Proses adalah ketika kita. (Process is when we.)

A research project on and around Danarto dkk (‘Danarto and friends’)




This is the title of a 1982 text that the late Danarto (b. Sragen, Central Java, 1940; d. Jakarta, 2018) would read in various artist talks, what would today be called his ‘artist statement.’ Where better to begin our journey to unravel Danarto’s practice than this title that ends with a comma, repeated like a mantra dozens of times, in a text that ends with a decisively unfinished sentence: “Process is when we.” Fellow writer and filmmaker Jasso Winarto summed up Danarto with a phrase of Heraclitus – panta rhei (everything flows). Widely acknowledged as a pivotal figure on the Indonesian literary scene, Danarto was not only a writer and poet. He is one of those rare artists who did everything, and did it all well. He would perform his poetry, write and direct plays, deliver monologues, paint and make installations, design posters and interiors, draw illustrations for children’s and high-brow cultural publications, build sets for films and theatre and write critical reviews, while teaching at an art school, offering weekly satirical social and political commentary, and an Islamic lifestyle column. We would not be surprised to uncover more. 

All his old friends remember a free spender, especially on food and friends. Yet, of his artistic practice, they all hold different views. The recurring keywords—like magical realism, surrealism and tasawwuf (Sufism)—tend to be limiting. We should not cling to them. Each of us relates these keywords to particular works of Danarto, or his practice in general, but in different ways. His life and works did not observe the conventions of only this world, in which you and I wake up every day. Especially in his writings, one is constantly surprised by how time and space are presented, unfolding very differently to our mundane reality. This is due to his acknowledgement of various realms, worldly and spiritual, the here and the hereafter. In his work and his life, he traversed all these realms with the same ease. The life of the ‘ghost’ or djinn (or caretaker, in Bahasa Indonesia) of a tree was as valuable as a street-food vendor’s or the president’s. And no one should be considered special – everyone was equally worthy of being talked to, cursed at, praised, or treated to a feast. 

Danarto was born, lived and died in Java, Indonesia. By the age of 19, he had made illustrations for children’s magazines and co-founded Sanggarbambu (Bamboo Monastery, est. 1959), a group of purportedly apolitical painters whose shared studio and gallery space fast became a hub for artists from right across the spectrum of music, theatre and literature. In the early sixties, as in many new nations at the time, the schism between the Indonesian ‘left’ (be it socialist, communist, or bottom-up citizens’ initiatives) and the various right-wing movements was acute, polarising not only national politics but ordinary people too. Sanggarbambu was a conscious attempt to offer a third way amid these tensions, a dissolutive, non-binary proposition.

This was an era of the new, of many new initiatives happening in different places simultaneously, often without immediate connections or relationships. Everything was new, or being renewed. The sixties and seventies are broadly considered the peak of vanguardism in Indonesia, in the arts, culture, and national development, as in many other post-colonial nations. Danarto’s artistic practice began in the midst of that ferment. Everything he and his friends did was new to them, and to those around them. It didn’t matter if someone elsewhere had done it or not—experiments in concretism amid the rapid growth of recording technologies, for example, or explorations of subjectivity by way of audience participation in art happenings. What mattered was to reflect critically the social and political environment that was taking a repressive and militaristic turn, toward an extractive neo-colonialism, some would say. Despite the cosmopolitan aspirations of many newly independent nations, their governments were often susceptible to a simplistic, capitalist-American dream. Soeharto’s authoritarian New Order regime, like many new states, subscribed to that dream and was indeed supported by the U.S. government. A genocidal purge of alleged ‘communists’ and ‘Islamic extremists’ started in 1965, and the ‘Jakarta Operation’ (or ‘Jakarta is Coming’) became the U.S.A.’s model campaign for obliterating communism in Latin America. Since then—even after the ‘Reformation’ that toppled the dictatorial president in 1998—that polarization has endured, deeply ingrained in Indonesian political life. 

Between 1964 and 1967, Danarto slowly moved from Yogyakarta to the national capital, Jakarta. Before settling, he sojourned in several towns along the northern coast of Java, a journey he took so he could experience shalat (prayer) in the region’s various mosques. This was when he converted to Islam, a decision intended to bring him closer to the majority of the country’s population. By the late seventies, he had begun to reflect on this transitional moment and the period of his conversion. In the early eighties, he won a prestigious literature award from Jakarta’s oldest government-funded arts institution, Taman Ismail Marzuki, for a compilation of unorthodox short stories entitled Adam Ma’rifat (Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1982), which was labelled magical realist, as well as mystic and Sufistic. Soon after, he published his pilgrimage memoir Orang Jawa Naik Haji (Jakarta: Grafiti Pers, 1984) and started contributing regular columns to Islamic-leaning newspapers (such as Republika) and magazines (e.g., Ulumul Quran). Despite all this activity, he was never part of the newly coined discourse of Seni Rupa Modern Islam (Islamic [Modern] Fine Art), nor of exhibitions or discussions on that topic. Reflecting on this, he lightly commented, “God, is all around, in all that exists, be it the rights or the wrongs, in all the living and dead beings. My friends who grew up in Islamic boarding schools are far more tense than me. [For them,] it seems impossible for God and all the majestic beings to be a part of our life as humans.” Indeed, Danarto truly believed that all beings, celestial or worldly, co-exist—God included. So there was no need to treat any of them as more special than the others.

Groundwork research on Danarto is not only tempting but very necessary. Even our cultural history is still polarized between left and right, right and wrong, the good and the bad. Such limited, singular narratives of the past are numbing, deafening and blinding us, in Indonesia and everywhere on this planet. Danarto dkk is a space for us to develop a third, fourth, or fifth option – new perspectives, new stances, new associations and histories. 

