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ICON Retrospective

Jogja Gallery, artists who have made an impact on the arts in Yogyakarta since the 1970s.
By Carla Bianpoen | Dec 2006

On 19 September 2006, a new gallery by the name of Jogja Gallery was opened in Yogyakarta, an ancient Javanese center of culture in Central Java, where modern art emerged and developed amidst the quest for national independence and national identity.

The Jogja gallery opened with an exhibition called ICON Retrospective, works of artists considered to have made an impact on the direction that art development took since the 1970s in Yogyakarta. Eighty-five works by 68 artists were selected to represent the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s as Icons of their time.

The significance of this retrospective may be seen in the impact of Yogyakarta artists on the direction of Indonesian modern art. After Indonesia’s recognition as an independent nation in 1948 (Independence Proclamation was in 1945), Yogyakarta had become the capital of the new Indonesian Republic towards the close of 1949. It was a centre of political and cultural activism, pursuing nationalistic ideals although following the techniques of the West.

Political and social situations have always been intricately connected to the arts. Sanggars (studios), set up, among others, by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and others from the Pelukis Rakyat (The People’s Painters), continued nationalistic promulgation, which had coincided with the rise of nationalism, rejecting a style focusing on romantic landscapes, genre scenes, and portraits patronized by the Dutch.

In the 1950s, the politically-left wing Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, or the Institution for the People’s Culture) under the first President Sukarno appropriated the arts for political perusal of the Communist Party, which brought about the historic Cultural Manifesto opposing such practice.

The tide turned with the abortive coup of the Communist Party in late 1965. As the first presidency changed into the second, government support for the arts began to flow, yet neither this support nor the existence of educational art institutes could ultimately guarantee the free flow of artistic expression, as authorities became critical of negative views on the nation or its leaders.

In this period, the 1970s, the back-to-the-roots trend, which included elements of Javanese culture producing what was called decorative art, was rejected by a group of young artists who gathered in the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (New Art Movement) and stood up with three-dimensional works critiquing the dominating political and military power, highlighting deteriorating conditions in the environment and the poverty and the suffering of the masses. Installation, performance and happening art became the mediums of expression.

A work by FX Harsono titled Rantai Yang Santai (A relaxed chain 1975) consists of a mattress, and cushions conspicuously laid in chains. According to Harsono, the situation then was so full of uncertainties (the military began to be involved in campuses, and the students council was disbanded, etc.), evoking feeling of intense insecurity, being ‘haunted even when in your most private sphere of the bedroom’.

The 1980s saw a new vibrancy in the city. Lucia Hartini, the only visible female artist at the time emerged with her astounding surreal swirls yearning for a better world, Ivan Sagito’s paintings of cows, old women with long hair and hollow eyes transforming the realistic into a surrealistic ambience in critique of prevailing situations, Nindityo Adipurnomo’s 3-D works protesting his Javanese tradition of fallacies, Dede Eri Supriia’s paintings of urban hardships, Heri Dono’s appropriation of Javanese "wayang" images to take political stances with mocking humor.

Following the economic boom, galleries were mushrooming mostly with commercial intent, favoring 'high art', and excluding explorative art from their exhibition spaces. In such a situation, alternative spaces emerged such as Cemeti gallery (later Cemeti Art House) of Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma, both artists in their own right, which became instrumental in bringing potential artists to the fore, and to international attention. Cemeti stood out from other alternative spaces, because its owners kept an impeccable management, a ready data base of their exhibiting artists, maintaining and connecting to local and international networks.

Alternative art continued to flourish in Yogyakarta of the 1990s and onwards into the new millennium. From politics, the themes shifted to a variety of never-before. Transcending boundaries, shapes of boats, mortars and pestles, musical instruments, farming and fishing tools and other objects made from wood which have been part of Javanese rural life for centuries, surpass their mere utilitarian function as they emerged in the stylized wooden sculptures by Anusapati; Mella Jaarsma moved from the eternal circle of life and death, to the cloak that slightly change shapes from tent as a metaphor for refugees, and the Muslim cloak as a metaphor for repression, for seeking a sense of security and to hide identity.

While art critical of the political, social situation and the self continues in various forms, community and grassroot-oriented art evolves, exemplified by the Taring Padi Art and Culture Community who evoke critical awareness of repression, human rights through creative activities with village children, theatre performances, workshops. Earlier, initiatives by artists like Mulyono, had included the community in art making as an empowering tool.

Comics came to play a role, with artists gathered in the Apotik Komik collective responding to political and social conditions by taking their comics to the streets, decorating bare walls and setting up billboards, and the creation of alternative exhibition spaces through the publication of Daging Tumbuh, a photocopied compilation of whoever wanted to expose his/her artwork. Published twice a year, its popularity has now gone beyond the national borders, and participants from Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, England and Australia have been noted.

Amidst such hustle and bustle, a group of artists hailing from West Sumatra but studying in Yogya, and calling themselves the Jendela group, distanced themselves from the hectic of dominating the art scene. Their works contain an inherent quality of enjoyable finesse and imagery, with a touch of reverie, even if they include actual social and political critique or commentaries.

The Jogja Gallery comes after many small house-galleries have emerged, and the owners of the non-profit Cemeti Gallery set up in 1988 were recently awarded the Rockefeller 3rd Life Achievement by the Asian Cultural Council for having created "a widely acclaimed organization that serves and engages their local community, Indonesia as a whole, and the art world internationally."

The Jogja Gallery is a private and business-owned enterprise, and supported by the Sultanate to which the ground and the building belongs. The team of curators consisting of Mikke Susanto, a lecturer at the Yogya Indonesia Institute of Arts , and Dr. M. Dwi Marianto, director of the post graduate studies department of the Institute, have been assigned under a year’s contract.

The arts community is partly taking a stand, by now planning an exhibition titled Young Errors, to counter the upcoming Jogja gallery exhibition titled Young Arrows. Others however, take the position of a wait-and-see.


Carla Bianpoen

Art critic, lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. Senior Editor of C-Arts Magazine and a regular contributor for the Jakarta Post.

ICON Retrospective

19 September -
19 November 2006

Jogja Gallery

Jalan Pekapalan No 7
Alun-alun Utara


Mikke Susanto

M. Dwi Marianto


68 artists from Yogyakarta, representing the decades since the 1970s


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