Selamat Datang! Welcome!
Last spring I decided it was time for a travel
adventure something a little more challenging than weekend camping.
It had been nine years since Id ventured out alone into the unknown
and spent six months driving through Mexico and Central America. It was
the most incredible experience Id had before and since. The
question now was where to next? Id always wanted to go to
Southeast Asia, having spent my early twenties in Eugene, Oregon, where
it was practically a rite of passage to travel East to "find yourself"
(or cheap imports that you could bring back and sell at a 500 percent
markup). I was still interested in going there, but for different reasons;
now I was more curious to find alternative art communities and learn how
national and international politics and global consumer culture had affected
My first stop was Ubud on the island of Bali. Touted
as the cultural center of Bali, its an hour's drive north of Denpasar,
inland and still fairly south on the island. Its made up of several
main streets, most prominently Monkey Forest Road, that run for a couple
of kilometers with many little roads interconnecting. Its very beautiful,
yet in a seemingly staged way a combination of Club Med, Las Vegas,
and Rodeo Drive (yes, they have Polo and Prada boutiques) in the South
Pacific. Everything seems to revolve around the tourism industry. Even
when I encountered beautiful temples, I found myself questioning whether
they were real or just another prop erected to provide island allure.
Each interaction also appears to be determined by the protocol of perceived
customer and the exchange of money. The question, Where are you from?
is asked not out of genuine interest, but instead as a way of sizing up
how much you can afford and at what price to start the barter. This is
followed by the next question, How much you pay? applied to anything
that youve purchased accommodations, drivers, goods. What
soon became apparent is that tourism is now The Culture
on Bali it is everyday life. Traditional dances, rituals, and crafts
are still practiced daily, but with the purpose of pleasing a foreign
audience to collect foreign currency.
As we drove I noticed what appeared to be bus stops
elevated platforms partially enclosed with bamboo walls and thatched
roofs many spray-painted red and black with graffiti of a horned
creature and the tags "Pro Mega" and "PDI." I realized what those horned
heads depicted when I saw the image of a very sinister-looking bull painted
on the side of a house with the letters PDI placed above. I asked Royan
about the graphic images and learned that this evil-eyed steer is the
symbol for the PDI party (Democratic Party of Struggle) and is synonymous
with then-vice-president Megawati Sukarnoputri (known simply as Megawati),
daughter of Indonesias first president, Ahmed Soekarno. I learned
from Royan that 90 percent of Bali residents are supporters of the PDI
and they love Megawati. I was also told that the presumed bus stops
were actually lookout posts that had been built by the party during the
violent uprisings that led to the 1998 resignation of then-president Mohamed
The ubiquitous graffiti
and the lookout stations reflect the tense political climate that has
erupted over the past five years in Indonesia. The country has been witness
to extreme turmoil and violent disruptions prompted by a severe economic
crisis nationwide and a civil war on East Timor that resulted from the
Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia. In addition, the last three
years have seen four presidencies, including the forced resignation of
Abdurrahman Wahid while I was there on July 26 and his replacement by
Upon arriving in Yogya, however, I began to question
my choice. Getting through the city at 2:00 in the afternoon is worse
than the traversing the Bay Bridge at 5:30 horrendous traffic
and the city itself appears to be a total armpit many low, dilapidated,
nondescript buildings, overcrowded streets (Indonesia is the fifth most
populated country in the world), and heavy pollution (the sky is rarely
blue). On first take, it was pretty pathetic.
I found out the school's gallery was between shows,
and the next one would open the following week. I ended up talking to
a young man wearing a shirt that had a comic book page design on it. I
asked him about the comic book scene in Yogya and learned that hes
a comic book artist who teaches at the school (though he looked more like
a student to me). His name was Bambang Toko and he was a part of an underground
(but well-known in the art community) collective in the nineties called
Apotik Komik. He gave me the names of fellow comic book artists and other
art resources, including the Cemeti Gallery, which Dan McGuire had also
recommended. He told me that if I came back on Tuesday morning for the
opening, I could interview him and the other artists from Apotik Komik.
Cemeti Art House
San Franciscos Southern Exposure Gallery
kept coming to mind as I was there the large, open space, relaxed
community-based environment, and largely installation and performance-based
exhibitions I was seeing in the gallerys slide documentation.
I returned to ISI the following Tuesday to see
the annual end-of-the-year student exhibition and to meet up with Bambang
and Apotik Komik. The show was a graduation exhibition divided up into
sections architecture and design, painting and sculpture, craft,
and printmaking like any Western art school. However, unlike most
of the art schools here, the show didnt present any media work.
There were a few good pieces, but its always hard to get a good
sense of anyones work in survey shows.
I interviewed them on the steps of the entrance
to the gallery. Arie acted as primary spokesperson since he spoke the
best English, while Bambang and Popok added comments in limited English
(though they could understand English quite well.) I learned that Apotik
Komik was a collective of artists who began working together in 1992 to
create public works generally not related to traditional exhibition venues.
Their goal was to bring art to the public rather than waiting for an audience
to come to an art space. Over the past year the group has ceased working
together collaboratively to pursue their individual interests and projects.
My final week in Indonesia was spent on the eastern
coast of Bali in a fishing area called Amed, though most of the fish are
gone, as is the beautiful bright-colored coral that once covered the coast.
This locale couldnt have been a more perfect choice. I stayed in
a bungalow on stilts just 40 feet from the ocean. I read, wrote, made
drawings, and slept under a blanket of stars every night. One morning
I even got up at 4:30 and sailed two hours out into the middle of the
ocean with a fisherman on a small boat that looked like a cross between
a kayak and canoe. We watched the sunrise and I held on for dear life
during the turbulent ride back to shore, since I dont know how to
swim and had neglected to bring a life jacket along. Still, it was a perfect
metaphor for the whole trip setting out for the unknown and trusting
the outcome which in both cases provided me with great, life-changing