Recognised as one of Indonesia’s art hubs, Yogyakarta is home to over fifty art and cultural spaces (Bruhn 2015). With photography and film collectives, experimental music spaces, cultural studies centres and more, it is not difficult for artists (established or aspiring) to explore and find their ‘niche’ within this city. Alongside commercial success, these artists have the freedom to challenge authority in public spaces, but more importantly have the agency to create a gateway for social change.
“Working collectively in alternative spaces breeds a more organic understanding and attachment to a politics that challenges both capitalist and state orthodoxy” (Abbot, cited in Bruhn 2015).
However, it wasn’t always this way.
The DIY culture surrounding the art communities of Yogyakarta only arose from the 1990s amongst activists, sub-cultures and artists. In particular, a cultural activist organisation named Taring Padi was formed there in 1998 when the former president was overthrown by the student and people’s movement. Taring Padi fought for open democratic spaces in society, allowing art to be used as a tool for political expression and education for all (Taring Padi n.d.). To achieve this, they used live music as ‘artistic camouflage’ to spread their message and communicated to the people through big banners, performance art and their punk and rock ‘n’ roll lyrics (Indonesia Art Activism and Rock ‘n’ Roll 2002).
As a cultural movement, ‘everything that we voice, all the yells that we holler we use a different form, that’s art’ (Indonesia Art Activism and Rock ‘n’ Roll 2002).
However, many tobacco companies are feeding into the arts scene, using tactics that allow themselves to be heavily rooted into Indonesian and Javanese youth and activist culture. The Indonesian tobacco company Sampoerna has linked itself as a sponsor to the concert series SoundrenAline.
Its marketing activities have expanded into social media to influence the youth to associate smoking with music, creativity and self-expression. A clear example of this is their ‘Go Ahead Challenge’ which encouraged people to get involved in designing a limited edition A Mild cigarette package (Astuti, Assunta & Freeman 2018). The winner was a young Indonesian artist and his design features a red finger print, with the words ‘Go Ahead, be yourself & be brave!’ lining the interior packaging. This ‘creativity’ and ‘empowerment’ message was shared at the concert, along with the new limited-edition cigarette pack, and more than 65,000 Instagram posts marked with the A brand marketing hashtags were found (Astuti & Freeman 2018).
Considering the roots of design activism in Indonesia, and how it arose as an art movement for the people, this exploitation of idealised notions of creativity by the tobacco industry is far from fair. Thus, while it may be difficult to get governments to play a more dominant role in restricting tobacco advertising and sponsorship by enforcing already existing regulation, artists and creatives can utilise their practice and engagement with local communities to confront these contemporary concerns.
Astuti, P.A.S., Assunta, M. & Freeman, B. 2018, ‘Raising generation ‘A’: a case study of millennial tobacco company marketing in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 27, no. 1.
Astuti, P.A.S. & Freeman, B. 2018, ‘Tobacco company in Indonesia skirts regulation, uses music concerts and social media for marketing’, The Conversation, 31 July, viewed 22 December 2019, <http://theconversation.com/tobacco-company-in-indonesia-skirts-regulation-uses-music-concerts-and-social-media-for-marketing-93206>.
Bruhn, K. 2015, ‘Art and Social Engagement in Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Ketjilbergerak and the Legacy of Taring Padi’, Seismopolite, 29 December, viewed 22 December 2019, <http://www.seismopolite.com/art-and-social-engagement-in-yogyakarta-indonesia-ketjilbergerak-and-the-legacy-of-taring-padi-i>.
Indonesia Art Activism and Rock ‘n’ Roll 2002, Monograph, House of the Red Monkey, Indonesia.
Taring Padi n.d., About Taring Padi, viewed 22 December 2019, <https://www.taringpadi.com/?lang=en>.