[ Note: I intended to make an entry on activities in Malaysia, but these notes by Performance Artist Jumphol Apisuk on activities in Indonesia are so good…JMW]
Jumphol Apisuk. Art Fresh from Jakarta. Yr.46, Vol. 42. May 19 – 25 2543 / 2000, in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siamrath Weekly News Magazine.
This is a report of the writer’s experience reflecting his coming face to face with the fire-flowers of democracy blooming in Indonesia when I was invited to show my work in the Jakarta International Performance Art Festival – JIPAF. There were 4 Thai performance artists taking part between 2 – 5 March 2543.
8-9/ Jakarta is full of fresh art on the street, from the moment you enter the city. The performance artists are there to welcome guests when they arrive at the Sukarno-Hatta Airport. They are bold and skillful, and they put their hearts into their work - and their own personal objectives, as well. The anarchy arose after a violent explosion which had been looming for many years. Now Mekawod Sukarno, the daring daughter, and the elderly Kusadur, are bringing the people of Indonesia to help each other save the country from the wreckage of the devouring power of the Suharto family. At the same time, the power of the devouring wealth of globalization from America, Europe and Japan moves toward an uncertain future.
23/ Live Performance Art, No. 1.
In the area of the great hall near the exit on the outer side of Sukarno-Hatta Airport.
A strong, able-bodied male in a dark safari suit with a square satchel over his shoulder walks slowly in from the left and sits down before his chosen audience.
32-33/ He stops and looks at my face and smiles a little, beautifully, nodding his face in an inviting way, as if asking me to watch. His right hand slowly unzips the bag he carries and carefully, slowly and gently opens it. He slips his hand into the bag and withdraws his hand, holding a box. It’s men’s perfume, BOSS brand. He shows it to me as if boasting. I smile back, slightly shaking my head. I say softly to him, so just the two of us can hear: ‘No…I am not a boss.’ He smiles in return and shakes his head a little, 2 or 3 times. He returns the box of BOSS to his bag, now fishing for something else inside it. Out come 2 boxes, one white, one blue. I can see that one says AMANI, the other TIER (or something like that). He shows them off a bit for me and returns them to the bag. Then he pulls his hand slowly out again. This time it’s CHANEL 9 and something else. I smile blankly, at the same time admiring his art with interest. He slips his hand smoothly in and out of his bag like a magician, 2 or 3 more times, until I think he should go and show somewhere else now. So I say ‘thank you.’ He shakes his head at me, smiles and walks away with a smooth and lovely gesture.
51/ Performance #2 On Pramukah Road, Central Jakarta
Our taxi is moving to the center of the highway to make a turn. In the middle of the road ahead is a group of youths, professional performers, 6 or 7 of them, not more than 19 or 20 years old. They wear bandanas, tied on to cover their noses and lower part of their faces. All you can see is their eyes under the wide brim of their hats (‘Rock Café’). Old blue jeans. Harley-Davidson T-shirts. Some wear long-sleeved plaid shirts, sleeves rolled up halfway. One of them standing at the biggest turning space has a picture of Che Guevara on his shirt.
60/ Their activity is servicing - signaling cars which are coming on the straightaway so that those which are turning can do so safely. The results of their activities are good. The oncoming cars have to give way. The young fellows work very well, cooperating smoothly among themselves. Che Guevara, with his Afro-hairstyle like a Jamaican reggae star, extends his art to receive coins from drivers. They all give – he need not ask. He bows beautifully with a gesture that shows he is always ready to serve.
72/ It is a very touching performance and has results in an area where policemen have no power and don’t stray far from the few police boxes which haven’t been burned. We express our satisfaction with his performance by gladly tipping him.
80/ Performance #3 On the Utan Kayu Road Near the Office of TEMPO Magazine.
TEMPO is a political magazine and was the most respected in Indonesia and abroad -until Suharto closed it down in 1994 - because it generally is very truthful about Indonesia. It just recently began publishing again when Suharto fell from power.
89-90/ When TEMPO was closed down, they did not end their activities. They opened an art center instead. It was a center of art and culture for the people. It became a central ground, a meeting place for intellectuals with revolutionary sympathies and reforming ideas. Even today, the Utan Kayu Theatre is an institution of art and culture for the people and has had an admirable role in the history of the democracy movement in Indonesia.
96-97/ At this point, I and my 3 actor friends, along with 16 actors from many other countries, came to work in this historic area.
99/ There was a clanging sound, a crashing and banging on the road. Horns were blowing loudly. People screamed in fright and surprise. I ran with the others out to the walled perimeter to see the performance.
