Djokopekik is arguably one of the greatest painters of
Southeast Asia. Fiercely anti-Suharto and anti-military, he dedicated great part of his creative life fighting Indonesian dictatorship. His main theme that reappears in many of his paintings is an enormous wild swine that eats and destroys everything in its vicinity; people, nature, entire cities, the whole country. Djokopekik lives in Java, in the city of . Yogyakarta
Interview with Djokopekik took place in his house in
Yogyakartaon November 28th, 2003.
Vltchek: So what is the message after decades of struggle, Djokopekik?
Djokopekik: The message never changes: the artist has to fight, to pressure the government! If government is pressuring the artist, he has to fight back. For me the art has to be engaged.
Q: But what is really the situation in
A: Those artists who survived 1965 became stagnant. Only a few managed to remain active, creative. Only a few really survived as artists. Without doubt, all Indonesian artists experienced enormous pressure from the government and only those who accepted official propaganda were allowed to create and succeed. Only a few chose to resist; to struggle: Pramoedya Ananta Toer - the greatest Indonesian writer - was one of them. I want to believe that I was also one of that small group.
Before 1965 we had left-wing artists, promoting engaged art. Then we had what I call â€œright-wingâ€ â€“ artists who were interested only in the pure art, art for art; form over the substance. Left wing artists were destroyed immediately after 1965. Right wing artists existed for a while, but even they were promoting issues like human rights and were liquidated consequently, too.
Q: What about now?
A: Now the artists have at least some freedom, but they canâ€™t respond to the situation, because they are not accustomed to being free. They donâ€™t even know how to be truly independent.
Q: How potent had been regimeâ€™s attack against arts and independent thought in
A: First of all, the New Order shut down everything that resembled critical or creative spirit. The government banned theatres, closed down studios. Some artists were killed, including great ones like Sudjadi (Head of Bakoksi) and Trupus (Painter of Lekra). Then Sukarno who was still somehow in charge after 1965, sent secret messages to the local government, begging them to stop the killing of the artists, emphasizing how difficult it would be in the future to create new ones. But many people were already killed, because his message arrived too late. However, most artists ended up in prison instead of being massacred.
Q: Where were you jailed?
A: Here in
Q: How were you treated there?
A: Oh, of course I have been beaten and tortured, like almost everybody else. While in prison, I encountered many kids from the Youth Wing of the Communist Party. Some of them simply disappeared. But I survived.
Q: What happened after your release?
A: Eventually they allowed me to paint, but I was barely surviving. I had to work in a tailor shop, making just enough money to buy canvas and paint. So after 1972 I was allowed to paint but not to sell. Only in 1988 was I allowed to participate in one exhibition in
Q: What impact had it have?
A: One person from
Q: What was a way to prevent you from traveling?
A: The government wouldnâ€™t issue me a passport. I was on a black list, like so many others.
Q: What percentage of great Indonesian artists was jailed after 1965 Suharto/military coup?
A: Great ones? 100% of them. All of them.
Q: Whom do you personally blame for the orgy of massacres, torture and plunder after 1965?
A: The army. Suharto was always a cover, a doll of militarism, neo-colonialism and willing servant of the elites. But then, the
Q: What impact had 1965 on intellectual well being in
A: Devastating. All intellectuals, all expressions of independent thought were silenced before so called reform era.
Q: So only the pop culture survived?
A: How many times have you heard in
The situation had been absolutely different during Sukarno, but the Suharto regime destroyed his legacy thoroughly. Suharto promoted pop and the great majority of masses accepted it. The regime banned critical art, afraid that it would undermine its grip on power. Everything from books to Russian, even European films went on a blacklist. Everything that would speak about defending people against economic exploitation or dictatorship had been forbidden. Traditional art forms were stripped of any message â€“ they were reduced to some tourist traps, so most of the people lost interest in them.
Q: Were there some fundamental changes recently?
Q: How could they react, even if they would be aware?
A: They have to elect their leaders carefully, because among the evil ones there are some that are better than the others.
Q: Were you ever thinking about the possibility of real revolution, not just half-baked â€œreformasiâ€ in your country?
A: Itâ€™s very hard now to think about real revolution in
Q: But you donâ€™t believe that there could be any serious change in foreseeable futureâ€¦
A: The Indonesian people were reduced to the group that lost all shame. What we blame for everything â€“ corruption â€“ is just a result of that culture of â€œno shameâ€. Our leaders have no shame; our people in general have no shame: they accepted a culture of no shame and lies. So when Indonesians will re-discover shame, there will be some basic and positive change.
Q: So what are the roots of the culture of â€œno shameâ€ as you call it?
A: Roots are in Suharto and his dictatorship: in our education which is nothing else than indoctrination; in a brainwashing!
Q: Itâ€™s hard to blame people for being forced to submission, for being indoctrinated, isnâ€™t it?
A: Sure. Most of the Indonesian people used to have good cultural base, they even used to be very critical. But then they were oppressed for more than 30 years. Every critical expression, every deep and creative thought had been destroyed by the brutal power. What you see now around you is a result of it.
Q: What about religious education and upbringing that had been so essential for the last decades?
A: Religious education has been basically wrong as well. Look at all those corrupt people, look at all the mass murderers after 1965! They are all good believers. But they still kill and steal, so obviously religions had no positive influence on their behavior. And others had nothing to stop them.
Q: Is the young generation going to revolt against society?
A: Hardly. The family structure in which they are growing up is directly supportive of the dictatorship; of the system. Itâ€™s based on one direct command â€“ which comes from parents. Itâ€™s a structure of conformity, very similar to the more general structure of the state.
Q: So is it going to be painting or politics, Djokopekik?
A: Iâ€™m still a painter. Iâ€™m still struggling with my art work. Speech is not my trade. Iâ€™m now speaking from my heart; itâ€™s not a political thing.
Q: What do you wish for
A: Good government, just leaders, educated people; itâ€™s very simple.
Q: Can it ever happen?
A: But of course it can! Itâ€™s like a law of the nature; it is a circle of good and evil. Sometimes good has upper hand, sometimes evil. But there is always hope for better life. Good will prevail, will one day always return.
ANDRE VLTCHEK is American writer and political analyst, chief editor of WCN (www.worldconfrontationnow.com). He is presently working on several book and film projects that are trying to explain brutality of Indonesian dictatorship that followed 1965 Suharto-led coup.