Politics of the Unseen: Visual practice, spirituality and resistance in contemporary Indonesia
Friday, 20 November 2020, 12-2pm AEDT/8-10 WIB
Watch recording here
Password: 4iMn7_LGa4Zl

Chairs: Wulan Dirgantoro and Edwin Jurriëns, the University of Melbourne
Speakers: Naomi Srikandi (Peretas, Yogyakarta), Intan Paramaditha (literary author, Macquarie University), Arahmaiani (visual artist, Yogyakarta/Denpasar) and Gustaff Iskandar (Common Room Networks Foundation, Bandung).

The roundtable discussion will examine the intimate connection between spirituality, creative practices and social empowerment through the perspective of leading Indonesian cultural producers. As the rest of the world experiences the impact of global populism, neoliberal policies and most devastatingly, climate change, Indonesia is also not immune to these issues. The panel will discuss the possibilities of agency for Indonesian society in the present as well as in the broader context of future Asias, through a renewal of traditional knowledge.

The discussion will engage in practical ways of learning both from the past and the present within various communities from West Java to Papua. Rather than making a priori distinction between modern and non-modern, the speakers will discuss not only cosmologies but also on the ground observations and from varied historical and cultural points of view in contemporary Indonesia.

Presenters + Abstracts

1. ‘Protecting the Tibet plateau’, Arahmaiani

In this presentation, I will discuss aspects of my life and career dealing with environmental issues. I will specifically focus on my projects with local people in the Qinghai Plateau (Khamp area of Tibet) in the last 10 years. The Qinghai Plateau is one of the regions with the richest biodiversity in the world and also one of the largest ice fields, known as the ‘Third Pole’. It is also known as the ‘Water Tower’ of Asia because more than two billion people in Asia live from the water from the Plateau. The glaciers are rapidly melting and often causing floods and mudflows. Environmental experts have predicted in 2030 the water sources in the Plateau will dry up. With our creative projects, we try to raise awareness about the environmental conditions in the Tibet Plateau, which will influence the ecological balance both at the regional and global levels. Through so-called ‘community-based art projects’, we have managed to develop environmental action, such as garbage management, tree planting, organic farming, reviving nomadic culture and lifestyle, and water management.

Arahmaiani is one of the leading figures in the Indonesian contemporary art scene. Her work has dealt with cultural and environmental issues, contemporary politics, and a critique of capitalism. Since 2010, she has been working on environmental issues with Tibetan monks in the Tibet Plateau.

2. ‘Urban/Rural Collaboration Platform: Common Room Networks Foundation’, Gustaff H. Iskandar

This presentation focuses on the collaboration since 2013 between Common Room Networks Foundation (Common Room) and the Kasepuhan Ciptagelar indigenous community, who inhabit the area surrounding the Mount Halimun Salak National Park (TNGHS) in West Java. This initiative developed into an Urban-Rural Collaboration Platform that focuses on the use of communication and information technology for forest protection and conservation, cultural preservation and development, indigenous land rights recognition, as well as economic empowerment and livelihoods improvement for the younger generation and women in this region. Through artistic and cultural approaches, this collaboration has been able to encourage the recognition and production of local knowledge. It covers the participatory mapping of customary land and cultural space, indigenous land rights advocacy, forest and water management, food sovereignty, climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as the utilization of internet technology and digital media for rural development. In addition to a participatory approach that directly involves the indigenous community of Kasepuhan Ciptagelar, this program utilizes a multi-stakeholder approach involving artists, academics, non-profit organizations, government representatives and the business sector.

Gustaff H. Iskandar is a Fine Arts graduate of the Faculty of Art and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). With R.E. Hartanto, T. Ismail Reza and Reina Wulansari, he founded the Bandung Center for New Media Arts (2001), the predecessor of the Common Room Networks Foundation (2004).

3. ‘Feminist cultural activism in Indonesia’, Intan Paramaditha

The global circulation of feminist ideas made possible by social media, and exemplified by the #MeToo movement, has increased the visibility of feminism in the public sphere. It fostered new transnational alliances and the entrance of feminist discourses into the popular domain. However, the lived experiences of women in places with limited connection to transnational feminist network and access to social media interactions have posed challenges to the universalising views and practices of feminism. My paper will reflect on collaborative practices of feminist cultural activism in Indonesia through an initiative called Cipta Media Ekspresi (CME). CME was established in 2018 to provide grants for women artists and researchers in the field of arts and culture from different parts of Indonesia. What is gained and at risk when cosmopolitan feminist subjects interact and collaborate with women who articulate their agency through different means and paths detached from the global discourses of feminism? How do we acknowledge and theorise feminist practices by taking into account different circuits of knowledge production?

Intan Paramaditha is a fiction writer and a Lecturer in Media and Film Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. Her novel, The Wandering (translated by Stephen J. Epstein) won a PEN Translates Award and will be published by Harvill Secker/ Penguin Random House UK in 2020.

4. ‘Peretas Berkumpul 01: Pakaroso!’, Naomi Srikandi

This presentation will discuss how Peretas Berkumpul 01: Pakaroso! was inspired by the word “Pakaroso” – a call of support in the Pamono language of Central Sulawesi. In contrast to the word “Maroso” (strong) used by those in power, the word Pakaroso is utilised to rethink the potential for grassroots movements as driven by a gendered position. The collaborators of the project, Institut Mosintuwu and Sekolah Perempuan, are known as women’s grassroots organisations for peace and justice through cultural practices in Poso. The presentation will examine how unspoken narratives such as spirituality, local knowledge and the methods of care have become part of the invisible labour and also a source of strength for many female art practitioners across Indonesia.

Naomi Srikandi is a writer and theatre-maker whose works include writings and performances using aesthetics as a framework for investigating the questions of how everyday life images, sounds, languages as such retroact to politics. She is a co-founder and chairperson of Peretas; an intersectional organisation focuses on strengthening women networks in the arts.