When I visited Japan for the first time, I was remembering my own childhood. Growing up in the early 1990’s, Indonesia’s television was inundated with Japanese children’s entertainment programs. Not all of them stayed with me, but as I set foot on Japanese soil for the first time, the memories came flooding back.
As adulthood loomed, my infatuation with Japanese cartoons and superhero stories waned, and my understanding of Japanese culture was replaced by movies from Studio Ghibli and Akira Kurosawa. In 2009, my second year studying fine art in college, I was introduced to another form of Japanese culture: The Japan Foundation Jakarta. At the time, I regularly attended movie screenings and art exhibitions by The Japan Foundation and many other foreign cultural centers, such as The Erasmus Huis (Dutch cultural center), Institut Français d’Indonésie (formerly known as CCF, the French cultural center), Goethe-Institut Jakara (German culture), and the Instituto Italiano di Cultura (Italian culture). Sometime in 2010, I submitted a proposal to the Japan Foundation for a printmaking exhibition with some of my college friends in the Jakarta Institute of Arts (IKJ). The proposal was rejected. Or at least, it received no reply. Finally, in 2011, the Japan Foundation Jakarta’s cultural division accepted a joint exhibition proposal I submitted with some of my friends in IKJ.
Since then, I’ve been involved in various projects organized by the Japan Foundation’s cultural division: exhibitions, workshops, and now the Next Generation Program for Curators of Southeast Asia. Personally, I don’t perceive the Next Generation Program as merely a workshop, in spite of its billing. In practice, this program gives a chance for its participant to present selected proposals for their curatorial projects. The participants mainly present and discuss their projects among themselves, or with their mentors. This program was held in four different countries: the Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. In Indonesia, this program was held in The Japan Foundation Jakarta with two international curators acting as our mentor: Ade Darmawan (curator, director at ruangrupa) and Yukie Kamiya (chief curator, Hiroshima MOCA).
I was fortunate enough to be one the participants chosen to fly to Japan with three other Indonesian participants: Sita Magfira, A. Khairudin, and Angga Wijaya. We presented the project proposal we submitted in Jakarta again in this forum, and received many valuable input in developing our individual projects. I can’t say for sure whether the same applies for other countries, but every proposal submitted by Indonesian participants have received the full support of The Japan Foundation. And not just the proposals who were selected to go to Japan.
The young Southeast Asian curator’s forum chose to call this entire project Run and Learn: New Cultural Constellation. Indeed, running and learning succinctly summarizes our two main activities during our stay in Japan. In literal terms, we ‘run’ every day to keep up with the intense pace of our Japanese ‘learning’ visit. Over twenty museums and art exhibitions, for fourteen days, and in eight different cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, and Fukuoka. In the end, we chose to drop the ‘Southeast Asia’ term from our program name, as not all Southeast Asian countries were represented in this program.
Again, I reiterate my doubt in calling this program a ‘workshop’. I personally prefer to call it a forum for young curators. Apart from presenting our individual project proposals, we had the chance to visit and interact with the curators in various museums, art studios, and galleries. Among others, we visited the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, and the Yokohama Triennale.
On Indonesian Contemporary Art
One of the landmark in Indonesia’s contemporary art history was the emergence of the New Art Movement (Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru) in 1975. After GSRB came to the fore in 1975, Indonesia’s art scene took another contemporary turn in the early 1990’s. As the Cold War ended with the demise of socialist Soviet Union and the decline of Communist power, countries around the world – including previously neutral countries such as Indonesia – started feeling the effects of globalisation. Japan and Australia were among the countries that intensely explored regional art issues by organising exhibitions in Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region. Institutions such as The Japan Foundation, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and the Queensland Art Gallery among others, actively organised major exhibitions, research programs, and publishing campaigns. (1) An important landmark of this new turn of events was the New Art from Southeast Asia exhibition, organised by The Japan Foundation in 1992 and involving three Indonesian artists. Lately I found out that this particular exhibition was coordinated by Yasuko Furuichi, who I met 22 years later as the coordinator for the curatorial program I am currently participating in. Other landmark on Indonesian art’s contemporary turn at the time was the first Asia Pacific Triennale (1993) in Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia, and the Jakarta Biennale IX (1993) in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta.
