Upon visiting Yogyakarta – Indonesia’s “cradle of Javanese culture” (Dahles, H. & Prabawa, T.S. 2013, p.245), it’s clear to see the city’s pride through the design that’s found in every aspect of the environment. From the colourfully painted pedicabs to the bold walls coated with murals by the youth, it’s evident that “design plays a role in forming and communicating national identity in Indonesia” (Crosby, A. 2019, p. 53). However, within this rich city lies a poison rotting away at the heart of the culture. With its bright colours and encouraging messages you wouldn’t think harm of it, but let’s take a look at these examples.
With its striking reds, blues, yellows and whites under the slogan “Show Your Colours”, these houses along Kali Code River in Yogyakarta “didn’t just catch the attention of local people – the stunt gained national and international notoriety” (Vital Strategies, 2017). Unknown to the residents, the village had in fact been transformed with the brand colours of Phillip Morris International (Indonesia’s largest tobacco company) to essentially be one giant advertisement (Emont, 2016) at an estimated exposure worth at US$220,000 a month (Vital Strategies, 2017). In response, the campaigns “Show Your True Colours” and #SuaraTanpaRokok (or “Voices Without Cigarettes”) was released in collaboration with Muhammadiyah Tobacco Control Centre and several organisations and activists in Yogyakarta “as a symbol of resistance towards the exploitation of the community by the tobacco industry” (Vital Strategies, 2017). Led by renowned local graffiti artist Koma, giant anti-tobacco murals painted onto these houses were unveiled on World Cancer Day. Although the tobacco industry has a tough grip on the community as the Indonesian government relies on the industry for “around 10% of state tax revenue” (Emont, 2016), the examples of activists working with the community shows that change can be made through the people.
Another example is the poster for Java Rockin’ Land 2011 posted around Indonesia, it boasts a line-up of bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars and Neon Trees. However, another name displayed alongside these artists is Indonesia’s second largest tobacco company, Gudang Garam (Hefler, M., Chapman, B. & Chapman, S. 2013). It’s not unusual for the tobacco industry to sponsor arts and cultural events such as these, but this sponsorship received a backlash due to the band’s high level of teen appeal and activity in philanthropic efforts in UNICEF and cancer charities. In response, a campaign by Tobacco Control was held through Facebook, tobacco control organisations, and Twitter to target the band’s management and press agents. In response to fan’s petitions, Neon Trees (a band with a history of antitobacco advocacy) announced that at the end of their set they would donate their earnings to an Indonesian cancer charity (Hefler, M., Chapman, B. & Chapman, S. 2013), and posters for Rockin’ Land post 2011 no longer feature sponsors by tobacco companies.
The examples of these two campaigns show the complex relationship between designers, culture-makers, artists, customers, and the tobacco industry. Each group is the source for cause and effect in the preservation of Yogyakarta’s culture.
Cranberries World, 2011, Java Rockin’ Land, CranberriesWorld.com, viewed 20 December 2019 <http://cranberriesworld.com/live/concerts/java-rockinland-festival-2011-2011-07-23/>.
Crosby, A. 2019, ‘Design activism in an Indonesian village’, MIT Press Journals, vol. 35, no.3
Hefler, M., Chapman, B. & Chapman, S. 2013, ‘Tobacco control advocacy in the age of social media: using Facebook, Twitter and Change’, Tobacco Control, vol.22, no.3.
Dahles, H. & Prabawa, T.S. 2013, ‘The case of the pedicab drivers of Yogyakarta, Indonesia’, Journal of Small Business & Entrepreneurship, vol. 26, no.3, p.245.
Vital Strategies, 2016, Anti-tobacco advocates in Indonesia show their true colors, viewed 20 December 2019, <https://www.vitalstrategies.org/anti-tobacco-advocates-in-indonesia-show-their-true-colors/>.
Vital Strategies, 2017, Tunjukkan Warna Aslimu – Kali Code (1 menit), video, YouTube, viewed 20 December 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi0ErxDxggY>.