State and ArtBy kedaikebun • Jul 17th, 2008 • Category: Articles
STATE AND ART: A Brief Review
By : Agung Kurniawan
State is a crucial element in the art world. It has been a very prolonged history for the government of Indonesia to set up (with direct or indirect intervention) an ideal art world basing on its own preference from the post-sovereignty of the Dutch government to Republik Indonesia Serikat (RIS) in 1949 until the most recent government today. Every administration stands for different levels of importance on art. In the era of early government (1950s) applying the western-like model of liberal democracy, the government of Indonesia provided monthly subsidies to every single artist (painters, sculptors, and traditional dancers). This democratic climate had stimulated the augmentation of freedom to express which was incomparable to any other era.
Passing through all the ups and downs during the liberal democracy of which being called as a failure of western democracy by the army, the government was replaced with a fascist ideology positioning Sukarno (the first president of Indonesia) as a single ruler. Sukarno was a fanatic art-fonder. His favorite, for sure (just like other fascist rulers; Hitler, Mussolini, except for Soeharto’s) was realism art. As a result, his “fondness” of this kind of art had brought financial benefits for a number of realism artists; their art works were displayed (although Sukarno was a president, he was not a wealthy individual and frequently paid for his collections on installment bases), taken in for some projects, and so on.
In the same era, a new phenomenon emerged in the art world in which art was being used as a propaganda media by some political parties. The sensational triumph of Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) on the first Pemilihan Umum (Pemilu) was an illustration on the involvement of art as a propaganda medium by a party (in fact, PKI was in the third order after nationalist and Islamic parties but political observers said that it was considered being the triumph of PKI since it had ever been banned before).
Shortly, almost all political parties made use of art as a trigger to get the attention of public (a similar way used also by Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, a recent Islamic party exercising Islamic art to gain large popularity from the election voters). Gradually, the role of the state as an important patron in the beginning (through its monthly subsidies and the projects of monuments) had been replaced by the patronage role of political parties. Consequently, one influential thing had been missing within the phase was the freedom of expression; art became a sub-coordinate of political importance.
After the mass-killing tragedy in 1965 (it was dramatically pictured in several areas of Indonesia that one was slaughtered in three seconds), art serving some political parties was missing out on them because it had been taken as mere democratic symbols. The strong domination of military had led art to be apolitical; it ignored any discussion on political incidents like the mass-killing tragedy in 1965 for instance.
At that time, the existing art style was non-figurative art (expressionism abstract, decorative, and some other ones) as the orientation in support of the communist at the start but turned into America afterward. There were a number of intellectuals sent to America and some of them were from Institut Teknologi Bandung (An art institute in Bandung called as a “western laboratory”. This so-called predicate was actually rather emotional than logical in reason). The project of intellectual-Americanization had affected on the growth of the “extremely-western middle class” or let’s say so American in the life style. Indeed, they ironically lost the main function of their class as an agent of change. Only those who in actual fact served their artistic taste could survive in the time of Soeharto (the second president of Indonesia)’s fascism.
The role of the state turned out to be so dominant. It could be said that it was a kind of biologist father and mother to art. The centralistic consequence of this era was that the state had later built art centers in the provinces of Indonesia. Some of them possessed first-class facilities. As the purpose was not to support art life but control it so the infrastructure was not filled with competent human resources in terms of quality. Thus, it became such an extreme waste and then followed by a cycle of endless corruption.
In this phase, the state, state intellectuals (mostly taught in the state universities), and army united in a sacred trinity influencing the art ground of Indonesia. Fortunately, this terrifying regime finally fell down for its own greed. Nevertheless, the system it had generated from generations to generations would stay for keeps in hundreds of years if there was no revolutionary action taken to change it.
Right now, some artists are not only busy with their art works but also on the projects of infrastructure development for having no trust on the old “building” (art institutions, art schools, and state galleries) created by Orde Baru . The emergence of active artists in art infrastructure development is an alternative to break the deadlock. Building non-bureaucratic galleries in favor of the artists and art audience, establishing alternative schools supporting their students, and holding and designing critical exhibitions are some of the examples.
The art life will be alive and colorful when the state is positioned as a limp duck only watching a change with an empty look. The next agenda for the art activists is to re-empower the state, strengthen, and control it for not to be a kind of monster again. A weak state actually may breed militant groups moving in the name of religions, political parties, and tribal issues to take a part in the role of the state in doing a control. In fact, these groups are kinds of duplicates of the state violence becoming brutal in some extents.
The tasks of the activists are to use art as an entry point to capture social issues, not only to compete in artistic perfection but also practice social awareness. Galleries previously served as the “slaves” of beauty are changed into social laboratories in which any critical issue is potential to be discussed without the burdens of norms, taboos, and social controls. In short, the state is only to stand up waiting in worries without any urgency to step in any inch in a gallery’s floor.
Empowering the state is probably not a popular decision and may be impossible or let’s say hard to do. The problem is that the state has been failed in training its bureaucrats as effective machines. It is obvious that the mentality of Indonesian bureaucrats is known to be slow-moving masters begging for special advantages but not in the immense services for public.
The broken mentality as a result of the previous state policies is placing bureaucrats as a group of numbers and mass applicable to be used for the political importance of the state. As an example, Taman Budaya Yogyakarta is staffed with incompetent ones practically doing nothing and it is only about 10% (or even 10 people) out of tens of staff working hard in commitment.
The risk should be taken because a strong and democratic state is the main protection for the minority groups within which artists are parts of them.
I believe that this dream will come true only if there are no “hands of God” distract it.