Thu, 04 Mar 1999

Paintings show life for street kids

By Chandra Johan

SANUR, Bali (JP): Two boys are sexually abused in the middle of the road. A policeman is seen brandishing his cudgel at nothing in particular. Across the road a scavenging child witnesses the incident, but can do nothing.

The scene is depicted in Tragedy Bool-Boolan (Tragedy of Sodomy), a painting on board created by Ipul, a 16-year-old street kid in Bandung.

Certainly, Ipul isn't your typical young painter. Unlike most artists, he doesn't depict the romanticism of life. He is a scavenger who lives amidst violence and is used to such happenings. His experiences of violence are put into his paintings.

His work can be compared to that of his well traveled contemporary artists. But Ipul's work is more original, more intense in its naivete, without inhibitions, and very real.

Ipul's work, together with the paintings of his two friends, Rian and Ira, were brought recently by musician Harry Rusli to the Darga Gallery in Sanur, Bali, for a monthly discussion organized by the gallery.

Harry Rusli was there as speaker, but rather than talking about art, this famous musician was more interested in discussing the street children. Harry in fact has been involved in a project to help street children with Bandung-based Yayasan Anak Merdeka (Free Children Foundation) for the past six months.

Street children are a phenomenon of big cities, and the numbers are increasing because of the crisis. Violence, according to Harry Rusli, has become their "daily food". They always feel threatened and it is hard to handle them.

Harry said that when the children are hungry, they go to McDonald's or Dunkin's Donuts searching for oyen (leftovers). It is not easy to get the leftovers, however, as security guards or police, if they are around, will drive the children away, and sometimes arrest them.

So, it is really a joy when the children can share oyen among themselves, as expressed in Ira's painting Makan Oyen Bersama (Eating Oyen Together). In this naive, although masterful, painting Ira draws herself in a happy atmosphere, but haunted by many spying eyes.

What haunts the children is the police, the officers in charge of the National Disciplinary Movement (GDN) and the security and public order officers, according to another street child, Wahyudin.

"Life in Bandung is always in a mess because of the GDN. As children, we want to struggle for life. But what can we do? The GDN always chase me, while I need to eat," he writes in Saya bukan binatang (I am not an animal).

His story is included in the book Kekerasan, Pengalaman Anak- anak Jalanan (Violence, Experiences of Street Children) published by the foundation.

To these children, the police and others are not merely "ghosts", but also thieves. Because after the police catch and beat them, they also take the money they have made during the day from cleaning car windows at the traffic lights, singing and begging, or selling recycled cardboard.

The stories of Bandung's street children in the book also represent the unfortunate reality facing other street children in Indonesia.

Perhaps even those of us claiming to be "good people" have abused the street kids in some ways -- physically or otherwise. An example of non-physical abuse is the common practice of labeling them social outcasts, and referring to them as being less than we are.

Perhaps we often hear bad things about them, for example, the children who scratch cars, call us obscene words or demand money with threats. But do we understand why they do that?

Deeply concerned with the condition of street children, Harry Rusli prefers to talk about their problems.

"I feel embarrassed to talk about art. The best thing to do is to appreciate their works with action," Harry said.

And the audience, mostly artists, spontaneously emptied their pockets, and Rp 1 million was collected in just a short time.

Jais Hadiana Dargawidjaja, owner of the gallery, added to the amount until it became Rp 5 million. "This is real appreciation," Harry Rusli said emotionally.