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Art Activism and Rock 'n' Roll

by Margie Farrell

Since 2000 the Indonesian Government and the International Monetary Fund has forced Indonesian farmers to grow genetically modified rice strains for economic reasons. In order to show their disdain for this, 500 people from 25 different villages from Yogyakarta protested with a scarecrow festival. The event was organised by Taring Padi, a community of artists trying to rebuild a “people’s culture” through cultural activism. The scarecrow was used as a symbol of protest and the creative response was impressive. The scarecrows looked like artworks, living animated sculptures, some were big, some were small and some had moving parts. Taring Padi calls this type of protest ‘artistic camouflage’ and has found that in the precarious political environment in Indonesia this type of protest is more effective than typical political demonstrations. Taring Padi are working towards democracy, freedom and an end to violence and do this they work with students, farmers and the urban poor. Their motto is: Art Activism and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In August 2004 SBS aired the documentary titled “Indonesia Art Activism and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The film was made by some Australian travellers to Indonesia Jamie Nicolai and Charlie Hillsmith, and because of a friend who was writing a thesis about Art Activism they documented the artists’ community “Lembaga Budaya Karakytan Taring Padi” or the “Organization of People’s culture Fangs of Rice”. Known as Taring Padi, the artist collective live, work and garden in a deserted university. The community design images, posters, banners, comic books and t-shirts and display them in public places and at demonstrations. They are known for bringing dramatic performance art to political rallies and endeavour to keep their art away from galleries. Their idea being to make art as accessible as possible to bring about the changes they want. The tools of their trade include simple mediums such as ballpoint pen, cardboard and roof paint. Artists’ create posters, printing them with their feet as well as creating banners with various Indonesian communities. They also distribute comic books that promote democracy. Other cultural activist activities include a punk band called “Black Boots” with slam dancing in a mosh pit. The Indonesian punks look so cool.

They have suffered for their art. Members have suffered physical attacks, and also various forms of propaganda, with slanderous accusations of sex workers and drugs within their community. They have been terrorised by a right wing fundamental Islamic group. One member of Taring Padi needs to have blood transfusions every month due to injuries sustained after being beaten up.

There really is nothing equivalent in Australia. Most artist communities come together to sell art as a commercial exchange. Art for Taring Padi is about reform and encouraging those around them to participate in the creative process, demystifying art and encouraging creativity with non-artists. Does their cultural activism carry any weight in Indonesia? As part of a Tsunami fundraiser for Indonesia, the Australia Indonesia Art Alliance screened this amazing documentary last February. The film was just one highlight of the mini cultural festival known as Expressions of Love Between Australia. One of the Artists featured in this documentary Aris Prabawa lives locally and has also contributed his artwork to the onscreen Art Exhibition, which was also screened on the night.

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