Monday, January 17, 2011

Yogya, the Mural-hearted City

originally published in Jakarta Java Kini, 2007

Since the 1990s, visual artists in Yogyakarta have worked on creating murals throughout the city. Although in the beginning, mural emerged sporadically, since 1997 a group called Apotik Komik, which consisted of Samuel Indratma, Bambang Toko Wicaksono, Arie Diyanto and Popok Tri Wahyudi, started to look at their work on the city’s walls as an art project that can contribute to the city’s community.
    Starting the year 2000, the group worked on a wall beside the house of one of the artists in the group, Samuel Indratma, and later they looked for more spaces for the expression, particularly walls that were neglected. “The facilities were readily available since many of Yogya’s walls were not maintained well and some were even dilapidated, so we thought, there is space for our work,” explained Samuel.
    “In the beginning, we did not even call it mural, as we were not aware of the term,” told Arie Diyanto. “We called it simply, ‘comic for walls’!” he reminisced. “Our aim was essentially to decorate the city,” explained Bambang ‘Toko’ Wicaksono. “In the end, it became a forum that is able to gather people in the government who were so bureaucratic, architects who are so idealistic, and artists who wanted to be free to express themselves,” he added.
    Certainly the efforts of the mural artists were not always met with a positive response. Some people liked it, some people do not quite get it. Gudeg vendor Sunarto thought that the murals seemed to make the city appear dirty, especially since he did not understand what was being painted. Yet, he was open minded enough to realize that perhaps the younger people would understand. By contrast, becak driver Mardi thought that the murals really rejuvenated the city and was amazed at the visual likeness of the figures in the paintings to real human beings.
    The legality of the creation of murals certainly is an issue with which some artists have to deal. Many murals were done by “bombing” a wall during the night time, just like a guerilla attack. When visual artist Tatang wanted to strike on a site not far from the Yogya station, the security guards noticed, fired some shot into the air, but the young men could escape. However, when they tried to return not long thereafter, they were ambushed and the six artists in Tatang’s team were caught.
    Creating murals might of course be considered vandalism, but according to Samuel Indratma, the corporations using posters can be seen as greater vandals. He questions what the community benefits from the posters. “To be sure, the community does not get anything intellectually from the posters,” he said. Indeed, corporate posters can also be seen as making people become more consumptive, if anything.
    Mahatmanto, an architect and critical observer of urban issues, sees the murals are able to contribute to the community. He sees the potential of murals in forming the identity of a community. If people in the community and the artists are able to work together on the creation of murals, it can make people feel more at home in their community. Artists need to adopt a public strategy that would make the residents of the city participate in the process, which would them feel more comfortable and be able to better enjoy their city.
Living near a dam that extends through seven community groups, artist Eko Nugroho proposed a project to paint a mural on the walls of the dam. The community offered a positive response and even wanted to participate. Finally the project was approved and the district head provided some funds for the project, which was primarily used to buy paints.
    One of the residents offered the artists a modest amount of money if they would also paint his house. When he was asked what he wanted them to paint, the man told them that he sold dawet  (a kind of dessert that uses rice pudding immersed in a syrup drink of palm sugar or cendol as it is known in Jakarta) and perhaps they could paint something with a message telling people that they accept orders too. When the artists finished painting, the man’s wife thanked them for the nice picture, but expressed her complaint as well: she said that when selling dawet, she never wore a kebaya and sarong costume as was portrayed in the picture!
    In any case, she accepted the mural in front of her home anyhow, and now it is part of Yogya’s numerous murals that has turned Yogyakarta into a “Mural-hearted” City.

This article is heavily based on the interviews compiled in the Jogja Berhati Mural video produced by C Cinema. Copies of the DVD can be ordered from IVAA (Indonesian Visual Arts Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to the documentation of Indonesian visual arts, based in Yogyakarta). Contact  HYPERLINK "" for futher details.

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