… is for GSRB.
The ascent of the avant garde in Indonesian art, more commonly known as the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (The Indonesian New Art Movement), or GSRB for short, is perhaps best described as a resistance to the restricted. Following the pattern of avant garde movements across the globe, the GSRB is easily one of the most significant events in Indonesian art history, and has shaped contemporary art in the archipelago as we know it today.
“…Modern art in Indonesia has been trapped in a small circle…Fine art thinking in Indonesia is heading towards bankruptcy… Fine art needs emancipation.”
From the Manifesto Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru released in 1987
It all started with an academic rebellion. Up until the early 70s, the primary art universities in Indonesia – the Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia (ASRI) in Yogyakarta and the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) in Bandung – advocated a “pure” kind of art; more traditional forms of fine art such as painting and sculpture. The painting below, by ASRI alumnus Widayat, is an example of the kind of art that was favoured by the institutions then. In fact, Widayat was one of the winners of the Grand Indonesian Painting Award in 1974, the competition that started it all.
While the majority of artists adhered to the institutes’ definition of art, a few young, budding artists wanted to break free from the rigidity of “pure” art and yearned to experiment with media beyond the conventional. The first major milestone for the GSRB rebels was the Black December Statement, a critique of the art production in Indonesia then, presented by a group of ASRI students to the jury of the Grand Indonesian Painting Award. “That what creates dead-end for the development of Indonesian painting to this day is old and over-used concepts, that are still held on to by the establishment, arts and cultural producers and established artists”, was one of the points put forth in the declaration. The ASRI student group also organised the first new art exhibition at the Taman Ismail Marzuki, titled Pameran Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia (Indonesian New Art Exhibition) in 1975. Following their lead, students rebellion groups broke out in other art colleges including IBT and eventually came together to facilitate the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru. Some iconic works that emerged during the early years of the movement are Ken Dedes by Jim Supangkat and Paling Top by FX Harsono. Both works involve the use of found or readymade objects manipulated by the artist to address a social or historical issue. The choice of material in this case plays an integral role in the contextual meaning of the work, rather than just being the mode of expression as in Widayat’s work.
Prior to the GSRB, art “rebellions” were not uncommon in Indonesia, owing to the country’s ever-changing political and social conditions. The Taman Siswa Movement in the 1920s for example, challenged the Dutch educational systems and brought nationalistic art to the scene. Art groups like Persagi and LEKRA pushed for a revolution in art that was rooted in the search for a true Indonesian identity. They sought to find a place for art in the social realm – and create art for the people, by the people. However, the GSRB was arguably the first movement in the history of Indonesia to really challenge the very definition of art and successfully shake its foundations in favour of a more progressive cultural outlook towards art production. It opened up a world of possibilities for local artists and encouraged them to think and create using modes beyond the conventional – from installation to performance art.
The avant garde wave completely transformed the Indonesian art scene. With now notable names like Jim Supangkat, FX Harsono, Dede Eri Supria, Dadang Christanto and Sanento Yuliman taking the lead, the resistance grew quickly and became the face of contemporary art in Indonesia. From the very first art exhibition in 1975, the artists showcased works of art in non-conventional media like installation, found objects, photography and performance. In an anecdote written about the 1975 exhibition that he was a part of, Supangkat wrote, “The New Art Exhibition indeed displayed tendencies that are completely ‘other’, even if not evenly, in its conclusion this tendency stems from “profanity”, violence, filth and perhaps sadism, and turns the question around: Should the life that art represents be one of purity, pleasantness, alluring dreams, religious escapism, compensations of imageries of the ideal?”. The statement beautifully defines the spirit of the movement and everything that the artists were rebelling against.
The movement took momentum very quickly and revolutionary works of art and exhibitions started to show up in all parts of Indonesia. The “new art” had arrived and it was here to stay. Naturally, the next big step was to redefine what the new artists wanted art to be. On May 2, 1987, the Manifesto Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru titled “Fine Art of Emancipation, Emancipation of Fine Art.” was released. It clearly outlined everything that – according to the artists – was wrong with the existing definition of art and the need for plurality within the artistic space. “Expression of visual art should prioritize the deconstruction of misunderstood traditions of fine art… A redefinition of fine art is required, to free it from the definition rooted in artes liberales – seek a new definition which can accommodate every expression of visual art…”, it read.
[Note: The featured image, Siti Adiyati’s installation Eceng Gondok Berbunga Emas (Water Hyacinth with Golden Roses), 1979, remade in 2019, was first shown in the 1979 GSRB exhibition.]
Illustration of the letter ‘G’ by Nadra Ahmad