So let me set the scene:
Yesterday, I went to visit the Indonesian Visual Arts Archive, IVAA. This is a really wonderful space, with a wonderful mission. Located in the center of Yogya, not far from the Kraton – the royal palace for Yogya court – the archive is a collection of books, films, and photographs offering a chronicle of contemporary art practice in Java and Indonesia. The library is open for all, with many of their resources online.
I went to see what I could find documenting photographic practices in Java. The library does host a small selection of books on photography, and I did find one of particular interest, Yang Kuat Yang Kalah edited by Rama Surya (who’s work was of particular interest). The best approximation I can make of the title is Strong Losers. The book is a series of short photo essays about difficult working conditions, those on the bottom of the economic food chain. There were great series about elephants in captivity, miners, and fishermen.
I found some other great books, specifically one written by French collectors of Indonesian art, Marc and Esmerelda Bolansee, and published in Singapore, Indonesian Contemporary Art Now. While just documenting painting and sculpture, I was interested in the different thematic essays outlining the book, each approaching different cultural patterns and ideas at play in contemporary Indonesian art and identity.
My attempts to really lose myself in the library were cut short. That afternoon, IVAA was hosting an artist’s lecture marathon. They invited a number of young artists to come and speak about their work.
The room used for the lectures was full of twenty-something hipsters, with ratty jeans, tshirts, and converse sneakers. They all had phones and laptops in front of them, and sat around on the floor, hungry and eager to listen to the speakers.
I stayed to listen to the first speaker, at least for a while. His name was Ican Harem. He never took his sunglasses off, had bleached hair, and wore sort of a flop-hawk. He had a strange affect/laugh that he used quite often, usually in a rather flippant way.
Ican spoke about his rebellion – his rejection of religion (raised Muslim), his love of death metal, skateboarding, and coming to terms with his homosexuality.
Ican showed a project, a sort of performance/installation piece, he pursued in Australia, the Karaoke Satan Museum. He showed a lot of videos and installation shots, and seemed to brag about his acceptance of Satan.
In the end, I wasn’t interested in his work at all – rather naive and adolescent – though I admired something about his spirit and quest for freedom (when you are young, it is easy to mistake freedom for vision).
When I looked around the room, I saw something of my own youth in these young artists and hipsters striving for freedom and self-declaration. It was easy to see myself as a young artist, pursuing the things forbidden, and knowing I had to make something new for myself.