By the way … Art|Jog and legacies of power

Art|Jog is a unique art fair as it is organized by artists for artists to meet collectors directly, without the intermediary of galleries.

It has become the most popular art fair in Indonesia and this year’s theme is “Legacies of Power”. It is a very timely theme.

When asked to officiate Art|Jog this year, I was honored but was also unsure. I had just returned from London and had no nanny for two weeks, so it looked difficult.

But then I saw the date — June 7 — just one day after my father’s birthday on June 6, and I thought what better way to celebrate his birthday!

My late father, the country’s first president Sukarno, was not just a leader who led the struggle for Indonesia’s independence. He also loved the arts and was one of the first Southeast Asian art collectors.

I just wonder where his collection is today and I wish it was more accessible to the public.

My father collected the work of so many Indonesian artists for the sheer love of it and to inspire people to consider their own art, develop it, promote it and value the richness of art and of artists in society.

Artists should be embraced, not feared, and my father did just that. Artists are the only ones who can communicate and express the Pancasila concept of harmony between different religions and the concept of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity), which is the basis for peace in Indonesia.

Artists require freedom of expression, which is at the root of an open society. By artists, I mean not only painters, sculptors, poets, writers, performers, musicians and filmmakers but also artisans and publishers.

Maestros like Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and Sudjojono have participated in the struggle for independence while painting.

Our history, in the 1960s, shows tension between politics and art. Indonesia has suffered decades of cultural stagnation under years of obsession with censorship and the government placing a ban on the Cultural Manifesto.

Creative freedom in Indonesia is important as it records history in a country that forgives but should not forget. Censorship is the greatest enemy of all artists and of artistic imagination and creation.

After all, art is communication and whether verbal or non-verbal, it is our most powerful tool. That is why dictators always go after the artists. Art is beyond politics and that makes it political. Artist Ai Weiwei has been questioned as China’s most dangerous man. He has been arrested and harassed.

We should soon be careful that our freedom of thought is not endangered again.

There are many ways in which artists draw attention to political and social issues. Whether it is through such overt outcries, political satire, conceptual art, theater or filmmaking.

One such important topic, the global waste crisis, was well-portrayed by the British filmmaker Candida Brady, and I have felt personally compelled to bring this film to the attention of the Indonesian public.

The waste crisis is truly global and I would like to draw attention to this in the hope it will lead to individual, regional and national action to save our planet from suffocating in plastic.

Art|Jog is the perfect arena to discuss and raise awareness of important issues as the event’s host city, Yogyakarta, has become the country’s capital for arts and culture and is drawing international attention.

Art enriches social and political life and it has a lot of potential in Indonesia. As a country with huge natural resources and a young population, let us not forget to foster our artistic talent with all the diverse messages it might bring along.

We are on the eve of our next presidential election and I would like to quote Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat’s message in Davos this year to her president: “Mr. President, take care of your artists, your intellectuals and accept that art is no crime, that it is every artist’s responsibility to make art that is meaningful, that questions tyranny, that questions injustice. It is the artist’s task to advocate change, peace and unity”.

On behalf of my father, I am grateful for events like Art|Jog for continuing the work he could not finish and for encouraging freedom of thought and creativity for all Indonesian artists.

— Kartika Soekarno