The Indonesia Street Art Database (ISAD) explores and helps develop Indonesian street art and urban culture through an ongoing series of forums.

With organised talks by guest speakers held regularly, ISAD is not only archiving street art, but also creating ongoing discussion around the art form and urban culture in Indonesia. Art Radar spotlights ISAD’s first four forums.

Street art photographed by Dutch photographer, Cas Oorthuys, in 1946 in Indonesia, after the proclamation of the independence of Indonesia. Image courtesy ISAD.

Street art photographed in Indonesia in 1946 by Dutch photographer, Cas Oorthuys, a few months after Indonesia was proclaimed independent. Image courtesy Nederlands Fotomuseum.


Other posts in this three part series


Part 1: read part one here.
Part 2: read part two here.


In this third and last instalment, Art Radar profiles the forums that the Indonesian Street Art Database has held as part of their efforts, not only to document street art, but also to have it debated, bringing to light the value of street art in understanding Indonesia’s unique urban culture.

Beginning in January 2012, ISAD has held four forums on street art. These forums are promoted on the ISAD websiteISAD Facebook page and ISAD twitter feed. After each forum, photographs and audio recordings of the sessions were made publicly available on the Archive’s website.

Street art, society and politics

The guest speaker at the inaugural talk at ISAD’s base in Southern Jakarta, held on 15 January 2012 and titled “Street Art in the Social and Political Life in the City Space”, was Jemi Irwansyah, a lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Indonesia, and a keen observer of local urban art.

Poster for Jemi Irwansyah's talk at ISAD. Image courtesy ISAD.

Poster for Jemi Irwansyah's talk at ISAD. Image courtesy ISAD.

Irwansyah sees the art form as an expression of the city, wrought in urban spaces to communicate resistance against undesired social realities. He noted that street art, much of which in Indonesia is activist in nature, is a key medium through which local artists communicate with people living in cities and galvanise them to act.

Identifying identity

The guest speaker invited for the second discussion on street art held by ISAD on 29 February 2012 was Dr Doreen Lee, an assistant professor of anthropology at Northeastern University. In her talk on political expression and youths’ search for identity through street art, Lee used Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina‘s Monorail Slalom performance piece, a cheeky retort to the government’s abandoned monorail project in Jakarta, as an example.

Lee stressed that in Indonesia, works of street art are not the frivolous antics of bored teenagers, but instead are culturally valuable commentary. Urban art here does not just appeal or apply to marginalised groups; people from many facets of local society share the sentiments behind these art works.

Public space in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, she said, is not so much the property of the government as it is the property of the people. Indonesian youth see the public space as a canvas that they can express themselves on. They subsequently upload their art to social media sites to reach a wider audience.

Andrew Lumban Gaol, "Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%", Yogyakarta, 2011. Image courtesy Indonesia Street Art Movement.

Andrew Lumban Gaol, 'Berbeda dan Merdeka 100%', Yogyakarta, 2011. Image courtesy Indonesia Street Art Movement.

Street art as fine art

Leading the third forum on street art at ISAD on 29 March 2012 was Ade Darmawan, founder of not-for profit art organisation Ruangrupa and an advisor to the Archive. The talk aimed at discussing street art as visual culture, inspired by the fact that street art, unwittingly or not, is often debated in relation to urban issues or as the activities of the youth.

Street art as visual culture, Darmawan noted, is inextricably bound by the context of its physical space. It almost always occupies public space, usually walls. In contrast to a mainstream painter’s blank canvas, a wall has its own history, and street artists often take this history into consideration when choosing a wall to work on; the history of this “canvas” is used to imbue an artwork with meaning.

In Indonesia, street art has been elevated from its status as a subculture, a result of ongoing scholarship. Darmawan believes that this bodes well for the continuing growth of the medium and hopes that it will one day reach a respected position in visual culture.

Forum at ISAD with Ade Darmawan as guest speaker. Image courtesy ISAD.

Forum at ISAD with Ade Darmawan as guest speaker. Image courtesy ISAD.

Street art in therapy

The most recent presentation was conducted by two guest speakers, Khairani Barokka and Hanna “Madness” Alfikih on 22 July 2012. Their presentations were entitled “All Kinds of Hearts, All Kinds of Bodies: Exploring Arts Therapies and Disabilities” and “Schizophrenia Speaks in All My Work” respectively.

Poster for ISAD forum with Khairani Barokka and Hanna "Madness" Alfikih as guest speakers. Image courtesy ISAD.

Poster for ISAD forum with Khairani Barokka and Hanna "Madness" Alfikih as guest speakers. Image courtesy ISAD.

In “Schizophrenia Speaks in All My Work”, Alfikih, a freelance designer, shared her experiences with mental illness as a practising artist. She exalts art as a medium that helps her to cope with her condition, and believes that art therapy is beneficial for coping with disabilities.

In a similar vein, Barokka, a writer-performer and artist who recently graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, explored the relationship between street art and disability, arts therapy in street art and how they intersect. Through her research, she has witnessed street art being used as a way of allowing children and adults with disabilities to express themselves and demand dignity and respect, as well as street art being a tool in arts therapies for people of all stripes.

As Barokka explained, in Indonesia, art therapy is not yet a strongly supported form of rehabilitation or education for children or adults. A strong believer in the transformative power of the method, she hopes that it will become more popular in Indonesia very soon.


Other posts in this three part series


Part 1: read part one here.
Part 2: read part two here.


Future development in Indonesian street art

We hope you have enjoyed Art Radar’s special three-part series on the Indonesian Street Art Database and street art in Indonesia. Do look out for more news about Indonesian street art on Art Radar.

What do you think should be the next topic of discussion at ISAD? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

[Editorial correction | Thursday 27 September 2012: In a previous version of this article we misinterpreted Khairani Barokka’s practice and research. The paragraph that refers to her work in art therapy has since been modified to correct that misinterpretation.]


Related Topics: street artIndonesianart and the Internet, art and the communityforums

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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