Sun, 01 Jun 2003

Artists say they were left high and dry for Venice event

Emmy Fitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Stories of local artists who go it alone to become a success are growing in number.

Unfortunately, much more common are the nightmare tales about the government, the party that is supposed to accommodate and support the aspirations of artists, leaving them in the lurch by not following through with their promises.

Artists Tisna Sanjaya, A. Rahmayani and Made Wianta have already made a name for themselves, their works selected for exhibition and included in the collections of galleries around the world.

But they claim they were let down by the government, which initially committed to send them as a team to the 50th Venice Biennial from June 15 to Nov. 15. A fourth member, Dadang Kristanto, has since resigned from the team.

The artists, who would prefer to be focusing on the creative process, say they have been forced to scramble for new sources of funding even though they are committed to show their works at the event.

"It's not only my personal credibility that is at stake but the country's honor and dignity, too. Or, perhaps, because we already have such a bad reputation abroad, the government doesn't care to look into the matter," A. Rahmayani said.

Rahmayani and the two other artists believe that they could find ways to go to Venice on their own, but the problem is more complex.

"We've received a promise and a party made a commitment," she added.

The biennial is an annual government-to-government event. The Italian committee, according to consulting curator Amir Sidharta, made it clear that there should only be one delegation from each country to avoid any dualism in their works and missions.

"I contacted Minister of Tourism and Culture I Gde Ardhika and proposed about this event. The meeting was sometime in November last year," Amir told a media gathering on Wednesday.

Amir selected a theme for the Indonesian delegation, "Paradise Lost, Mourning of the World".

"I was inspired by the Bali bombings and the spate of violence throughout the country. Paradise lost refers to Bali, dubbed as paradise island, and the phrase 'mourning of the world' is from a remark made by Jawaharlal Nehru when he visited Bali in the 1940s, although the original is Bali, the morning of the world."

According to Amir, the ministry enthusiastically welcomed the idea and planned for an official committee to tackle the funding and miscellaneous needs for the artists to take their works to the Italian city.

The committee was set up, under the name Indonesia Exposition, and included such figures as Sumarti and Ana Grace. They could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

"But we don't know exactly the relationship between the committee and the ministry because there is barely any explanation about it. The people from the committee directly contacted us after the meeting with Pak Ardhika," Amir said.

After she was contacted by the committee, Yogyakarta-based Rahmayani set about creating 11 Juni 2002 (June 11, 2002), telling of her unpleasant encounter with the war on terrorism.

It was based on her experience during a stopover in Los Angeles, when she was detained for several hours by the authorities and watched security personnel "invade" her hotel room, she said, "because I'm from Indonesia, an Asian and a Muslim".

Her angst is expressed in a room full of personal things, including a Koran, with an imposing U.S. flag and two Coca Cola vending machines nearby.

Despite the uncertainty, Rahmayani has been luckier than the other artists. She received funding from a Berlin gallery to cover her production costs and accommodation in Venice.

Made Wianta, also contacted by the committee last year, was asked to send one of his works to be auctioned to raise funds for the delegation.

"Although one of us (Rahmayani) has got sponsorship for this event, we will be in the same delegation and the government or committee or whatever that promised to fund the delegation must be responsible to take care of us all," Made Wianta said.

After continuing efforts to contact the Ministry of Tourism and Culture about the status of the funding, the artists said they received a pledge of Rp 300 million, which was lower than they expected.

"We persuaded them to make it in cash and not tickets because initially they said they could only provide plane tickets. We still need more money. We haven't even paid for the stand, even though it was supposed to be paid in February or March," Made Wianta said.

Of the total funding, Rp 100 million is from the ministry's art and culture directorate general -- which was officially liquidated and merged with another directorate general on Wednesday.

"I don't know how we will handle this because nobody informed us about this liquidation," Made Wianta added.

However, Made Wianta and Rahmayani said they would not stop in their efforts to reach Venice.

"We must move ahead. We still need around 42,000 euros and we are working at different ways to earn that," Made Wianta said

"But it's for the sake of our country's honor and dignity on the international art stage."