CITIES ON THE MOVE
Organized by Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist and featured in locations across Europe between 1997 and 1999, the groundbreaking exhibition Cities on the Move highlighted an evolving understanding of modernism based on the post–World War II cities of East and Southeast Asia. Curating a visual experience that mimicked the controlled chaos of late-twentieth-century Asian cities, the show brought together more than 150 artists and architects in an attempt to identify hybrids and commonalities in a pan-Asian cultural development that arose in the wake of colonialism and the Cold War, and has continued into the age of “hypercities”1 like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kaula Lampur, and Tokyo. In discussing the development of Cities on the Move, Obrist stated:
Normally curators know what they are looking for, but our research was a complicated process. We never worked out a complete exhibition concept—it was only during our travels that the whole complexity of the urban conditions started to dawn on us. As a result of this research it became clear that the theme of the exhibition would be the city and its dynamic variables. A city is never static, it never sleeps. Using these materials, we put together an exhibition that is in constant motion itself.2
Ironically, this exhibition only travelled through Europe, securing the established divide between Asia and the Euro/America-centric visions of internationalism. Nonetheless, the exhibition opened new opportunities for discussion and innovation across borders, helped define a lexicon for better understanding contemporary Asian art entering the global markets, and left an indelible mark on international festivals and biennials for years afterward.
BANDUNG, INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL
Bandung, the capital of West Java, has been a city at the heart of intellectual revolution since World War II and the Indonesian march toward independence, and represents a major urban center of ideological evolution, innovation, and conflict in Southeast Asia. Between organizations like Darul Islam and Muhammadiyah leading the path toward an Islamic state after the Dutch occupation, and the Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB) offering an innovative approach to education and cultural development, Bandung has been a greenhouse of ideas for advancing different conceptions of Indonesian culture from the modern era and into the twenty-first century. Often overshadowed by the city of Yogyakarta in the international art scene, within the country itself Bandung is recognized as a center of creative innovation, and holds a unique position in the intellectual and cultural development of the islands.
Bandung is surrounded by a rich volcanic landscape, with steep dramatic hills and stunning views of West Java. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bandung was a major city of the Dutch occupation—the city was almost made the capital of the colonial government—and is home to some of the best art deco architecture in Java. The hills outside of the city are some of the most lucrative agricultural land in the region, evident in Bandung Aroma, one of the best known coffee plantations developed during the colonial era and still working today. Like other major cities of Southeast Asia, it is also characterized by relentless traffic jams, urban congestion, graffiti, and pollution.
At the heart of the intellectual and creative culture of Bandung is ITB. Founded by the Dutch in 1920, ITB was the first university in Indonesia that allowed natives to enroll, a substantial gesture by an oppressive colonial government. Originally conceived as a way to train drawing teachers, after independence the art school evolved into a center for fine arts education, attempting to mix Western and indigenous artistic traditions into something much more innovative and modern—and distinctively Indonesian.3 Many influential people from Indonesian history graduated from ITB, including presidents Sukarno and Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, as well as influential artists like video pioneer Krisna Murti, multimedia artist Agus Suwage, painter A. D. Pirous, sculptor and writer Jim Supangkat, sculptor Nyoman Nuarta, and painter Srihadi Soedarsono, among others. Along with the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, ITB is widely considered one of the best universities in Indonesia, and their fine arts program is recognized throughout Asia.
