Artist experiences close-knit
Jogja art world

Bridget Reweti, who spent three months as an artist-in-residence in Indonesia, says the Jogja art scene is like nothing she’s experienced before.
A group of people looking into a mirror used for traffic to see around a corner

Bridget Reweti and other artists at Bakpia district in Jogja

In March to June this year, I was fortunate to be an artist-in-residence at the Cemeti Institute for Art and Society in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, along with artists Ardi Gunawan from Jakarta and Coco Duivenvoorde from the Netherlands.

The Jogja art scene is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Everyone I met was an artist, artisan, curator, writer or arts producer.

The three of us artists-in-residence slipped into Jogja art life quite easily, because everyone hangs out. A lot. Spending time together, eating together, talking or not talking together is part of the arts ecology in Jogja. It’s not a by-product, it is the product.

An arts eco-system

Cemeti was started in 1988 by artists Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo. Around the corner is Kunci Cultural Studies Centre, which operates a 24-hour library. You can borrow art books and go to the photocopy shop down the road to make your own copy. They have a dog called Cepas, named after an Indonesia photographer, and there are always people there developing projects, programmes, having tea and coffee, or chain-smoking kretek. When I was visiting they were on their second round of School of Improper Education.

Down the road from Kunci is Ruang Mes 56, a collective dedicated to photography that operates a gallery and living space with darkroom facilities you can hire. About 100 metres from Mes 56 is the youth-focused Ace House Collective, which have amazing openes with bands and lots of cool kids. All the spaces and people were cool, and I’ve never felt so uncool but also so welcomed in my life.

To get to more art spaces, you can hop on a motorbike and zoom around the city. Lir Space offers an exhibition programme and café, alongside developing a very considered curatorial platform. Lifepatch is a cross-disciplinary citizen initiative that uses biology, technology and art to develop programmes with the communities they are form.

Four people standing on a mound of dirt holding black flags

The Cemeti Public Programme

There is no government funding for these arts spaces, so they operate collectively with determination and passion. Most collectives or groups rent a house that becomes divided into a gallery space, a communal kitchen, a merchandise area and artists-in-residence rooms.

International friendships

In the three months I was in Jogja, I met many artists from all over the world. Kunci hosted members from Mexican collective Cooperativa Crater Invertido, Romanian artists were staying at Lifepatch, Australian curators swept through while a Singaporean contingent visited during ArtJog, the annual art fair.

Painted kites hanging in a white room

An art exhibition by photography collective Ruang Mes 56

Coco, Ardi and I were graciously hosted at each of the spaces we visited, eventually becoming part of the familiar crowd for the short time we in Jogja. Our home base of Cemeti was no exception, and we in turn would host dinners or gatherings there.

There was a fluidity of support between the many different and divergent art space and collectives. The ecosystem operates on genuine long-standing relationships. As an outsider, I was keenly aware of my own presence within the arts social fabric and thankful for the grace and openness extended towards another transient art visitor like myself. Of course, the art scene also has its fair share of drama, but I wouldn’t expect anything less when working so closely with your friends.

It was comforting to know as I was packing to leave, that I’ll no doubt be back real soon.

Bridget Reweti's participation in the residency was supported by an Asia New Zealand Foundation arts grant.