The First Signs

Just before leaving Bali, I visited the town of Seminyak in the south.  I’d never before been to Seminyak, and I’ll be honest and say my first impressions left something to be desired, though I went really just to visit the Biasa Art Center.

It was here that I got my first taste of what I was looking for in beginning my new research in Indonesia.  While I wasn’t necessarily that interested in the work I saw in the gallery, I finally found some people I could discuss ideas with, about contemporary photography in Indonesia

One thing led to another, and while in Java, in Yogya, I was able to meet some of the artists represented at the Biasa Art Center, specifically members of a collective that call themselves Mes 56.

Reading Claire Holt’s book, Indonesian Art:  Continuities and Change, specifically her chapters on the emergence of modernity in Indonesian art and identity, I learned about the propensity for collectives.  Originally, these were in part a way to channel money from the state for artists to work, but they also became conduits for discussing philosophy and motivations.  Mes 56, it seems to be, is born from this same tradition.

Most interesting here was Wimo Ambala Bayang.

Wimo is a photographer trained at ISI Yogya, part of the state funded art education system.  In his mid-thirties, Wimo possesses a great sense of play and creativity.  While some of his work strikes me more than others, I found him quite appealing.  While looking through some books and zines with his pictures, we talked about making photographs, and his experiences at ISI Yogya.

Among other things, he explained to me that the whole idea of photography as a fine art is still new to Indonesia, within the last 5-ish years.  Wimo identifies himself as a rebel, and feels he represents nothing of the traditions in which he was trained, a new Indonesian identity breaking from traditions.

After meeting Wimo and some of the other members of Mes 56, I met with the Rector of ISI Yogyakarta, Dr. Suastiwi Triatmodjo, as well as the Chair of the Photography Department, Soeprapto Soedjono.  With them, I discussed some ideas for collaboration in the future, and learned more about their program and curriculum.  I was also able to see some student photo work exhibited in the school.

The most interesting work here were some pictures made by a student documenting a very strange and violent ritual in a Chinese community in Kalimantan.

It was also a pleasure to meet Pak Soedjono.  Educated in Chicago and Ohio, he struck me as a gentle and patient man, with a clear understanding of himself.

And for all this, I owe a huge thanks to Anggi Minarni, executive director of the Indonesian-Dutch Cultural Center in Yogya.

Later Wimo and Anggi took me to an opening at the Cemeti Art House.  Here I got a greater flavor for the young art scene in Yogya.

In Wimo I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit in Java, and feel confident in saying we’ll work together in the future.


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