecosystem is composed of various collectives. They do not at all cost limit the medium of choice of the members. Emphasizing to keep creating a space for experimentation is one among other things present in the Gudskul Ecosystem. One of the many focuses of their program is working with urban farmers near their location: Jagakarsa, South Jakarta. Surely, this focus is also driven by the fact that injustice in access to food also occurs in the capital city of Jakarta. Then, Gudskul as a cultural entity also cannot turn a blind eye to the inequality that occurs around it. Hence, Gudskul together with Selarasa–a community of urban farmers–initiated a franchise space and distribution of food markets among urban farmers.

Perhaps, at the end of my writing, I would like to reiterate not to limit the definition of art collectives to the measurement of productivity works. Given that, in a collective, there are also maintenance works that seem to be invisible in the public sphere. These maintenance works also play an important role in the sustainability of an art collective. In addition, culture is not something that is foreign and confined to our daily lives. Culture – and art – is the main language that connects the collectives as described above.
If we are to return to the question above, then the function of art is dynamic and art collectives must also be able to follow and realize their role as well as position in society. Art collectives can no longer be seen as productive works in public. Considering that issues of access and inequalities continue to occur. If I may quote again the spirit put forward by Lekra and the Indonesian New Art Movement, art must not consist of a single narrative, and also art can be open to the community in the context of their location.

・Kerns Virginia. 1997. Women and the Ancestors. United States of America: University Illinois
・Tsuchiya Kenji. 2019. Demokrasi dan Kepemimpinan: Kebangkitan Gerakan Taman Siswa. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka
・Widuretno Diah. 2017. Gesang di Lahan Gersang. Yogyakarta
・Berlant Lauren. (2016). The Commons: Infrastructure for Troubling Times. University of Chicago: SAGE Publishing. 
・Sekolah Salah Didik. (2019). Sekolah Salah Didik Uji Coba 1. Yogyakarta: KUNCI Publication

About the Writer

  • Gatari Surya Kusuma

Gatari Surya Kusuma is a art researcher, writer and curator based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After graduating from the Department of Photography at the Indonesian Institute of the Art in 2016 (BA), she has been developing and sharpening her collectivity practices with her two collectives, doing action research and deepened critical pedagogy with KUNCI Study Forum & Collective and the School of Improper Education. In addition to this, she also does artistic production and ethnographic research related to food the Bakudapan Food Study Group.