Illustration by Agata MarszaƂek.

Mella Jaarsma

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As founders of Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Nindityo Adipurnomo and I have a lot to celebrate this year.
The status of Indonesian art has reached a position that we could only dream about when we started 25 years ago. Large, successful art events have increased interest in Indonesian contemporary art,
both nationally and internationally, which has created unprecedented opportunities for artists.

Biennale Jogja XII, entitled Equator #2, “Not a Dead End: Indonesia Encounters the Arab Region” and curated by Agung Hujatnikajennong from Indonesia, and Sarah Rifky from Egypt, opened its doors to the public in Yogyakarta in November. For the first time, we truly felt that the event had become a destination for an international audience. Visiting delegations toured artists’ studios and the city’s many art hubs, which flourished with presentations and meetings.

Biennale Jogja is just one of the events this year that showed the vivid and vibrant visual arts scene of Indonesia, which seems to have entered a new era. The 15th Jakarta Biennale, which also took place in November, was titled “Siasat,” which means “tactic” in Bahasa Indonesian, and aimed to visualize creative tactics that overcome the limitations and challenges of living in big cities such as Jakarta. Hundreds of young people attended the opening, thanks to the extensive networks of the local art collective Ruangrupa, which organized the Biennale in collaboration with the Jakarta Arts Council. An “underground” exhibition, held in a parking lot underneath a posh theater, featured diverse art projects that involved much of the local communities. This show served as a map of current art activities, reflections and research happening within the city.

The sixth annual ArtJog took place at the Yogyakarta Cultural Center in July and was organized by Heri Pemad Art Management. The event is set up like an art fair, featuring artists rather than galleries, with most of the participants coming from Java. ArtJog is an excellent, commercial exhibition that attracts collectors and secures enough funding to commission large-scale installations. The opening was phenomenal and was attended by thousands of mostly young locals, who queued up to enter the trendy show.

Biennale Jogja, however, took a rather more conceptual approach. This was the second year in its decade-long program to show art from countries straddling the equator. This year the focus was on the Arab world, while the previous edition had centered on India; and over the next years we will be seeing works from Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. The Biennale fosters curatorial and artistic exchanges with the aim of offering the public of Yogyakarta insight into art from these international regions and a comparison of their social, political and aesthetic values. Alongside the main exhibition, other programs also contribute to discourse and art development, such as the “Parallel Events” section, which consists of interactive projects for and by local artists and communities, as well as the Festival Equator, the Equator Symposium and various talks and discussions.

What interests me most about these three events—Biennale Jogja, Jakarta Biennale and ArtJog—is their different, individual characters, which very much represent the diversity and dynamism of the current Indonesian art scene. Both of the recent biennials in Jakarta and Yogyakarta received significant government funding in addition to their support from the private sector. This is an optimistic sign that a new era may now be on the rise, with a solid platform for multiform organizations and approaches that may sustain prosperity for art across the country. When we founded Cemeti 25 years ago, we could not begin to imagine arriving at this point. That said, in examining the development of the arts in Indonesia, we must never forget that we are actually only looking
at the scene in a few cities on Java and not at the entire country.
The condition of the arts on hundreds of other Indonesian islands has hardly changed since we began.

This year, with the end of Cemeti’s 25th anniversary program, “Turning Targets,” which was a critical and reflective analysis of the ebbs and flows of Indonesian contemporary art practice and discourse, we concluded that a rapid development of critical and theoretical writing within the country is most needed. In the exhibition “Dobrak!,” artists, anthropologists and sociologists took matters into their own hands by translating research work into art projects. This show, originally shown at Cemeti, will travel to islands outside of Java in 2014. In a similar vein, for “The Pseudo Participative Project,” we invited 20 visual artists, performers, musicians and actors to investigate different artistic communities, events and phenomena. Their findings were then presented in talks and discussions. In the next phase of this project, the artists will exhibit creative works based on their research.

During the year Cemeti also held the Young Curators’ Forum, a symposium and intensive workshop for 17 young curators, organized in collaboration with various experts in the field. Each of the young curators developed proposals, and the two strongest were given the opportunity to realize their projects. In addition, we initiated the Visual Arts Management Forum for art managers to workshop and exchange ideas, with the aim to professionalize the personnel of various local art hubs. Judging by these recent developments, we will remain busy for years to come.