Jogja’s Political Street Art Flourishes

OB-WZ988_antita_G_20130410050029Jogja’s Political Street Art Flourishes adalah sebuah tulisan singkat dari ASIAN WALL STREET JORNAL tentang fenomena gerakan “street art politis” yang semakin marak di Jogja.

Yogyakarta, INDONESIA – The Indonesian street artist who calls himself Anti-Tank chose his name while watching the news in 2004.

After hearing a reporter say that a militant had destroyed an American tank using an “anti-tank gun,” the artist, he said, “started using the name for all my personal projects, like T-shirts and ’zines.”

Today Anti-Tank, who lives in the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, stays true to his alias’s spirit. He plasters posters all over Jogja, as Yogyakarta is affectionately known, calling attention to human-rights issues and criticizing the Indonesian government. “I have no problem if people call my art political,” he said. “For me, everything is politics.”

Jogja is known as an arts community in Indonesia, with pockets of batik artists, puppeteers and poets. But it also has a history of political resistance. During the Java War in the 1800s, Yogyakarta-born Prince Diponegoro fought against Dutch colonists, and more than a century later, Yogyakarta became the Indonesian Republic’s temporary capital during the Indonesian National Revolution.

That sensibility can be seen in the city’s street art. Overnight, ephemera such as murals, posters and stickers crop up on Jogja’s walls, street lamps and underpasses, challenging capitalism and the country’s leaders. Most of it can be found in the city’s south side, a popular area among artists due to the relatively low living costs.

Grace Samboh, who has worked with the Indonesian Visual Art Archive in Jogja, knows many of the city’s street artists and points to the political and often critical messages in their work, which she says contrast with the public art found in other Indonesian cities like Jakarta and Bandung.

An artist named Digiesigit, for example, painted starving children on McDonald’s signs around the city. As Ronald McDonald extends his arms in welcome to customers, two emaciated figures extend theirs. One of Anti-Tank’s best-known works is a black-and-white poster with the face of Munir Said Thalib, a human-rights activist who was assassinated in 2004. The poster says “Menolak Lupa,” or “Refuse to Forget.”

Street art, as it is known in the West, emerged in Indonesia in the 2000s. However, arts collectives existed before that, with outfits such as Jogja-based Apotik Komik creating colorful public murals that depicted people in pain or anger as a commentary on everyday life.

Though the practice is technically illegal, street art is flourishing in cities across Indonesia – a fact that hasn’t escaped marketers. Ardi Yunanto, editor of online journal Karbon, notes that footwear and cigarette companies such as Djarum have sponsored street art events in the hopes of capturing the youth market. Companies also hire street artists to create ads in the form of graffiti and murals. “There are criticisms regarding this phenomenon,” Mr. Yunanto said, noting that such commercial use goes against what, for many, street art should represent.

Street art isn’t always well-received. Anti-Tank says some of his work was recently destroyed. In October, he fashioned posters that obliquely critiqued Indonesian Vice President Boediono, annotating an image of the politician’s face with a lyric from an Indonesian pop song about a neglectful boyfriend. According to the artist, the posters were taken down or covered over after photos of them were circulated on Facebook and Twitter. It remains unclear by whom.

Street art may have its detractors, but Ms. Samboh says that Jogja’s practitioners show no sign of going away. In fact, this rebellious and outspoken new generation of artists is increasingly banding together. “I did a little experiment last year,” she said. “When I needed to do a street art campaign, I only texted one or two of them, and suddenly seven groups appeared.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s