Ruangrupa researches shared history Indonesia and The Netherlands

November 2009 -

What does the abbreviation VOC stand for? United East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) or Perish Under Corruption (Vergaan Onder Corruptie)? This is only a smattering of the questions that Indonesian artists Ade Darmawan and Reza Afisina are asking. The questions are printed on small cardboard cards, with the possible answers on the back. This political and painful version of Trivial Pursuit is part of a study of the shared history between Indonesia and the Netherlands that the two are conducting during their stay at the Utrecht Casco House.


The Apartment Project

"If you place Indonesian history books alongside the ones used in the Netherlands, you see enormous differences," says Afisina. "Even in so-called facts such as the year we gained our independence and exactly where the borders were. We want to eliminate this discrepancy." Darmawan and Afisina are the founders of the Ruangrupa artists collective in Jakarta, a collection of artists from different disciplines, who place contemporary art in a municipal context.

The environment has a considerable influence on the work we create. Darmawan: "Jakarta is an enormous, overwhelming city. As an artist, you cannot shut it out. The environment always seeps in; the only thing you can do is to focus outward, enter into society and find a method to contribute to that environment as an artist." In The Apartment Project, Ruangrupa artists went into Jakartan apartment buildings. They asked questions, gave performances, let the residents draw their dream houses and attempted - together with the apartment residents - to analyse the problems that are part and parcel of living in these apartments."

"It's not about coming up with solutions and providing answers," says Darmawan, but rather about eliciting questions regarding societal issues and creating experiences that start people thinking. Since being founded nine years ago, Ruangrupa had grown to become an important non-profit organization with a sphere of influence that extends outside the art world. The collective organizes a large and successful student festival for video art every two years, has a multi-disciplinary web site about municipal developments, gives workshops and makes recommendations to the Jakarta city government regarding housing.

Darmawan: "Collaboration is extremely important to us. We do not believe in a centre from which everything happens. The network itself is the pivot point; we are open to and exchange ideas. That is perhaps because we are a new generation of artists. We want to connect with one another." In the countries they visit as artists in residence, as well, Darmawan and Afisina look for ways to actively relate to their environment. On the Faroe Islands, they hung large posters of their faces throughout the city, and in so doing introduced 'the coloured face' to an almost exclusively white community. In Istanbul they went searching for the Turkish counterpart of the famous Indonesian comedian, actor and Singer Beyamin Sueb in order to set up a Turkish/Indonesian exposition focusing on the two heroes from the film and entertainment history. In the Netherlands, their research is focused on the two countries' common colonial past. Afisina: "If we are invited somewhere, we prefer to be given the assignment to deal with a problem or bottleneck. Generally, this does not happen and we have to find our own method for making a contribution."

The residency of Ade Darmawan and Reza Afisina in the Casco Huis is supported by the Hivos Culture fund, DOEN Foundation and  Arts Collaboratory.