If you would like to buy a copy of this book
click here


Everyone's An Artist

ALEX KELLY taps into the powerful and positive energy created by the Indonesian political art collective, Taring Padi.

Heading up Jalan Gampingan past the fresh produce stalls, street vendors and warungs I spy some graffiti through an archway and I know I have found the Taring Padi squat. Ducking through the archway I find myself in a large courtyard: pavement cracking, with soccer goals at either end. Dodging vicious geese I follow the murals to what appears to be the main entrance to one of the three-story buildings that used to accommodate the visual arts campus of the Indonesian Institute of Art (ISI).

Most of the current occupants studied on the campus before it was abandoned and classes relocated to a less accessible campus further from the centre of Yogyakarta. Many people suspect this move was an attempt to curb the vibrant dissent and pro-democracy organising that was exploding at the inner-city campus, which was becoming a hub in the campaign against the Suharto regime. When the regime fell in 1998, the campus was occupied.

The former classrooms and studio spaces for the most part continue to be used for such work, meetings and discussions are held here, cluttered and colourful studios fill the buildings. The space also plays host to events and screenings (like Global Insights) The strains of music often ring through the space, as does laughter and animated chatter.

Taring Padi (meaning: the sharp tip of the rice frond) are an incredibly inspiring and unique arts collective - self-described as an "independent non-profit cultural community, which is based on the concept of peoples' culture" - based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Many of the collective's 35 or so members live at the squat, which is simply known as 'Gampingan'. Most are artists, musicians and performers. There is a steady flow of literature and zines thanks to the hard working Emma. A person called Wood cuts print t-shirts, post cards and posters that are plastered around the town and sold at the night market. Puppets, patches, canvases, sculptures, and performance art are all created here.

Strongly committed to cultural activism, music and the arts, Taring Padi also have strong connections with grass roots movements such as peasant groups and the urban poor. They are extremely hostile to bourgeois and capitalist notions of art, instead they assert that "everyone is an artist" and aim to make art accessible to the people. They also reject the heavy flood of western pop culture into Indonesia and encourage people to take pride in, learn and play traditional instruments.

Puppets and banners, costumes and performance art are commonly used propaganda at rallies and protest in Indonesia and Taring Padi has developed a powerful and unique style. They use their art, their grand murals and puppets, banners and posters - depicting the faces of ordinary people resisting - to educate and inspire people. Common themes are militarisation, the IMF, imperialism, corruption and of course, resistance.

Despite the weight of problems that Taring Padi struggle against, including deeply rooted cultural issues such as patriarchy, there is a powerful and positive energy in this sprawling social centre. There are only around six women in the collective - which perhaps reflects Indonesian culture - but this remains another challenge for the collective.