From 1967 until 1998, Indonesia was ruled under a totalitarian capitalist regime. During this period, artwork that challenged the ideas of the regime was suppressed and individual expression was limited. Since the fall of Suharto, the leader of the regime, in 1998, the Indonesian government has become increasingly more democratic and tolerant of socially critical movements. However, the government in Indonesia is still heavily corrupt, the people still face extreme economic exploitation, and all government officials are guided by strict adherence to Islamic law. For this reason, an art movement known as the Taring Padi has evolved in order for the urban lower class Indonesians to express their dissatisfaction with the unregulated capitalism and religious fundamentalism that still plays a major role in their lives.
Taring Padi has its origins in the city of Yogyakarta, which is located near the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The artistic style of the movement focuses on creating political wood block prints, in an attempt to blend the old traditional East Asian art form with modern subject material. These prints are usually quite large and require several people to complete the print process, reinforcing an idea of communal rather than individual work. The blocks are always in sepia tone, the bland color scheme meant to reject the flashy materialistic culture associated with the industrialized world. The subject material is limited to political messages showing the angst the Indonesian youth feels towards the government. Taring Padi ideology focuses on communal living and is tolerant of a wide range of subcultures that compose the movement itself, which include agrarian lifestyle, heavy metal culture and the like. The ideology also rejects any art form that resembles capitalist outlook, having created a list of “The Five Evils” which they believe perpetuate the cronyism greed of their nation’s government through artwork. These “Five Evils” mainly focus on how the artwork is produced and not necessarily the subject matter. For instance, the Taring Padi movement is vehemently against any form of conceptual or “playful” art, as they believe it does not challenge the status quo. The Five Evils include art for art's sake, profiting off of art for its exoticness, institutions that determine the direction of art, exploitation of the community for individual profit, and corruption [1].
The main goal of the Taring Padi movement is not always straightforward or unified due to its diverse array of constituents. However, all members of the movement hope to bring awareness to the nepotism and corruption of the Indonesian government, and many other members focus on issues that include environmentalism and government support for farmers. The movement is not well known within Indonesia, even less so in the Western world. It remains isolated to the urban areas of Java. Nonetheless, Taring Padi offers an interesting look into the growing dissatisfaction with corruption in developing nations, alongside a unique parallel to the counterculture movement of the United States from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The Taring Padi movement has only expanded from its inception to the modern day, currently opening up its audience by inviting American art graduates to visit their centers and learn about the process of making their artwork and the ideas that fuel their crusade.

This first artwork has a name that translates literally to “Waking an Archipelago Without Blood Drops”. Although this might sound cryptic, the meaning of the statem
ent is meant as raising awareness about political wrongdoings in Indonesia, an archipelago nation, without resorting to violence. The main focus of the piece is the mother standing in the middle holding a still child. The face of the child is covered in what appear to be slash marks; it has no definitive nose, and seems to be in a limp lifeless state. This is alluding to the younger generation of Indonesia and how they are suffering from the economic exploitation rampant throughout Indonesia. Child labor is still a large issue in the Indonesian workforce and the target of many critics of Indonesia’s laissez-faire economic attitude. There is a certain ambiguity as to whether the child is dead or simply sleeping, reflecting the uncertainty of radicals if their push for change will fail. In the foreground, two males stand with stern faces. One is a farmer, as identifiable by his distinctive hat worn by men who work in rice fields in the Far East. The other is a soldier, identifiable by his cap featuring the Indonesian military star. The farmer represents tradition, as many radicals want to return to simpler moral economy, where people work in order to provide for their families rather than for accumulating mass individual profit. The soldier may represent a sense of cruel irony, considering the military is rarely associated with peaceful transition. However, the very serious expression on the soldier’s face would suggest the subject matter might be less focused on irony and he might represent the Taring Padi’s desire to overthrow drastically alter the Indonesian government.

The piece on the left is titled “Weapons Do Not Solve the Problem”. One can see how two figures stand near a sickle and knives in a fire, rejecting any form of violence. Curiously, the figures also appear to be throwing water and dirt into the flames in an attempt to quell the flames. An explanation for this is that the two figures are trying to extinguish any form of violence and bury it to be forgotten, rather than making some form of anti-weapon mass protest. In a way, the Taring Padi movement is stating that although weapons would not help solve any issues associated with trying to try clean up the government, there is no need to make a massive dispute over weapons, especially ones with rather humble origins, such as the sickle which has its main use as a farming tool.

This piece is titled “We Refuse To Become Victims” and it is a collage instead of a print. The printmaking style still makes an appearance in the piece, as seen through the etchings clearly visible across the work. The general idea of what the artist was trying to convey was how the Western world often tries to ignore the problems of the developing world. This specific piece was also a collaboration between a member of the Taring Padi and an artist from Timor-Leste, a small nation that waged war against Indonesia for independence in the 1990s which now suffers from extreme poverty. In the bottom right corner, one can see an outline of Indonesia’s closest neighbor considered a developed nation: Australia. Inside Australia’s borders, a man plugs his ears with his fingers in order to avoid having to hear of the terrible actions that go on just north of him. A kangaroo, an obvious symbol of the Australian people turns its head from Indonesia and laughs mockingly. A peace sign is placed over the island of Timor, half of which is owned by Indonesia and half by Timor-Leste. The peace shows hope that the Indonesian government will not continue to harass the indigenous tribes of the island who believe they were deserving of their own autonomy. Across the Sulawesi Islands, the archipelago between Timor and New Guinea, is a jumble of metal and what resembles a factory. This plethora of machinery does not specifically correlate with the Sulawesi Islands, but relates back to the Taring Padi idea that industry has taken over Indonesia and is causing harm to its natural resources. A final prominent feature of the piece is the birds and the planes featured at the top of the page. These objects relate back to the title of the piece, “We Refuse To Become Victims”, in that they symbolize freedom and gracefulness with their ability to fly wherever they please. One may notice that the birds are not yet covering Indonesia, yet they appear to be moving towards it.

To conclude on a light note, this final piece is titled “Give Love To Each Other”. This piece contains a simple message, devoid of any deep political or symbolic meaning, yet equally important to its darker and more radical contemporaries in the Taring Padi movement. The artwork emphasizes three major points of the Taring Padi movement: tolerance, selflessness, and nonviolence. Tolerance can be seen in the diverse row of religious symbols that appear above the title, which represent Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism (no they are not Neo-Nazis), Christianity, and Islam respectively. Indonesia was a crossroad of many cultures during its history, exposing the area to a variety of different religions which are still practiced to this day. However, Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim and government officials are required to follow a moral code of conduct based on Islamic law despite its constitution allowing religious freedom. This obviously limits the amount of people who can serve in the government to Muslims and leaves little wiggle room for laws to adapt with the changing world. The Taring Padi movement pushes for a more a secular government and calls for Indonesian Muslims to show respect for other religions. The outstretched arms in the painting show hope for a future in Indonesia where religion is no longer an issue, and love surpasses ethnic boundaries.

Works Cited [1]