Socially Engaged Artists in Yogyakarta and Taipei

by on Monday, 30 November 2009 Comments
Before going travelling to Indonesia in September 2009, I had felt that I was loosing a lot of faith in the world of art which I was beginning to perceive as lofty, rhetorical, but generally detached from the masses. In a twist of fate, in Yogyakarta, Central Java, I stumbled across a treasure chest, and within it I discovered a group of socially conscious and politically concerned performance artists, called ’Performance Klub’. When hearing about their international Perfurbance#3 festival I was reinvigorated with enthusiasm for art. Inspired by the explosive activism I met in this country relatively new to political freedoms, I returned to Taipei in search of what similar manifestations I could find.

So what makes a socially engaged artist? How prevalent is social and political art in these two countries? What differences are there between socially engaged artists in Indonesia and Taiwan?
Socially engaged art can refer to social and political causes, social work or spiritual healing; it can be a way of empowering the disempowered and including the excluded and it can achieve radical and remarkable transformations through the use of creativity and social consciousness.


Two of the organisers of Performance Klub, Rachel Saraswati and Tim O’Donoghue, introduced me to a festival, Perfurbance#3, held in Yogyakarta.It was the most pure example I have come across of artists committing to a community in a time of great material and spiritual suffering and producing real benefits. It was touching to see a collaboration of artists from different cultures with different motivations coming together. Two of the performers at that festival, and one of the three couples which were formed in Bantul, are now living in Taiwan. I also caught up with Mickey Huang and Lewis Gesner three years after the event.


In Taipei, I found people using film to bring attention to social and political issues. Alfie Chen established a group called ’Guerrilla Movies’, which at first was a way of allowing his work to exist and survive and of expressing social phenomena. Later on Guerrilla Movies started giving other first time directors the chance to have their work seen and to get some useful feedback. He refuses society’s pressure to give up one’s dreams and ideals. Also we show the young female director Pinti Chen’s documentary on domestic violence. Pinti and two of the interviewers in the film, Huang Yuling and Chen Rujun, students of National Taiwan University’s social work department, look back on the film and the project they undertook. Another student from the same department, Yang Zijie, reflects on the past movement to save Taipei’s Treasure Hill. He discusses the role the academics and ’artivists’ had and should have had in the movement as well as bringing up some of the difficulties and considerations artists must take when engaging themselves in social movements.

Nick Coulson (聶克)

I was born in sunny Torbay on the south western coast of England's green and pleasant lands. I'm prowling the streets, parks and ruins of Taiwan hunting for absurdities and studying the sociology of the underground. Furthermore with our nomadic arts and action space "The Hole" we attempt to challenge rigid and alienating structures.


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