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The Left-Wing Spirit of the Indonesian Artist Collective Taring Padi
印尼藝術家群體「稻米獠牙」的左翼精神
July 4th, 2022Type: Art Production
Author: 陳韋綸 Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: This article is originally published in Chinese and translated by Sim Hoe Ling in Mapping on the Development of Self-Organised Woodcut Collectives in Inter-Asian Context (1990s-2010s), supported by ICCS of National Chiao Tung University. In 2019, the author Chen Wei-lun invited Taring Padi to an after-screening-discussion in Trapped Citizen, during their residency in Taiwan. In the article he introduces Taring Padi and articulated their belief in collective spirit and how they make art as media of their political statement.
The collective work of the 2019's workshop conducted by Taring Padi collaborating with Print & Carve Dept. in 2019

In 1998 when Taring Padi was founded, the majority of the members came from art schools. It had been 30 years under the regime of Suharto and his influence was fading. That was the opportunity for us to apply what we had learnt into resistance. There were only two paths to partake in Indonesian art then: continue to pursue aesthetics or to plunge into community creation, Taring Padi chose the latter.

– Mohamad ‘Ucup’Yusuf, a founding member of Taring Padi

In July 2019, members of the Indonesian artist collective Taring Padi came to Trapped Citizen, where they participated in screenings and talks in the event “Art Activism and Rock ‘n Roll”. They had a workshop with partners from Print & Carve Department and fellow woodblock printing enthusiasts. The statement above was made by Mohamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf, one of the founding members of Taring Padi, when receiving a question about his reflection on the idea “art as a tool for resistance” throughout the past 20 years of their artistic practices, his words concisely portrayed the socio-political background and their artistic vision at the time. Their idea “art as a medium” as well as their “collective creation” methodology profoundly influenced Indonesian, Southeast Asian and even East Asian woodblock printing collectives. This article uses Taring Padi as the primary focus to introduce the genealogy and network of Indonesian woodblock printing collectives.

In May 1998, Suharto’s influence was waning after 30 years. People and students all over Indonesia took to the streets to demonstrate and request for reformation, amidst the crowd were a group of students from the Indonesian Art Institute of Yogyakarta. At the end of the year, the same group founded the Institute of People Oriented Culture Taring Padi (Lembaga Budaya Kerakyatan Taring Padi), with the advocacy of “liberating arts” as the vital point in their practices: using arts, literature and music to evoke people’s awareness. As the art institute relocated to a new facility, Taring Padi occupied the former campus in Gampingan as a space for living, collective creation and music performances.

 

Art to Evoke Awareness

We are the political artist… Our motto is ‘Art, Activism, and Rock ‘n Roll’.

– Toni Volunteero, a founding member of Taring Padi(註1)

Taring Padi was founded from a mass democratic movement. Throughout the anti-Suharto demonstrations, Taring Padi’s members stood at the frontline with the public, advocating democracy, liberty, and ending of state violence and corruption. These later became recurring themes in their future works.

Under the context of the democratic movement, Icul, a member of Taring Padi once said: “The art that we are striving for, is to open up the democratic space in the society.” He believes that contemporary art then was ‘tainted’: it was manipulated by the ruling party to rationalise their administration, reduced to a tool for controlling the people. Artists then had only two choices, to abandon the people and continue their pursuit of aesthetics and ethereal art, or to follow the people-led, public-serving art movements. Apparently, Taring Padi chose the latter.

Taring Padi believes that art is the medium for people to recognise and confront injustice. In other words, art should help to raise awareness of social, environmental, political and cultural issues. Instead of the title “artists”, Taring Padi would rather be referred to as “art-workers” or “artivists”. They enter a village and introduce themselves to the farmers and workers, exchange experiences with them, and lead them in workshops so as to create landscape and signboard prints, or put on theatre and music performances together.

