‘Winter Comes Early’: ruangrupa Accelerates Plans to Upend Documenta 15

The Indonesian collective aims to work as a double agent: a team of artistic directors for a major exhibition pursuing an activist agenda

While ruangrupa’s international standing has increased dramatically since its appointment as curator of “documenta fifteen” in early 2019 (the exhibition is due to take place in 2022), its practice is longstanding, approaching two decades of existence as this tumultuous year comes to an end. The initiative to develop ruangrupa in 2000 was led by artist Ade Darmawan, artist/filmmaker Hafiz and writer Ronny Agustinus, among 20 others from Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta who participated in a fundraising exhibition at Cemara 6 Galeri in southern Jakarta. Its founding came about two years after the resignation of Indonesian president Suharto and the end of the New Order Regime (1965–98), during the ensuing Indonesian reformasi period that brought about social, political and cultural change in the nation, including legislation that permitted some decentralisation of the government, and more tolerance for dissent and democratic reform. As art historians such as Thomas Berghuis and David Teh have suggested, this historical moment coincided with a period of increased international attention on contemporary art in Southeast Asia, and experimental art collectives such as Ruang MES 56, established in 2002 by a group of artists in Yogyakarta, R.A.P. (Rumah Air Panas), founded in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, and Green Papaya, launched in 2000 in Manila, to name a few, were deemed to have played an important part in this development. Both Berghuis and Teh venture that ruangrupa’s work marked a clear break from post-Cold War art produced under the authoritarian practices of censorship of the New Order and exhibited only after obtaining permits from the Department of Culture and Department of Home Affairs, the military and the police. Instead, ruangrupa’s projects operate using new modes of free circulation and currency within its national borders and internationally, an approach seen as epitomising the ‘contemporary’ in art practices across the Southeast Asian region.

Ruangrupa’s Gudskul turned into a production workshop for Personal Protection Equipment, 2020.
Photo: Jin Panji. Courtesy Gudskul

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