POST A: The Role Context Plays on Indonesian Graffiti

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People have been witting graffiti on walls and in public spaces since the era of the colosseum, and today contemporary graffiti and street art can be found throughout the world, and has played a pivotal role in many social and political revolutions. When trying to understand graffiti or street art context is key, not only in place but also in time. This is relevant when looking at Indonesian graffiti, and its evolution over the past six decades.

Many people associate graffiti as we know it today as part of the New York hip hop scene of the 1970’s however this is only a tiny aspect of graffiti’s history. The act of drawing on walls has been around since prehistoric times. This is evident in Indonesia in Petta Kere cave in the Leang-leang Prehistoric Park in the Sout Sulawesi Province, which is printed with hand prints and an illustration of a boar, that are thought to be from around 5000 BCE.

image from; Panoramio

Modern graffiti has no one source, however it is often linked to the rise of muralismo in Latin America with artist such as Diego Rivera creating political murals in public spaces during the Mexican Revolution. Similarly contemporary Indonesia graffiti has its roots in political activism. Graffiti became an important aspect of Indonesia’s political scene in the 1940’s when Indonesia was still under colonial rule and fighting for independence, when phrases like like “Bung Ajoe Bung” (Come On Man), “Freedom is the glory of any nation. Indonesia for Indonesians” and “Hands off Indonesia!” began appearing in public spaces. Now days graffiti still has political roots. The murals that can be seen around Yogakarta often hold a political message such as the image below, which deals with the complexities of water ownership in Central Java.

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The context of the graffiti changes the meaning of each political piece, for example the piece of social commentary in Chile below would take on a very different meaning in Yogakarta and in Australia, as abortion is still a illegal in both Chile and Indonesia, therefore the best way to spread awareness and information about this taboo issue is through underground means.

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This is in stark contrast to near by city nation state Singapore where graffiti is not only illegal, but includes caning as corporal punishment under the Vandalism Act of 1966. Therefore to see a piece of graffiti one must understand the local context of the piece for its true meaning and value to be understood.


Title images all by author

One thought on “POST A: The Role Context Plays on Indonesian Graffiti

  1. It is interesting to be educated on the origins of graffiti, I genuinely had no knowledge of its significant political roots, instead thinking of it more as a mere means of artistic freedom. I suppose however, herein lies the ease with which graffiti and art can be utilised as a form of public expression, due to the freedom of form and interpretation of location and context. It definitely makes rethink the graffiti ridden areas I saw during ICS in Europe and specifically Italy, it would be fascinating to go back and explore and view the sites with a different viewpoint, and to try to understand their cultural and situational significance.

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