It was during this era that the term ‘independent curator’ first surfaced in Indonesia, spearheaded by Jim Supangkat. In 1992, he decided to quit his work as a full-time artist and lecturer to focus on being an independent curator. After Jim Supangkat, other independen curators emerged. In spite of this, the curatorial practice was not limited to individuals. Institutions such as the Indonesian National Palace, Taman Ismail Marzuki, and the Cemeti Art House, among others, simultaneously impacted the curatorial practice, whilst occasionally eschewing the term ‘curator’ in itself.
With museums in Indonesia few and far between, accentuated by the lack of formal curatorial education at the time, the emergence of new generation Indonesian curators relied heavily on practical working experience with senior curators. As I glanced at the list of curators compiled by Patrick D. Flores in Past Periphery: Curations in Southeast Asia, (2) I can reasonably assume that my generation belongs to the third generation of Indonesia’s curators after Jim Supangkat, who was noticeable in his absence. The list names several eminent curators such as Enin Supriyanto, Asmudjo Irianto, Agung Hujatnika, Aminudin TH Siregar, Farah Wardani, and Ade Darmawan. Flores’ list itself only goes as far as 2004. But should we assume that a generation is measured by a gap of 10 years, we can reasonably place the nascent generation emerging after 2010 as the third generation of curators. A generation that interacts often with the second generation (emerging in early 2000’s).
In the last few years, I tend to observe this generation within the context of artists and curators in Indonesia. There are more young artists than young curators. That much is evident. But over the past few years, new names started popping up in Indonesia’s curatorial scene. This emergence of new curators is also marked by the organisation of curatorial education programs by institutions such as ruangrupa and the Jakarta Arts Council, and formally, the opening of a new course entitled ‘Management and Curatorial Studies’ available for postgraduate students in the Bandung Institute of Technology. Young Indonesian curators are starting to grow in numbers, organising various art projects with their own distinctive artistic tendencies. In 2013, the Cemeti Art House – a major institution in the development of Indonesia’s art – organised a forum for young Indonesian curators, handpicked through their networks in Cemeti and Alia Swastika. (3)
Within this context, it wouldn’t be amiss for me to say that I am now standing in the middle of a curatorial turn in Indonesia. Young curators emerged, curatorial education programs are opened, and young curatorial forums are organized. In the Next Generation Program for Curators of Southeast Asia, I was surprised to hear that the twelve participants will organize their curatorial projects simultaneously. Over the past five years, I’ve never heard of a movement like this. A program involving many young curators, who submitted their individual curatorial ideas, which will then be implemented in real life. Be it through exhibitions, art festivals, or the publication of a book. And all of them will happen almost simultaneously. More importantly, the participants continued to interact with each other after the program. In fact, some of them collaborated with each other outside of this program.
The Next Generation Program for Curators of Southeast Asia program I participated in is the first of its kind by The Japan Foundation. From start to finish, the program lasted for a year – starting in February 2014, and ending in February 2015. Enough time to prepare a curatorial project, and perfectly timed to coincide with 2015’s regional political and economic development. So far, I’ve yet to hear word of this program happening for a second time. It’s unclear whether this program will be conducted yearly, every two years, or only once before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In my opinion, the importance of this program lies in the exchange of knowledge and network between the young curators and artists of Southeast Asia and Japan. After the program’s conclusion, the participants are well set to collaborate and work together with everyone they met during this program. However, I feel that we can only measure the success of this program after the emergence of the next generation of curators. And only then, will the intensity and consistency of this program’s participants be fully tested.
Jakarta, January 2015.
(1) Agung Hujatnika, “Indonesian Contemporary Art in the International Arena: Representation and Its Changes” dalam http://www.globalartmuseum.de/site/ guest_author/238
(2) Patrick D. Flores, “Past Perphery: Curation in Southeast Asia” dalam Reflections on the Human Condition: Change, Conflict and Modernity. The Work of the 2004/2005 API Fellows.
(3) Further reading: http://jogjanews.com/ini-nama-16-kurator-peserta-forum- kurator-muda-rumah-seni-cemeti