Home Institution

Lewis and Clark College

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Program Name

Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change


The objective of this paper is to understand the connections between contemporary art and politics in Indonesia both in terms of how politics has shaped art practices, and in terms of how art influences politics. Questions I was interested in exploring include how contemporary art practices have changed considering the political changes over the past 30 years; if and how contemporary art is being used to facilitate political dialogues in the country; if and how contemporary art is being used to criticize and invoke change regarding social issues; and what the role of art spaces, collectives and foundations is in enabling the success of Indonesian artist’s socio-police criticism.

My interest in this subject was sparked by a contemporary art book, Contemporary Indonesian Art: Artists, Art Spaces, and Collectives, by Yvonne Spielmann. The book said that during the Suharto Dictatorship, from 1966 to 1998, all visual art other than state-supporting realism and apolitical abstraction was strictly censored (Spielmann, 2017, p. 51). Therefore, it was not until the Reformasi era starting 20 years ago after the fall of Suharto that Indonesian art and artists were able to freely create, express and criticize (Jurriëns 2013). Today, Yogyakarta is home to an art scene where art practices are “social critical in intention, using expressive and realistic styles… to embed political criticism in a broader, widely familiar, and unsuspicious traditional cultural context” (Spielmann, 2017, p. 54). I was interested in learning more about how Indonesia’s brand-new contemporary art scene is able to start dialogues, spread information, and criticize society and politics; how the artists create the work; and how it is received by the public. For me, an artist, this topic is part of an important global discussion about the power of visual art as a tool for radical change.

This paper will conclude my findings about the factors that both pushed and allowed artists to make contemporary art that addressed social and political problems. In this paper, I will analyze eleven pieces of art made between 1994 and today, which I have chosen because I feel that they successfully represent both the breadth of methods artists have employed to make political art, and the ways artists’ practices have changed over the last decades. To understand any piece of art, it is important to understand the context in which the piece was made. Therefore, the eleven pieces of art presented in this paper will be woven together with the narrative of art and politics in Indonesia beginning with the de-politicization of art under the New Order beginning in 1965, continuing through the creation of the New Art Movement (GSRB) in 1974, the fall of Suharto in 1998, and the 2007 Asian Art Market Boom, and concluding with the issues that contemporary artists are most impacted by and interested in exploring today: globalization, history, and education.


Art and Design | Art Practice | Asian Studies | Contemporary Art | Graphic Communications | Pacific Islands Languages and Societies | Politics and Social Change | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social Influence and Political Communication | Sociology of Culture


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