102/ This road is like others in Jakarta, with vendors along the footpath and on the side of the road, where stalls are set up. They sell broiled meat on sticks, rice pastries, fried tubers, fried chicken, cigarettes and various drinks. And there are the packaged noodle shops so popular with children. The road is wide enough for cars to pass easily. But there are buses, samlors, jeeps, motorcycles and trucks of all kinds, jammed together in such extreme noise that the banging of a metal drum would be drowned out.
113/ The performance had already begun. The vendors in their shops ran to the front of their row houses along the wall surrounding TEMPO. Teenage students in their various uniforms stood scattered on two sides of the road. Totally engrossed, they threw rocks at each other over the tops of the cars on the road. It was a scene of many small battles.
119/ Traffic seemed to have been brought to a standstill. The young students started running across the highway, carrying metal rulers turned into sharp little swords. Their belts had square buckles ornamented with sharp points, becoming like the artful weapons you see in museums. Many held meter-long metal clubs. Dozens of youths thronged across the road, paying no attention to the traffic. From the other side, the forward group runs for cover, to be replaced by their own heavily armed troops. Running, hiding, ducking, attacking and striking each other, it was a riot in the middle of traffic at the end of the work week. When the fighting and combat come to an end, the traffic jam moved forward in confusion and disorder.
131/ The live performance, which totaled about 10 minutes, ended. It was shorter than our own on-stage performances, but these live ones go on unceasingly. The students of the two schools and of many other schools practice these live shows with determination on the highways about once a week for the audience in the cars who witness it all in the midst of the insane battlefield.
138/ Performance #4 A Brick Yard Along the Footpath at the Entrance of the Jakarta Cultural Center (which also functions as an astronomical observatory)
141/ Carts come selling banana sweets, meat savories, pickled fruit and mataba. Scattered along the roads and footpaths are lean-tos selling drinks. They control the area in front of the Cultural Center. They have been here longer than the Center, itself. The owner was Amah, an old woman who was accepted and respected by the society of artists in Jakarta. Amah died just 3 months ago. Now her son carries on the activities. Amah’s store was a venerable institution for these artists and intellectuals, even before the Utan Kayu Theatre was created.
150/ We order some beer from Amah’s store and drink it, sitting along the roadside with the advertising signs setting the farthest boundaries for seating. One senior writer sits alone, reading quietly under the bright light of a big billboard.
155/ Almarey, an unemployed newspaper reporter who encourages himself with a new position – ‘freelance & independent writer’ - carries a book entitled The Money Revolutions. The book is heavy enough to serve for lifting weights. He brings it to exchange for the movie script of an artist friend, a movie-maker named Henry, who makes short films. He has 2 or 3 expensive cameramen who sit chatting in lively fashion next to us. A critic comes in. Everyone shakes hands and greets one another – painters, writers and poets. Many have come. That night I counted 20 of them, sitting together. Some had glasses of hot tea; some ordered a bottle of beer, as they pleased. They sat talking together throughout the night. …
210/ It is a scene like ‘situationism’ - very interesting. The materials used to create this artwork were flesh and blood people, people who have been pushing for political change in Indonesia. They have pushed this far and may have a part in pushing for more change later on.
217/ They had been on the street continuously for 3 years, running from bullets and attempts by Suharto to imprison them. Some still bore the marks of soldier’s clubs from street fights. They are as expert in driving the government as they are in making movies, writing poems or making paintings.
224/ We were talking about the world being ruled in a new way under the agreement of the industrialized nations following the strategy of dividing up the world anew – ‘globalization.’
228/ The democratic system which is taking Indonesia ahead now will take a fresh and useful direction of which the Indonesian people are proud. As we see now, the hand of globalization prepares to squeeze us. President, Kusadur appointed Henry Kissinger as special advisor to the Indonesian government. This might be a way of seeking political power at home, trying to avoid a coup. But the control is clear: it cannot be avoided. It stands before us now.
240/ Henry excused himself. His wives were calling him home. He has 2 wives. They all live together in his single room.
243/ “These women were with me since before I was an adult. I came to Jakarta to try to make a good movie. I rented a little room, 2 x 2 meters. And those two were sent to stay with me and my pile of books. They use my stacks of books as drying racks for their underwear and bras. They use the drawers of my writing desk to store their cosmetics. They like shopping – I hate shopping. They want to watch TV. I have no money and never thought of buying a TV. They like to eat out. I never think of that, nor do I have enough money for that. I‘m ‘baby-sitting’ these 2 women. But what I don’t understand is how our beliefs can lead us astray like this.”
257/ Up he jumps up, throws a kick in empty space, and walks away.
259/ I thought that ended the scene beautifully.