3 March – 8 April 2018
Art Sonje Center
144-2 Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu
Seoul, South Korea
The Kuda Project by ruangrupa
Kartika Jahja and Dialita, LARAS, Melancholic Bitch
Organized by Art Sonje Center
Curated by Alia Swastika
Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia
Art Sonje Center presents 2018 Art Sonje Project #2: Songs for the People: Music and Politics in Indonesia, which explores the complex relationship between music and politics in which the two are deeply connected to the idea of mass and power. The exhibition introduces some projects in which music becomes part of the battle for political power, whether in an actual political arena or through politics as a spirit of resistance. In many stories, we hear that artists and musicians maintain the hope that their works can trigger resistance or change in society. More and more, the idea of engagement in arts and politics refers to the notion of activism, through which artists actively become part of the social political movement.
In Indonesia, the music scene has always been connected to the country’s political situation, in one way and another, particularly since politics also strongly relates to the idea of identity. In the 1960s, Soekarno, Indonesia’s first President, banned one of the most famous bands, Koes Plus, arguing that their music was not a representation of Indonesia’s identity and was strongly connected to imperialist music. Only after he fell from his reign, tragically, those bands started to play again leading to the formation of today’s Indonesian music industry. This story then inspired ruangrupa to create a project called The Kuda: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70’s. It is a fictional band formed under Soeharto (second Indonesia’s President) to highlight the shift of social political context of Indonesian society from Sukarno’s Old Order to Soeharto’s New Order. The band was actively involved in first generation of student’s movement during 1970s, and their songs strongly reflected their engagement with Jakarta as an urban landscape; they talked about the face of a big city (Jakarta), the workers, also the students and people who could not express themselves well. They also took account into the newly ended Sukarno era, the shifting power or interregnum from Sukarno to Soeharto, which was one of the most important eras that shaped the social and political discourse of Indonesia today.
One example of seeing politics as context is a project by a group of women who spent years in prison after the political turmoil of 1965 because they were suspected to be connected to the communist party. During their time in prison, they wrote songs to overcome trauma and to heal wounds. In 2015, they created a choir with other family members of the survivors, named Dialita, and started to sing their songs and even released an album. They perform not only to speak up through their songs but also can be seen as a memoir to the women’s movements and activism that had been shut down during the New Order. Political chaos in Indonesia during 1965 and the years after became the context of this musical project. For this exhibition Kartika Jahja creates an installation that captures their concert performances and documents their interviews and everyday life.
Considering politics as content, it is interesting to compare how popular music and the underground music scene cope with social and political themes. In pop music, there are some stories about how big music stars have a strong “political bargain power” which has led some of them to enter real political battles. LARAS, a music research collective, will examine narratives on these subjects, bringing up interesting facts and stories about how musicians gain their political position and how they handle the power of their fame and leadership. Their research focuses on two figures: one is a rock star who is popular for his “songs of the people” (lagu untuk rakyat), Iwan Fals, with his surrounding scene including Kantata Takwa; the other is Indonesian folk music star Rhoma Irama, who was initially connected with the Islamic wave, and took his music career as a way to expand Islamic views in society (dakwah).
While popular music offers the possibility of reaching a broader audience, the movement within the underground music scene is also interesting to observe since there are a lot of bands that express their vision on political issues. Melancholic Bitch is a music collective from Yogyakarta. They were students from the University of Gadjah Mada who grew up in the generation facing the battles of the Reformation Era in 1998. Some of them used to be part of student movements in the mid 1990s to the early 2000s, and this involvement is shown in their lyrics, particularly in their latest album, NKKBS Bagian Pertama. This album is dedicated as a memoir to an era, looking back on the New Order’s regime and how those ideological policies actually had a strong impact on the life of families in Indonesia.