The Hyphen — research group started collecting Danarto’s documents, photos, interviews, ephemera, etc in 2016. In 2020-21, with the support of the Istanbul Biennial, we are extending our thinking and research with a larger, multidisciplinary group. Rather than simply exhibiting our findings and archival material, we want to invite other interested participants to join this process and our conversation. We will not limit ourselves to a presentation of Danarto’s art works and archives, but rather, departing from his life and practice, set a stage on which these third, fourth, and fifth options can be explored. Our research and our various forms of making will be shared publicly – not just the results, but the process. We want this to be open-ended, and not ours alone.

What we offer is a baseline, a rhythm. A bi-weekly conversation around the uncovered materials (artworks, readings, thoughts, philosophies, etc) will propel more discussion and collecting, to deepen and spatialise the experience of Danarto’s legacy. Along the way, we will remain open to any form which might expand the conversation, including concerts, assemblies, or reading groups, as well as an archival exhibition. Together with you, we want to sustain this process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process, process,


Recent Public Iterations:

Danarto dkk – Our bios

Akmalia Rizqita (b. Jakarta, 1996) currently works as the project manager of Rubanah Underground Hub, Jakarta, Indonesia. Better known as ‘Chita’, she’s been actively involved in the local art scene by working part time in various art spaces and participated in a number of art projects since her college days in Bandung. Those experiences led her to further interest in arts management, not only as a profession but also a cultural practice. 

Anissa Rahadiningtyas (b. Jakarta) is a PhD candidate in the History of Art and Visual Studies Department at Cornell University. Her primary research area is the history of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia. She is a 2019 fellow at Cornell Digital Collections in Arts and Sciences and a part-time Assistant Curator of Asian Art at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum. She has also worked as an independent curator since 2008. Her interests include postcolonial theory, ocean studies, comparative modernisms, and Islamic studies. 

Grace Samboh (b. Jakarta, 1984) cannot stay put, so she works either in Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Jatiwangi, or Medan. Due to questioning too many things at once, she does curatorial work as well as groundwork research. She is interested in unravelling how social realities, relationships, and the past formulate in various contemporary practices. She is undertaking Kajian Seni dan Masyarakat (Art and Society Studies), a doctoral program at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta.

HS Hairus Salim (b. Tabalong) is a writer, research consultant, and executive director of Yayasan LKiS (Lembaga Kajian Islam dan Sosial), Yogyakarta. Primarily writes about religious matters and culture, he has published several books, includes: Sang Kosmopolit (EA Books, 2020), Tuhan yang Tersembunyi: Renungan dari Balik Aksara (Buku Mojok, 2019). His writing titled “Indonesian Muslims and cultural networks” is featured in Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian, 1950-1965 (Brill, 2012). His writings are also featured in a number of media, such as Mojok.co and IBTimes.id. He also manages Gading Publisher and Lumbung Informasi Kebudayaan (LIKE) Indonesia.

Julian Abraham “Togar” (b. Medan, 1987) is an artist, musician and pseudo scientist. Words like generative, manipulating, dematerialization are often used to identify his work. Connecting one thing to another, expressed in complex algorithms, have enabled his experiences in how art, the environment, science and technology relate to one another to provide new tools to educate and engage both the artist and the society. Currently he’s pursuing a two year residency at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, Netherland.

Rachel Katherina (b. Jakarta, 1997) recently received her BA in Anthropology and Media from the Goldsmiths, University of London, with the thesis “Sound in Museums as Curatorial Practice: Learning about the use of sound in museums from the Van Abbemuseum Choir”. She received the Erasmus Traineeship Grant (2016-2017) for her internship in the EUROPALIA Indonesia Festival (Brussels, Belgium).

Ratna Mufida (b. 1979, Kediri) is an arts management expert living in Yogyakarta. She is one of the co-founders of Hyphen —. Standing in the management side of the arts demanded her to connect to things, and people, from other fields of discipline. This has shaped her curiosity toward sociological and historical aspect of Indonesian contemporary art practice. She pursues the paths of her curiosity by doing research and archival works together with Indonesian Visual Art Archive, Hyphen — and SKRIPTA.

Sakdiyah Ma’ruf (b. Pekalongan, 1982) is celebrated as Indonesia’s first Muslim female stand-up comic. She uses humour to make sense of her place in a changing Indonesia. Also an activist, she received the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in 2015 and was recognised as one of BBC’s 100 Women in 2018 and BBC Cultural Frontline’s 12 Artists that Changed the World in 2019. During the pandemic, she wrote and hosted comedy series entitled SABAN SENIN addressing issues faced by women, creative workers, and workers in general in the pandemic. 

Saleh Husein (b. Jeddah, 1982) is an artist and musician who’s based in Jakarta, Indonesia.Throughout his works, Saleh Husein invokes the minds via historical unraveling of things. His family’s history and traces of the Arab culture often became the focus on his works. Saleh studied painting at the Faculty of Visual Arts, Jakarta Arts Insititute. He is also known as the guitarist in the bands White Shoes & The Couple’s Company and The Adams.

Tamarra (b. Tasikmalaya, 1989), is a self-taught performance artist. Since last year, Tamarra took up an undergrad in history at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta. Tamarra moved to Yogyakarta in 2008 and worked as a street busker until 2013. In 2006 Tamarra had an interest in joining and working with transgender community, most of them working as buskers and sex workers. In the period of 2011-2013, Tamarra’s works mostly talks about gender and sexuality issues, transgender history in Indonesia, religion, and humanity.



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