By Bramantyo Indirawan
Indonesia’s political history can be summed up in three eras; Old Order, New Order, and Reformation. The date was 21 May 1998 when President Soeharto stepped down from power and the New Order or famously known as Orde Baru was replaced by Reformation or Reformasi that brought promises and new light to the nation.
The transition and aftermath of Orde Baru was immortalized through multiple mediums with art being one of them. Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia created an exhibition regarding this particular issue from 01 May to 21 July 2019 titled Dunia dalam Berita.
Taken from an Indonesian news show made by the state-owned television station TVRI, it used to be played every day during Orde Baru time of reign and lingered on to those who watched it. Artists Agus Suwage, FX Harsono, Heri Dono, I Gak Murniasih, I Nyoman Masriadi, Krisna Murti, Mella Jaarsma, S. Teddy D., the group Taring Padi, and Tisna Sanjaya showcased their works that tried to tackle issues in Indonesia from the end of Orde Baru to the start of Reformasi that still continue until the present day.
Two generation of artists from Dunia dalam Berita that can be translated as ‘World in the News’ shared their works that signify the social and political conditions of Indonesia’s transformation. Repression and limitations of creativity are present in the Orde Baru, which is why most of the art was created or shown after 1998 when Orde Baru was finally abolished.
Mella Jarsma, said to Listen to the World that when Orde Baru was still in reign, she didn’t want to exhibit her political art and only limited herself to anthropological works.
“In the era of Soeharto, who am I as a Dutch to criticize,” said the woman in front of her creations including Shameless Gold IV (2002) that presents a woman standing still in a gold colored costume.
When the dawn of Reformasi created democratization and accepts globalization, Mella began creating and exhibiting her more political works. On the third of July 1998, she made her first political art titled Pribumi Pribumi, a performance art that cooked and served people frogs for free in the streets.
“I use food as a way of communication . . . to open up a dialogue about what happen to the Chinese people living in Indonesia. I use frog legs because it is a Chinese food and it’s unclean for Indonesian Muslim,” said Mella on the performance video that was also shown at Museum MACAN.
There are a few works that was created before 1998 in the exhibition, one of them is the 1992 titled Hoping to Hear From you Soon by Heri Dono that depict expressive and wild figures that tried to communicate with each other. Bermain Catur (1994-1998) also showed similar figure, but with little characters that has faces similar to powerful people in Indonesia.
Indeed, the majority of the art that shown in Dunia dalam Berita is made or presented after the collapse of Orde Baru. Freedom of expression burst out when Reformasi created spaces for them, but when repression is at the highest level, there are those who still fearlessly create art as criticism—along with its own cost and consequences.
Although we didn’t find a case similar to the poster child for criticism through art in a regime of repression like the one that happened in Germany.
In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party spread its beliefs in Germany that eventually took charge in the country. A man with the name of Helmut Herzfeld or John Heartfield (1891-1968) is a courageous artist that criticized an era of repression. Creating photomontage art pieces such as Adolf, der Ubermensch (1932) that depicts Hitler orating with an x-ray showing gold coins in his esophagus, and Göring: Der Henker des Dritten Reichs (1933) that showed Nazi German leader Hermann Göring as a butcher that wielded an axe with blood all over it.
In April, the paramilitary organization Schutzstaffel or SS attempted to assassinate John Heartfield, although he left Berlin and moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia. The man who was number five on the Gestapo’s most wanted list moved again to England in 1939 and finally settled in East Berlin for the remainder of his life.
In Dunia dalam Berita, the largest work that can be seen when walking through the exhibition is a rather huge art installation by Tisna Sanjaya titled Visit Indonesian Years (1999). It seemingly mocked Indonesian tourism through the past conflict and repression.
The props that represent Indonesian army and the International Force of East Timor (INTERFET) was burned not on purpose by the artist, but by people who think it mocked the army in 2003 at Bandung. “In court, Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja think the art was trash and the mayor of Bandung Dada Rosada think that the work has no ethics,” said Tisna in front of his work.
Although Orde Baru was abolished, the shadow of an era still exists in Reformasi through cases like Tisna. We beg the question of ethics, is it wrong to expose the dark past in Indonesia? How can we grow if we do not acknowledge our roots, bad and good, all of them that shaped the here and now?
Other works that can be seen in the exhibition includes a war machine named Viva La Muerte (2000) by S. Teddy D. (1970-2016) and a purple room filled with the same toilets but different food drawings in the bowl by Krisna Murti titled Makanan Tidak Mengenal Ras (1999). Seeing the past and making sense of the present, Dunia dalam Berita invites everyone to see art works that tried to define the two eras and the transition in Indonesia.
*Featured image: Viva La Muerte (1999) by S. Teddy D.
Author: Bramantyo Indirawan
Freelance Journalist and Writer