Art Interviews

Interview with Eko Nugroho

Your home city Yogyakarta is said to have a
thriving contemporary art scene beyond any other city in Indonesia. What makes
it so special?

A number of
reasons. The Indonesian Art Institute is in Yogyakarta, and so many artists
come there to study. There's a lot of history there, a lot of culture and
tradition and people appreciate art more. Generally the atmosphere is really
creative. There's a lot of public art on the streets. Not just graffiti and
tags et cetera, but also plenty of legal street art, all kinds of different

Is that how you got started, doing street art?

Yes. When I
was growing up there were graffiti groups and street artists in Yogyakarta who
were sort of competing with each other. Some were graffiti kings, you know,
interested in spray-paint, tags and slogans. But the group I ran with was into
more visual and artistic expression. I like to do art in public, for people to
experience outside the museums and galleries. Also the murals, I like to do
them in public and invite people to watch and participate. I did one in Berlin,
which was really lovely, they gave me a big building neighboured by graffiti

You're painting a mural here in Kiasma. What's
the main idea behind this one?

It's called
Pleasure under pressure, it's about
how living in Indonesia you're are always surrounded by political things; even
if you don't choose political subjects, the media and everyday life are
constantly full of politics. It's about the political situation in Indonesia,
but it's not attacking things directly. It's softly critical, for people to
recognise what's happening around them.

{mosimage}Is it hard to be an openly political artist in

political situation is changing all the time, mostly for the better, but after
the previous regime people want things to get better fast. And a lot of things
still remain, corruption and political power centres. The people are really
politically active, calling out for things and being vocal with their opinions.
For artists, however, open criticism that's too direct is not permitted. You
know 70% of the people are Muslim and some of them want an Islamic state, but
not everyone is happy with that. There's a lot of tension between politics,
society and culture.

Can you tell us a little about your work with

I do some
comics on my own but mainly I work with a collective called Daging Tumbuh (Diseased Tumour). We
compile art from contributors: comics, illustrations et cetera, all
photocopied. Ordinary people can write or paint about their personal things and
so on. Every six months we publish a new issue, only 150 copies or so, which is
circulated from hand to hand on the streets.

Sounds very underground. You're also connected
to the world of institutionalised art, museums and galleries. Do you think it's
important to keep in touch with the underground?

There's a
lot you can do only in the underground, like criticise certain things in
society. In Indonesia the political situation is getting better, but there's
still a lot of narrow-mindedness and social pressure, and that's exactly what
I'm critical of in my work. Also, I like to be in contact and communicate with
people, hear their stories and experiences.

Some of your works include embroidery. How did
you get interested in that?

Some time
in 1999 there were a lot of social problems with urban youths and they formed
street gangs. It was a part of their fashion to have a cool embroidery on the
back of their leatherjackets. The gangs vanished after 2000, but they inspired
me because in their way they were rebelling against the system. Later I found a
small town in Java called Tasikmalaya, which was famous for embroideries, and I
studied it there myself. Nowadays I have skilled craftsmen do most of the big
ones for me based on my design.

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