An example is that Taring Padi once collaborated with the people from Delanggu, Central Java, on staging the Scarecrow Festival (Festival Memedi Sawah), where they invited farmers and artists to create scarecrows together. During the process, Taring Padi’s educative effort made the farmers to realise that the enemies of the field do not solely include birds, but also insecticides, herbicides, property developers and tourism. The scarecrow was transformed into a symbol of resistance, its body was pasted with a variety of political demands and messages. When the people saw the completed work, their faces were filled with joy and satisfaction. Not only did Taring Padi let the people understand that art can be a medium of learning, but they also shortened the distance between art and the public.

Another instance is their cooperation with the Gampingan villagers to produce large size banners. Taking community-oriented issues as the central idea, they completed a 10ft banner with collective discussion and works, and gifted it to the village by hanging it at the village entrance. Taring Padi upholds the idea of “evoking awareness” on principle, while their working methodology emphasises on “collective creation”. Before production, the members will have a thorough discussion, from the entire idea of the sketch, to the division of work and duty of each member. Regarding the difference in skill proficiencies in the collective, Taring Padi overcomes them by having group drawing sessions and co-learning, as well as encouraging their peers to improve their skills and abilities. Other than that, collective creation is a way to maintain discipline in the group.

Aesthetically, Taring Padi’s artistic vision unquestionably led them to socialist realism. For Taring Padi, visual art or music are both mediums for political propaganda. Their works are characterized by emblems and symbols that are familiar to the people, heavily perspective-oriented and centre-justified key information, precise titles and messages etc., all of which display a sense of political propaganda in their woodblock prints. It is exactly due to such preciseness that their works forbid viewers to interpret them by sheer intuition.

For the past 20 years, Taring Padi continuously participates in resistance movements all over Indonesia. One of their works, ‘Destructing Environment’ was created to support the anti sand mining movement in Kulon Progo in South Yogyakarta. In 2010, Taring Padi went to East Java to hold fundraising exhibitions, rallies, workshops and an evening party for the victims of the Sidoarjo mudflow disaster which was caused by the gas company, Lapindo.(註2) In recent years, Taring Padi also voices their support for the farmers’ resistance in Kendeng, Central Java in opposition to the construction of cement factories by the state-owned Indonesian cement enterprise, PT Semen Indonesia Tbk.

 

The cover art of Taring Padi collection book, 2014

The Fracture and Restoration of Left-Wing Art Ideology

This overview of Taring Padi’s 20 years of artistic practice shows their idea “art as medium”, and “a tool for political propaganda and evoking public awareness”; their emphasis on entering into the community and producing work together; their self-identification as “art workers” but not “artist”, as well as their democracratic approach to art. These elements raise our curiosity about the source and inspiration of their political ideology. Their leftist art ideology shares numerous similarities with the Institute of the People’s Cultural (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakyat, LEKRA), which was formed throughout the country during the 1950s and 60s by the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). For instance, both entities have a socialist realism aesthetic approach and an emphasis on art as a vehicle for political messages. Other than that, the Institute of the People’s Cultural also enforced policies which coincides with Taring Padi’s perseverance in participating in the community: “Down to the Countryside” (Turun ke Bawah, Turba), which required artists to have a deep understanding of hardships in rural life, and “Three Alike” (Tiga Sama) which requested artists to eat and work like farmers.

Of course, I am not asserting that Taring Padi and the Institute of the People’s Cultural share the same roots. In terms of organizational structure, Taring Padi’s collective and people’s democracratic approach are already different from the policy-bounded, top-down approach of the Insitute of the People’s Cultural under the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). More significantly, after Suharto stepped up in 1965, he ordered mass killings of the communists, and brainwashed the public, which not only rendered the word “communist” taboo but also affected the arts. Artists from the Institute of the People’s Cultural were forced into exile, imprisoned or even killed. Even when the artists were released or repatriated, they stopped making prints and shifted to painting. Such fracture in the continuation of the left-wing ideology makes it even more remarkable when Taring Padi picks up the torch again by using woodblock printing as their primary medium 30 years after the purge. Beyond the local contemporary art scene, Taring Padi’s art activism in these 20 years clears a path for art to reconnect with the society.

REFERENCE

Footnote
[1] See Indonesia Art Activism and Rock 'n Roll on Youtube.
[2] See the documentary Reflecting in the Mud.