THE EMERGENCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Today the city of Bandung is a major hub in the development of photography and photographic arts in Indonesia. With a campus scattered across the city, Pasundan University—like Trisakti University in Jakarta and the Indonesian Institute of Art in Yogyakarta—was one of the first academic programs in Java to offer a degree in photography. Adding photography to the rich art culture already established in Bandung was bound to develop new ideas and creative discourse in the city, and thus across Indonesia.4
There are a number of important grassroot movements happening now in Bandung to develop an interest in and education on photography. At the heart of many of these movements are Wahyu Dhian and Harry Reinaldi (more commonly known as Pak HarSOS). Together, the two have initiated a number of important activities and resources for photography in Bandung, including the RAWS Syndicate, Bandung Photography Month, Bandung Photography Book Show, Perpustakaan Fotografi Keliling (Mobile Photography Library), and the Indonesian Photography Archive.5
All of these programs are designed to increase popular awareness of and interest in photography. Both the Bandung Month of Photography and the RAWS Syndicate first emerged in 2013. The RAWS Syndicate has a catchy, tongue-in-cheek motto, “All Photography is Propaganda.” Within this, however, is an emphasis on self-ownership, an elusive but unique characteristic of photography in defining subjective reality. RAWS is active in many ways, including offering classes on nontechnical issues in photography (research, writing, the history of photography, critical investigations of the medium, propaganda, project development, and the ethics of photography), providing space and other resources for exhibitions, and leading discussion groups; it also now functions as an ad hoc bookstore and propaganda machine (by its own definition6). As of this writing, RAWS is working to develop a web portal serving as a bibliographic and research archive for Indonesian photobooks.
Begun in 2013, Bandung Photography Month is an annual fall event showcasing a variety of photographic activities. Throughout the city, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and other happenings are organized to promote a greater involvement with and understanding of photography. Each year, Bandung Photography Month gives a lifetime achievement award for a photographer of notable influence working in Indonesia. Previous winners include prolific technical writer R. M. Soelarko and Leonardi Rustandi, an itinerant photographer who takes on a variety of jobs ranging from weddings to teaching at ITB.
Perpustakaan Fotografi Keliling is a truly unique project designed to bring more photography to more people. Just as the name suggestions, it is a small, portable library of photography books made by a remarkably diverse range of photographers from around the world. The library is packed up and brought to photography and art events around Bandung, and can even be spotted on random street corners from time to time. The intent is clear: make photography and a critical discussion on the medium available to as many people as possible.
Established in 2017, the Indonesian Photography Archive is the newest of all these efforts. Housed in the new Bandung Creative Hub with so many other important cultural enterprises, the Archive has great ambitions. The goal is to create a research archive that holds negatives, publications, equipment, and other ephemera documenting the history of photography from across the archipelago. Sponsored by the city, the Bandung Creative Hub is an innovative building designed to continue to develop community-wide education in the arts. The resources of the Indonesian Photography Archive are still small, but the ambition and necessity are substantial. Given the other successful grassroots organizations pioneered by Pak HarSOS and Wahyu, as well as the investment made by the city of Bandung, the Archive seems destined to be a unique and important resource for archiving the history of photography in Indonesia.
Similar to all of these small organizations is Unobtanium. Founded in 2015 by Ferry Ferdianta Ginting and Aditya Pratama, two former law students, Unobtainium is both an aspiring publisher and the first bookstore in Indonesia dealing exclusively with photobooks. The two founders connected over a shared love of photography and photobooks, and soon demonstrated a savvy understanding that book publishing in photography is rapidly developing as a large global industry. Thus far Unobtainium has only published one book, Coming Home (2017) by Tandia Bambang Permadi. Ferry and Aditya started this venture thinking that there was much great photography in Java, but little support for artists interested in publishing. Much of the publishing that came before focused on documentary photography and photojournalism, so they sought to create a new forum to promote art photography in Indonesia. Coming Home, their first book, reveals a clear understanding of the techniques and critical discourse surrounding contemporary photobook publishing, and brings to voice a new talent in Indonesian photography.
Due to financial limitations, the publishing venture is developing slowly, but regardless, Unobtainium has found other ways to fill the void and continue to develop an interest in and market for photobooks in Java. Today Unobtainium is the sole Indonesian distributor of many elite international publishers of photography, all in turn furthering the discourse and understanding of the medium for the growing community of artists working in Bandung and beyond.
