Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo are artists and the Yogyakarta-based directors of Cemeti Art House, the art space they founded in 1988 in the front room of their house. Their aim for Cemeti was to exhibit new work and function as an information centre that promoted Indonesian artists over the longer term. Twenty-five years on, Cemeti is the longest-running privately owned artist-run initiative in South-East Asia.
Cemeti is a hive of activity—a place to meet artists and curators in a city where contemporary art has no state-supported venues. I remember a day in February: staff from the Indonesian Visual Art Archive (IVAA) were scanning photos and slides from Cemeti’s archives and Mella was filtering works for a wall display. Ay Mey Lie and Vinita Ramani had recently arrived in Jogja from the Netherlands and Singapore for the art writers’ residency. Mella was meeting with House of Natural Fibre, Performance Klub and Heri Dono to talk through a one-night art party and how they might be involved. Her next-door neighbour was starting to build a raised bamboo stage that was also a bridge over the lane next door for the party. Hang out in Cemeti long enough and you’ll meet everyone involved in the Jogja scene.
Running a gallery in the Suharto era (1988–1998) was necessarily political because it encouraged independent dialogue. Indonesian contemporary art, in particular, really began with these political actions and revolutionary ways of making.
Some artists were really playing with censorship. Agung Kurniawan’s 1997 portrait Memperingati 30 Tahun Berkuasanya Keluarga Suci (Commemorating Thirty Years of the Holy Family) was clearly a parody of the Suharto family, but you don’t see representational faces of the family—just their gestures and their poses. It explores the way Suharto was authoritarian but always portrayed as a benevolent figure. Everyone knew that it was about the Suharto family but when someone came in and asked directly we threw it back on them, ‘Why do you think this is the Suharto family? What makes you say that?’
This time also coincided with the development of the Indonesian art market and concerns about how to stay critical and relevant when the market boomed. You couldn’t study curatorship or arts management in Indonesia, there is no practice-based training, so we wanted to implement some sort of program. At the Institute of Technology, Bandung, they have started an Art Theory course related to curatorial practice, but this has only started in the last couple of years. We thought it was important for people to set up their own hub or art space but learn something with us first. We applied for a scholarship through Prince Claus Fund to get arts management staff; for example, that’s how we had Alia (Swastika) with us during that time who has gone onto curate the Yogyakarta Biennale in 2011 and co-curated the Gwangju Biennale in 2012.
Over time we have responded to necessity, not just gaps in infrastructure or dialogue. When we conceived the residency programs and obtained funding in 2006, our main priority was to focus on art practice again, much as we did in the 1990s. When we started Cemeti the whole rise of curatorship hadn’t occurred. In the 1980s and 1990s, artists were more in control of their own development, they defined what they wanted to express and exhibited from their body of work. Now, curators really shape new developments and projects. We have seen young artists struggling to push their work beyond responding to curators’ demands.5 It’s very hard now to challenge something and often, when there is a challenge, it can be superficial and pass quickly. That’s why I still like the residency model, because it’s really intensive.
In 2008, Indonesian collectors jumped on our stockroom and artists. That actually created difficulties for us: we had supported some artists through their development but they became popular and were taken by commercial galleries. We did not have any further access to the artists or their work. Before the Indonesian art market boom in 2007 we developed alongside the artists. Then, suddenly, we were in a position as ‘the owners of the gallery’ who had to protect our knowledge and the way we worked. We had to find a balance because we didn’t want to fight about money or commercial concerns. For example, we never make exclusive contracts with artists, while commercial galleries in Jakarta demand exclusivity. We had to redefine ourselves, to work out what we needed to keep the doors open and to really try to offer something that exists in contrast to commercial galleries. We still sell from the stockroom to cover operational costs but Cemeti has never functioned as a dealer and our relationship with the artists has never solely been in this capacity.
With Turning Targets, our program to celebrate this 25th anniversary, we have art management forums; intensives for young curators from Jakarta, Bandung and Jogja; the residency program still; we continue with exhibitions teaming artists with anthropologists; our one-night art party; and exhibitions of our archives and our collection. We want to shake up and revitalise the discourse; we want that intensity for Cemeti.
Briony Galligan is an artist and completed an internship with Cemeti Art House in February 2013.
Alex Olive, The Lowy Institute Poll 2013: Australia and the World: Public Opinion and Foreign Policy, 2013: Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, p. 12: ‘More than a decade after the transition to democratic rule in Indonesia, only 33% of Australians agree that “Indonesia is a democracy”. 54% agree that “Indonesia acts as a good neighbour to Australia”, while 84% think that “Australia acts as a good neighbour to Indonesia”.’ ↩
Sumartono, an Indonesian art writer, has written about contemporary art in an Indonesian context that deals with anti-Modernist tendencies and installations, happenings and performance art that involves ‘criticism, allusion, parody and social concerns’. Sumartono addresses the Black December manifesto written in Yogyakarta in 1973 and the New Art Movement in Bandung, in which artists were challenging the structures of art school. He outlines the way student dissatisfaction with the art institute’s authority was based on grievances that extended to the central government. ‘The Role of Power in Contemporary Yogyakartan Contemporary Art’ in Outlet: Yogyakarta within the contemporary Indonesian Are Scene, 2001, Cemeti Art Foundation, Yogyakarta, pp. 21–26. ↩
Nindityo Adipurnomo in an interview with Rick Karr, 12 November 2003. ‘A Renaissance of Indonesian Art: With Censorship Lifted, an Explosion of Expression’. National Public Radio Morning Edition http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=1502080&m=1503113, accessed 4 September 2013. ↩
Project 304’s Facebook page contains archival photos from the 2002 Gwangju Biennale, community and education programs, some short artists’ statements from Song wit Pumpkin, Prapon Kumjim, and photographs of installations from Mareeya Damrongphol, accessed 20 September 2013. ↩
See also comments by Jaarsma and Adipurnomo, http://25years.cemetiarthouse.com/about-25-years-2/, accessed 19 September 2013. Jaarsma also outlines the establishment of the Indonesian Art Coalition (Koalisi Seni Indonesia), a group of 20 arts organisations from across disciplines who aim to form a peak body that advocates for critically informed art and ways to support it. ‘I share my concerns with Ade Dermawan from Ruangrupa and Agung Kurniawan from Kedai Kebun Forum (both directors of alternative art spaces) that it is harder to get artists interested in experimental, laboratory-based projects. We have to work harder to encourage a critical discourse, finding different ways to challenge young artists to advance.’ Mella Jaarsma, ‘Indonesian art today: Navigating between idealism and commodity’ Art Monthly Australia, No. 244, Oct 2011, p. 19. ↩
To propose a petroleum jelly advertisement or campaig...