Thursday, November 11, 2010

Yogyakarta: 4 Ways I Found Art Beneath the Ash

The 4 Places I Found Culture While Mount Merapi went Gila

In the last post you saw us run for our lives from the deadly volcano Merapi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The reactions since I've been back in Jakarta have been pretty hilarious. My mom called Journo friend Aubs, a 'jackass' despite me telling her it was my choice to go, to which she replied, "He should know how you are, he shouldn't have even told you," and my boss expressing her clear disapproval with a 20 min explanation of how it is to die from pyroclastic flows (brain and blood boils, if heated enough your skull explodes), to which I  turned positively pale (in a brown way). Nonetheless, I did not regret a damn thing.  This was one cool weekend, despite our natural disaster reality bullet.

The thing you need to understand is that Jakarta has the power to starve you of underground and artsy goodness. People here are either extremely rich or hella poor, and being a poor intern in a city with no student or bohemian culture can make you feel like you're in bourgeois quarantine from everything you knew in the last five years at uni. Yogya (pronounced Jogja), in contrast was a cup of hot fair trade coffee, revitalizing the soul.

Unfortunately, I only had a couple of non-death defying days there so my checkin' out of the city was more of an injection of culture than a slow sip.

Here's 4 things that will get you silly after douching around JKT too long (like I said, those Blackout Parties are only once in a while!).

 1. Cruise the Midnight Art Gallery
 There are a whole bunch of art schools in Yogya. Grafiti here is not some compulsion to say f*ck authority, scribble some graphic down and then run away from the popo. Here, they are elaborate, imaginative and bad ass designs that I hope these talented kids are making some serious dollars off of.

Becak-ing into a the zone.

 Funky art gallery in the dark alleys of Yogya. This is one of my fav's. Around Ossington in Toronto it was similar, but too much wasted space and less edgy.

Whoah, I just woke up in a comic book. Just looking at it makes me excited!  For realz, where can I buy this/ please design a logo for me?

Creepy Donnie Darko like rabbit eying the peeing guy+ fallen over God head

Reminded of Spirited Away. Note the painting in the bottom left corner. 

 Creepy Doggy Long Legs. Of them all, this is my fav. Couldn't capture it though, moving too fast on motor bike. 

I'm looking forward to volcanic art to come from this episode. 

2. Check out the Student Artist Collective

I came here, hoping for some grafitti art but no, it was more traditional. I did however find a love child of traditional Batik style with modern techniques. If you're all artistic and into art creation, below is a video of how it was done.

I bought this. I couldn't resist after seeing how it was made.  I wanted something that represented  Indonesian culture, but was not the sometimes gaudy traditional work. This was a compromise. I liked the style of Vika and the Becak really gave me the flavour of the city.

Imam Gallery
Ngadinegaran MJ 2/126

How this Painting was Made: New Batik Style

 3.  See Hindu Stories: Ramayana
Great costumes, cool histoire, fight sequences not that great, but overall intriguing to watch. It is live instrumentals and dance which always gets me excited. A bit pricey though (140 000 RP) at the  "Puri Wisata" which translates literally into "Tourist Building." I know, not very Indie cool kid blogger of me and it's definitely not the best one to see in town (apparently at the Prambanan Hindu Temples there's a much better show), but yea if you have one last night on a Sunday and the temples are closed because of volcanic ash, this may be worth your time. Just saying. 


4. Get Lost in Ruined Ancient Palace
Do you ever have those time/space machine moments?  Walking through the Water Palace, the former grounds of the sultan, at 6 pm, everything covered in eerie white ash and the Islamic prayer filling the empty twilight air gave me that a fantasy genre high. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Can't wait to go back. I barely scratched the dusty surface. As an "emerging" adult, stuck between loving and not quite being ready for the high roller life of Jakarta, this place provided the perfect interlude.

What I wish I tried:

This is an oldie but goodie. If you know the Chinese Opera, Monkey, this is Damon Albarn's (from the Gorillaz) production of it. The whole album is sick, really. I love his work. Wait for the end for it to really kick in.


  1. There is an underground art scene in Jakarta, you just have to know where to look. Also, if you go to Taman Ismail Marzuki there are theatres (and a cinema) and an art school from whence lots of talented people came. There are always interesting theatre performances and troupes coming through. Just talk to people, even if it's during the day and ask what's around and ask for where else to go. The last time I went I ended up talking to the director of a children's theatre group who told me to go to a show that night not of his group but of another. I mean, even in Plaza Indonesia, there are galleries where the curators don't mind if you ask them where else to go to see (not necessarily purchase) works by great up and coming Indonesian artists.

    Yogyakarta though is really the hub of art on Jawa Island. And while I appreciated it, I liked the Ramayana at the Pura Wisata more, because it was more up close (unless you saw it when they had to perform indoors), as the Prambananan one, while epic and with a wonderful backdrop of history and culture, is just a little too distant between the stage and the audience.

    Try watching the Ramayana wayang puppets. There's a great one in the Keraton area of Yogya every night. Javanese people are used to having the Ramayana play every night, and it's broadcast over the radio. It truly is an epic story and they show different sections every night and javanese will understand it. If you're lucky you might even catch the other Hindu epic being performed, the Mahabarata.

    In Jakarta you should go to Fatahillah square--it's touristy but it is significant in the history of the city and the country. There's also a Museum Wayang there which explains the cultural evolution of the art form.

    You should ask around local indonesians if there's any ketoprak on, which is the true folk theatre too. It's funny and you should go with someone who really understands the local dialect and the slang. They use stock characters like commedia dell'arte (but modern) and they tackle everyday issues.


  2. Coming Soon. February 18-20. Graha Bhakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki. 14.30 & 20.00
    Pop Opera: Kisah Cinta Anak Koruptor dan Pacarnya

    coming from a great Indonesian artist who has multi occupations, who graduated from Institut Kesenian Jakarta. Sys NS. i think it's a must watch musical.

  3. Woah this is my home! Born and raised here:-) Thank you thank you for writing such a wonderful and helpful blog! Next time if you come back to Jogja you should let me know, I know every corner of this city very well. I am in New York at the moment but will come back next year sometime. Oh Jogjaaa I miss you a lot.