In some ways, Tandia is representative of many of the photographers emerging in Bandung. He won a scholarship to attend a Magnum Photos workshop in Singapore, where he studied with Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol and the Danish–South Korean filmmaker Sun Hee Engelstoft. The style of Tandia's work in Coming Home is reminiscent of Daido Moriyama, or perhaps Sobol himself, though the story is a bit more complex and confrontational. Coming Home is Tandia's first serious project, and looks specifically at the contradictions and complexities of identity as these relate to home. When Tandia would return home to Kuningan and Depok—two small cities in West Java outside of Bandung—he felt more a sense of alienation than comfort. Too often the people he would see on the streets could not remember him, or would only offer simple, superficial pleasantries. To combat this, he resorted to entering his neighbors' homes without permission, to photograph them and their possessions. To increase the confrontation, the pictures are made with a flash, often blinding the subjects he photographed. The real goal was to make a lasting impression, so that the people of his hometown would remember him and help secure his sense of identity in relation to place.
THE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Tandia, like many of his peers working around Bandung, is a graduate of ITB. Several of these people have helped legitimize photographic art in Bandung and across Indonesia, some even developing and expanding photographic education in the region. Sandi Jaya Saputra, a professor of photography at Padjadjaran University just outside Bandung, pursues a traditional documentary approach to urban and landscape photography. His book Pause; Urban Decay (2018) reveals a secret vision of Indonesian cities, with a calm and peace beneath all the chaos. Like this project, his first, self-produced book EX (2016) is a series of panoramas documenting the evolving landscape of Bandung. The pictures in Ex were first exhibited at the Singapore Biennale in 2012. The publication of EX has an effective DIY quality, and uses low-resolution printing in an evocative manner to describe the city of Bandung. Sandi works with an interesting and progressive educational program at Padjadjaran University to further substantiate photographic education and discourse in Indonesia.
Photographers such as Henrycus Napit Sunargo have developed a much more eclectic approach to traditional photographic processes and visions. Henrycus finished at ITB in 2015 with a degree in architecture, after which he taught himself photography. His work is diverse and innovative, ranging from deeply personal narratives to traditional documentary to abstract retellings of cultural history, and always displays a quiet, poetic sensitivity. His techniques, for the most part, are traditional, employing wet-plate collodion, gelatin silver, and C-prints. His ideas, however, remain a bit more eclectic.
In a curatorial statement that Henrycus prepared for Revisiting Bandung: Four Decades of Personal Approach in Photography, an exhibition held as part of the inaugural Bandung Photography Showcase in 2015 at Selasar Sunarygo Art Space, he lays out a critical framework used for understanding his own work as a photographer. In the statement, he references a number of leading critics, both Western and Indonesian, to create a complex dialectic between personal experience and fiction. He quotes Javanese curator and art historian Aminudin TH Siregar:
Most artists of the millennial generation … talk more about “personal and identity problems” and “personal wounds.” … In Indonesia, in the midst of chaotic social and political conditions. … Artists chose to remove themselves as well, more interested in building their worlds.7
Henrycus's series Afterimage (2002–10) provides a poignant meditation on family, portrayed with a quiet humility and affection, and explores the space between fiction and documentary. True to the words of Aminudin, the series seems an attempt to grapple with control over his identity and personal history.
In his curatorial statement for Revisiting Bandung: Four Decades of Personal Approach in Photography, Henrycus credits American critic Arthur Danto in creating the theoretical background of his work. In an early statement he references a classic line from Danto: “trusting the photograph was probably a huge mistake.”8 Like questions about fact and fiction, Henrycus's work explores the tension of a photographic representation as a legitimate social or historical tool. His series Hometown, Beliefs, and Personal God(s) (2015) looks at an entirely underacknowledged and often maligned part of Indonesian culture: its Chinese communities. Photographed in Bandung's Chinatown, these pictures are full of subtly and curiosity, and with care and humanity document basic elements of this community. Given the complex history Indonesia shares with its Chinese citizens, his sensitivity questions the past and creates a poetic call for new histories.
