Sun, 06 Jul 2003

JakArt founder David wants art to reach everyone

Jock Paul, Contributor, Jakarta

Mikhail David's training ground for the headaches and snafus that come with organizing a major art event was a small Greek-themed restaurant tucked away in a corner of the prerenovation Ratu Plaza in Central Jakarta.

Soon after David opened The Stage in 1992, it became known as the place to be in Jakarta's art scene.

"Basically (it was) an expression of art, ...designed in such a way that I could create atmospheres, environments and installations. Every day the place was different," he said.

The main room was round and open with a stage near the center.

"The whole place was wired up, I had props...I had four video projectors, I could make three dimensional atmospheres in the middle of the room. It was quite an avant garde place.

"One night we had two painters paint three canvases, with two cellos playing, just improvising."

During the five years it was open from 1992 to 1996, it hosted thousands of artists, and introduced David to the people in Jakarta's art world, including David's future wife.

It also led to the founding of JakArt.

"We created JakArt out of Jakarta," says David, founder of JakArt along with his wife Ary Sutedja, understating the challenges and successes of the last three years.

In just it's third year, JakArt, the annual monthlong arts festival held this year in June, has already established itself an important role in the development and promotion of art in the nation's capital.

Although size has a lot to do with its impact -- this year's event had over 1,000 participants and volunteers and over 600 event days -- equally important to the festival's early success has been its ability to adapt and react to the unique stages of Jakarta.

The idea is to use all of Jakarta as a stage and to create an audience for, and educate people about, art, says David.

David, 43, moved to Jakarta in the early 1980s after studying anthropology in the United States and Canada. He born in Lagos, Nigeria, and spent time in Greece and Wales before his mother moved to Jakarta while David was in university. He moved to Jakarta to work on his real love, painting.

Ary, a Balinese pianist, was brought to The Stage one night by a friend after returning from studying in Russia. Soon after, David invited her to perform.

David smiles as he tells the story about meeting his future wife. "Of course I had to make sure that everything was right with the lighting and that the keys were cleaned," he says laughing.

David and Ary married in December 1995, and The Stage shut down the next year as the shopping center was renovated. Over the next few years the couple performed abroad and in Jakarta. They had their first child in 1998, and decided they needed to choose how and where they wanted to make their lives for the long term.

"Jakarta was not the place to make a career in art. You have a choice, you can move somewhere else (or) you can decide to do something to make Jakarta the place to be."

It took David and Ary six months in 1999 -- they were also influenced by the change in government -- to decide to go through with JakArt. "I would not do this if she was not involved, it just takes too much time, together it is OK," he said.

Since its inception JakArt has sometimes been criticized for not setting a high enough standard for quality of art. David responded that art is not the exclusive terrain of the intellectual elite, and that "we think anybody is capable of producing good art".

JakArt has overcome Jakarta's lack of established facilities, and sidestepped the inclination to choose locations based on the standard of the art by coming up with original, and often unorthodox stages for performances and exhibitions.

These open public settings have included the Sunda Kelapa harbor and various malls and graveyards, allowing JakArt to reach a greater audience and bring acts usually accustomed to theaters to a broader, less formal audience.

"Some people say give them dangdut (a hybrid of Indian, Arab and traditional Malay music), but my wife says, people do not want to eat rice every day, let them try something else. Give them tempe," says David.

Not everyone is going to like classical music, but let them try it, he added. "The audience needs to be built from somewhere."