Greetings from Yogyakarta, a burgeoning city on the island of Java in Indonesia. I’m here to visit friends in the Indonesian political printmaking collective Taring Padi, legendary agitators in graphic realms. Yesterday, at their headquarters in a leafy quarter south of the city, they hosted a delegation of farmers and fisherpeople who are resisting the construction of a massive coal-fired power plant on their land. There was a somber atmosphere, and most of the declaiming took place in the Javanese language, beyond my rudimentary Indonesian, so I asked my colleague Djuwadi what had been discussed, while the meeting was dispersing. “Well, the company is getting more aggressive, threatening people with violence if they don’t sell their land. People have been framed, sent to jail; the leaders of the protest movement have been beaten. Everyone is sad, and stressed.” I asked what the Taring Padi crew had said. “We went to this village last year and threw a big protest festival, with banners and puppets, and we printed t-shirts with our woodcuts on them for the villagers. It helped them feel strong, and I just suggested that we do that again, another festival. They need it now, I think. And that’s what we do, you know? We can’t help with the legal process, with the court issues or with the consequences of fighting a corrupt system. But we can make people feel powerful, remind them of their strength, give them symbols that they can look at to remember why they are struggling together.”
That’s what political art is for, if anyone needed a reminder. I’ll be posting more updates during this coming week.