A more recent series by Henrycus, Reconstruction #3 (2017), uses wet-plate collodion to represent the complex colonial past of Indonesia. Much more conceptual than these other series, the pictures in Reconstruction #3 were made by scanning images of some of the early leaders of Bandung, all gathered from Dutch archives. In developing his wet-plate technique, Henrycus worked with Ario Pradipta Wibhisono, a Bundung photographer committed to alternative process photography. The images in Henrycus's series are printed as film positives, but before printing he erased the faces from the people using digital tools, in order to obscure the history they represent and create profound questions about colonialism and identity. These film positives were then projected onto plates sensitized with wet-plate emulsions—an antique, nineteenth-century photographic process—and processed as direct positives, again using a hybrid set of tools to confound our sense of history. The pictures are in turn presented as though authentic nineteenth-century photographs, complete with the jewel box presentation characteristic of times past. The obscured images presented in such a traditional way suspend history, offering an abstract interpretation of time and representation.
A professor at ITB and a close friend and creative colleague of Henrycus, Deden Durahman pursues photography in a completely different way. Self-identified as more of a media artist, Deden works in photography, painting, printmaking, and graphic design. After completing an undergraduate degree in printmaking from ITB, Deden pursued an MFA in digital media in Germany. His work creates an inherent conflict with the viewer, as it is both disturbing in the digital distortions he creates, and also highly aestheticized by the superlative craft he brings to his work. His photographic work deconstructs conceptions of the body and its connection to technology, using digital manipulation to fragment and reconstruct—to question, distort, and compromise our physical nature. In addressing Deden's work, Henrycus writes, “This process of reconstruction reflects a response towards post-modern and contemporary thoughts, departing from heroic ideologies in order to convey something more layered, reflective and analytical.”9
Deden's work, ultimately, is about history, technology, and representation, grounded in photography, but pushing the boundaries of traditional photographic representation. His images ask important questions about how technology shapes our understanding of our bodies.
It's more than just the academies and institutions. Because of its unique intellectual and cultural environment, Bandung is home to a number of interesting photographers and artists, including Jez O'Hare and Arum Tresningtyas Dayaputri. Spanning a career of more than twenty years, O'Hare's photographs offer a remarkably unique perspective on the archipelago. Born in Thailand to a British family, O'Hare moved to Indonesia in 1973, finally achieving citizenship in his adopted nation in 1995. His specialty is aerial photography, and he has photographed a large number of the seventeen thousand islands scattered around the archipelago. O'Hare has photographed using helicopters, planes, a trike microlite (an open cockpit plane he built himself), a paramotor, drones (some mounted with 4x5 film cameras), and kites. He has worked for oil companies, mines, nature conservancies, and tourism boards, but the sum total of his efforts has given O'Hare an infectious affection for and understanding of the diversity, beauty, corruption, heedlessness, economics, geography, and radiance found in the complexity of the archipelago. With a work-a-day proficiency, O'Hare crafts his pictures with a genuine love for photographic processes, and reveals a rich understanding of color, space, and form. The end result is as informative as it is seductive.
Arum Tresnaningtyas Dayaputri pursues her work in an entirely different manner. With an education in photojournalism, she has since developed a pursuit aimed more toward the fine arts. Arum has developed grassroots projects to help develop her voice as a photographer and artist. First was Kami Punya Cerita (We Have Our Own Stories, 2011–14), an education program she put together to train amateur and novice photographers about the self-realization and empowerment found in photography. Most of the participants used the most basic of tools—phones or other inexpensive cameras—and worked to develop projects examining their daily lives. The end results of these workshops were published in small zines, in which the participants shared a spread of photographs with a brief description about how the pictures reflect their lives. Arum now helps with Omnispace, an artist-run gallery in Bandung that provides exhibition space for artists outside of the commercial and academic circles that are plentiful in the city. More recently, Arum has worked with artists in the renowned Yogyakarta collective Ruang MES 56, and has also participated in the international residency program at the Cemeti Art House, also in Yogyakarta.
