Biennale Jogja 2021: Voices of Resistance from Oceania

Yanto Gombo, SIlenced, 2021. Photo by Niken Pamitkasih. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja XVI Artwork Documentation.
Installation view of Betty Adii of Udeido Collective’s Koreri Projection, 2021. Photo by Niken Pamitkasih. Image courtesy of the artist, Udeido Collective and Biennale Jogja XVI Artwork Documentation
Installation view of Mella Jaarsma dan Agus Ongge’s At First There’s Black, 2021.  Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.
Installation view of Greg Semu’s RED COATS + INDIANS 2.0, 2019-2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.
Installation view of Sriwati Masmundari’s Masmundari Memoria (commissioned to Damar Kurung Institute), 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.
Installation view of Y.B. Mangunwijaya’s Room, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.
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Biennale Jogja, one of the longest running art biennales in Indonesia, is holding its 16th edition, titled “Roots < > Routes” and curated by Elia Nurvista and Ayos Purwoaji. Using the tagline “Indonesia with Oceania”, this exhibition marks the end of the “Equator” series which has been running for the past decade. On view until 14 November, 34 artists and art collectives explore diaspora, cultural roots, and the impact of national development and modern knowledge on local communities.

TEXT: Irham Nur Anshari
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

 

Yanto Gombo, SIlenced, 2021. Photo by Niken Pamitkasih. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja XVI Artwork Documentation.

 

Entering ​​Jogja National Museum—the main exhibition site of the Biennale—we are greeted by a giant mural. In the centre of the mural, a figure reminds us of the traditional people from Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia. Unlike the traditional Papuan who are widely represented in the media, this figure wears a bullet-shaped necklace. The colour of the mural is predominantly green and brown, reminiscent of an army uniform. In the bottom right of the mural, bodies of people who are dying are depicted filled with a brown colour, as though portraying pools of blood.

This giant mural, presented by Udeido Collective, sets the tone for the Biennale, which is political in its curatorial premise as it questions the position of Eastern Indonesia in national development projects. Inside the museum, Udeido Collective exhibits various installations from Koreri Projection (2021). In Papuan belief, Koreri is a realm where souls live in peace after passing through the material dimension and all its ironies. Some visuals, such as the prohibition sign to the project area and the bullet-shaped penises installation, emphasise the issue of violence in the occupation of Papua lands.

 

Installation view of Betty Adii of Udeido Collective’s Koreri Projection, 2021. Photo by Niken Pamitkasih. Image courtesy of the artist, Udeido Collective and Biennale Jogja XVI Artwork Documentation

 

Installation view of Mella Jaarsma dan Agus Ongge’s At First There’s Black, 2021.  Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.

 

The same discourse also appears in the work of Mella Jaarsma who collaborates with Agus Ongge, an artist who has worked with tree bark since 1981. In At First There’s Black (2021), clothing becomes a lens for seeing how modern culture represses traditional culture in Papua. During the New Order era in Indonesia (1966–1998), the government launched Koteka Operation to eliminate the use of koteka—a male genital sheath—among Papuans and replace it with pants and clothes which were considered a symbol of modern society. Stories of this repression can be read from the barkcloth and video installation.

Another tale of Papua can be found in Vembri Waluyas’ photographic work The Cost of Trans Papua (2021), which documents the irony behind the construction of the Trans-Papua Highway. The 4300 km highway aimed to mitigate regional isolation and improve the economy; instead, it resulted in prolonged tribal conflicts, large-scale deforestation, and marginalisation of local communities. Another group of young Papuan artists, Indonesia Art Movement, presents an installation that alludes to the practice of borrowing national identity cards in Papua, which is in line with the anecdote that most Indonesians can’t distinguish the faces of Papuans, reflecting the issue of racial stereotyping in Indonesia.

The portrayal of the hierarchical relationship is analogous: Papua is a marginal region in Indonesia, whereas Oceania is a marginal area of the modern world. French diaspora artist Antoine Pecquet, based in New Caledonia, explores the complexities of postcolonial relations between European colonisers and the indigenous people of New Caledonia. In some of his digital collage works, a tropical Oceania background is depicted in the visual mixtures of Western myths and illustrations.

 

Installation view of Greg Semu’s RED COATS + INDIANS 2.0, 2019-2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.

 

New Zealand-born photographer of Sāmoan descent, Greg Semu, presents photographs that criticise the global popular culture—especially depicted in the Hollywood film archetype of cowboys and Indians—as well as the mainstream historical narrative of Captain Cook’s death. In his work Red Coats + Indians 2.0 (2019–2021), Semu collaborated with actors from the Amis tribe—indigenous people of Taiwan. Meanwhile, Edith Amituanai, also of Sāmoan descent, is showcasing her images of interiors of several houses in the diaspora community of New Zealand.  The images emphasise the contrast to the colonialism legacy that modern houses are white and minimalist.

 

Installation view of Sriwati Masmundari’s Masmundari Memoria (commissioned to Damar Kurung Institute), 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.

 

Installation view of Y.B. Mangunwijaya’s Room, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Biennale Jogja.

 

In addition to works by contemporary artists, Biennale Jogja also features works by eminent modern masters. One of them is Sriwati Masmundari (1904–2005), a painter of “damar kurung”, a typical Gresik lantern since the 16th century. In another room, the works of YB Mangunwijaya (1929–1999), an architect, writer, and religious leader, popularly known as Romo Mangun, are presented. From the archival works of Masmundari and Mangunwijaya, it shows that the spirit of decolonisation has been continuously maintained against the centralisation of modern knowledge.

Ultimately, with the inclusion of artists from Papua and artists from other parts of Oceania, this edition of Biennale Jogja offers sharp criticism on modern life that is widely taken for granted. Although both exhibition curators are from Java (the central region of Indonesian politics), it seems that there is an attempt to showcase these stories not as mere exotic stories from the periphery­—as mainstream media usually frame stories from that region. In the midst of contemporary global culture which is still dominated by western and northern countries, this edition of Biennale Jogja is important as it highlights the decolonisation practices through contemporary art.

 

 

Biennale Jogja XVI Equator #6
6 October 2021 – 14 November 2021
​​Jogja National Museum, Yogyakarta

 

 

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