The most interesting of Arum's projects was completed as part of her thesis while pursuing her degree in photojournalism, Goddess of Pantura (2012–13). The title of the series references the goddess of the north coast of Java, and is used to suggest the mythologies and idolatry that surround the music. This project documents a form of popular music in Java, dangdut. Rather than developing like a typical musical documentary that focuses on the performers, Arum's pictures record the culture and people that surround the performers, focusing on the fantasies and social needs represented in the music. Like many forms of popular music, dangdut allows for public displays of sexuality not found elsewhere in Indonesian culture. Often photographed from the perspective of the musicians, the pictures also show the crowds and cultural landscapes of Java, both rural and urban, providing a rich understanding of the context of the performances. Arum also captures some sensitive behind-the-scenes situations, offering a strong sense of the people underneath the masks of performance. The artist's decision to print the photos as cheap, self-published zines or newspapers allowed her to share them at dangdut performances throughout Java. As a 2016 commission for the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Arum prepared a more ambitious self-publication of the Goddess of Pantura. This more recent publication comes with much richer reproductions of the photographs, and shows a savvy approach to design and presentation.
RICHARD WRIGHT AND THE LEGACY OF BANDUNG
In April of 1955, President Sukarno held an ambitious conference gathering leaders from across Africa and Asia, referenced now as the Bandung Conference. [Ed. note: See review of Two Meetings and a Funeral (directed by Naeem Mohaiemen, 2017) in Afterimage 43, no. 6.] The purpose of the conference was to bring together the newly independent nations emerging after World War II and the end to colonial occupation of their lands. Sukarno gave the opening address to the conference, and in doing so offered insight into the history of and ambitions for the gathering:
I recognize that we are gathered here today as a result of sacrifices. Sacrifices made by our forefathers and by the people of our own and younger generations. For me, this hall is filled not only by the leaders of the nations of Asia and Africa; it also contains within its walls the undying, the indomitable, the invincible spirit of those who went before us. Their struggle and sacrifice paved the way for this meeting of the highest representatives of independent and sovereign nations from two of the biggest continents of the globe.10
The conference was an attempt to unify the postcolonial nations into a political bloc. Holding it in Bandung was significant, as the city provided a clear history of both colonialism and education, the past and a path forward. Evidence of this conference can still be found on the streets of Bandung today.
An interesting side story of the conference points toward the significant effects of this occasion on the arts and artists of Java. Famed African American novelist Richard Wright was living in Paris when he heard about the gathering. The history of colonialism and oppression were at the heart of his work, so Wright felt it an imperative that he attend, and arranged to get press credentials so that he could report on the conference. He eventually published an account of his time in Indonesia called The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956), which reads as a manifesto calling for the demolition of the color barriers that allowed for slavery, colonialism, and oppression.
Wright's books Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945) had already been translated into Indonesian and were very influential with many Javanese writers. While there, Wright met with a number of influential writers working in Jakarta and West Java, including Mochtar Lubis, Achdiat Karta Mihardja, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, and Beb Yuk. While many of these writers questioned Wright's account of his time in Java—suggesting that Wright provided a rather romantic and self-aggrandizing account of his time in Bandung—these meetings also secured his influence on writers in the region.11
In many ways this conference and Wright's participation reveal a great deal about the city of Bandung. Historically, the city has a rich, complicated history in regard to colonial rule and independence. It is a city that has led the nation in discussions about education, creativity, and revolution. The agricultural lands surrounding the city abound in the history of colonial plantations; the city is adorned with some of the best Dutch architecture; and it is a center of education and culture for the entire archipelago. Wright's involvement points to the best and worst of all this, both in his influence on and engagement with some of the leading intellectuals of Java, as well as in the subversive intentions behind his visit. At the heart of all this is an innovative approach to the arts and art education, all driving the new development of photographic discourse in Java.
Circling back to Cities on the Move, Bandung represents so much of the emerging cities and influence of Asia during the transition from the twentieth to the twenty-first centuries—embodying both the residue of colonialism and leading the way toward meaningful cultural change. At the heart of Cities on the Move is an identity crisis that emerged as the newly liberated nations negotiated a sense of self after colonialism. The complex narratives surrounding Wright's visit to Bandung beautifully portrays these complexities, illustrating hope, opportunity, subversion, and a recounting that blends fact and fiction. The emergence of photography in educational and artistic discourses across the city is ripe with possibilities, and provides a next step in the emerging iconoclastic and revolutionary cultural and creative changes at the heart of Cities on the Move, and one grounded in all of these complexities.