What would art mean,
If it is detached from the suffering of the surrounding.
What would thinking mean,
If it is detached from the matter of life."
- W.S Rendra. Sajak Sebatang Lisong (19 August 1977)
Words by Feri Oktanio
In a scene from Yang Muda Yang Bercinta (1977), a movie directed by Sumanjaya and is starred by W.S. Rendra himself, the poem above was read out in front of students of Institut Teknologi Bandung –two days after the celebration commemorating the Independence Day of Indonesia. It was a precarious situation: the political situation was chaotic, the economic situation was deteriorating, and the people were affected by such circumstances. As we all know, W.S. Rendra used Sajak Sebatas Lisong as a mean to encourage fellow artists to voice out the issues which surround them, and also as a reminder that they should not be afraid of the oppression from the regime which they criticize through their works of art.
We would not be able to separate human life from a circle of events, challenges, obstacles, opportunities, and also experience. Some of us might have certainly been through a difficult period or are even still undergoing such a painful phase of life, which makes life itself feels like an endless drama. Even worse, at the moment when we are being very ungrateful toward everything; in such moment life feels like a severe punishment that we have to bear with. Challenges and problems are not only experienced individually, for living as a citizen also has its endless ups and downs no matter how many times solutions have been made collectively.
We who live in this era, for instance, got impacted by recent political upheaval caused by the 2019 general election contestation. One faction defined themselves as the truest and the better one, while the opposing faction considered themselves as the most perfect choice. As a result, the supporters of each faction were then displaying such a fanatical tendency in giving out their support, and both would do almost anything to bring down the another. One thing to remember clearly is how the political upheaval was heavily provoked by excessive amounts of false news, addressed by one party to another –back and forth. The situation confused the common people in their effort to respond to such event (including the agents who are expected to critically voiced out their stances toward various societal issues, such as the artists and the students), and for a serious while the tendency of each faction's fanatical supporters has driven our country in the edge of a rupture. What should be underlined, ironically, is how both opposing parties seems to forget that they are actually carrying out the same goal: to have the best leader to guide this country forward. Moving on, there are still many other puzzling issues for us, especially if the issue faced us toward the position in which we have to choose one party over another or to blindly fight for a certain opinion only.
One of the most urgent of such issues is illegal drug abuse. Judging from the mortality rate due to illegal drugs and its abuse in Indonesia, the government inevitably imposes severe sanctions and penalties on both drug dealers and users. In public's eyes, the illegal drug and its users would not be far from negative and horrible impressions. From such a practical way of thinking, illegal drug and those involved in its misuse are being stamped with one common negative perception, without considering any other possibilities. Whereas, would not it be better to periodically review such illegal drugs 'eradication' method and renew it with some more effective and efficient initiatives? Is it possible, for instance, if this penalties-centered method is combined with counseling programs that are crafted meticulously so together they would hit the problem more precisely? Furthermore and in a more careful manner, the government could also initiate the research on the use of certain illegal drugs for medical purpose. As described earlier, we need to consider other points of view in every issue; certainly not in the context of making a widespread distribution of illegal drugs for this case, but as a tangible form of gratitude for common sense that our creator has given to us as human.
The issues related to the environment where we live also deserves attention from various points of view. The forest plays an important role in maintaining the environmental balance, as a particular conservation site for the flora and the fauna –and also as the lungs of the world for living beings in general. On one side, problems are arising from the deeds of exploitation; ranging from smuggling out endangered flora and fauna from their natural habitat, to illegal logging and forest-burning–these are considerably common in Indonesia, happening every year. However, it is almost impossible for humans to act radically by not taking out any single resources produced by the forest. In this case, it is very important for us to be able to stand at a certain midpoint; to be able to strategically strive for the preservation of forests while still utilizing the natural wealth generated by it prudently.
The issues related to the environment where we live also deserves attention from various points of view.
Reflecting on some of the cases above reminds us of the importance of being equidistant –being in a position that stands in impartiality. Among the two perceptions, two problems, two extremes which requires us to have a clear thought and neutrality when faced with an issue.
Being equidistant does not mean not taking any sides, and it cannot also simply mean being indifferent. However, being equidistant means continuing to participate in an issue and to pay attention to every possible alternatives, by not being trapped in extreme way of thinking when we can finally contribute something concrete.
Taking an equidistant stance at present of course possesses such a real challenge, because it's a time when most people tend to decide on their stance without going through careful considerations. The risks arising from human failures in making careful consideration before defining their position can be reflected in another example of case, which is a real problem that is happening in our society right now and has affected various aspects of our life, namely, religious radicalism. What is more troublesome is how the radical understanding manifested not only through the act of terrorism which led to physical violence, but also through things that could impact us in our daily living. It is sad to see this interminable fact, for those who embrace religious radicalism seem eager to change all the existing orders in the country so they would be able to solely implement their ideology.
In relation to equidistant as a major theme of this exhibition, the first conclusion which we could draw from the elaborations above is that there should be no distance between the artist and the issues happening around them. These issues could become the inspiration or become the base of creative arguments that support an artist's artwork creation process. This present time is an interesting opportunity for artists to be faced with such baffling issues, and if they consider such issues appropriate then they may take an equidistant position through their artwork. The artwork could then represent various perspectives in seeing an issue and enlighten its audience; this is an interesting opportunity considering the position of artists who often be relied on to be the foremost figure in raising such awareness to the public.
People always need an oasis for their troubled mind while facing a complex problem and the community needs an alternative perspective to address contemporary issues. Amid this chaotic situation, people need such sharp and intelligent art that can lure them out of the chaos. When we are faced with a chaotic and confusing situation, we surely need to refresh our mind –like freshwater that drains out the thirst and the drought. This is where the art work should be presented in the community; to be able to display a shade without tossing out the awareness.
Therefore, the artist should be shrewd enough in determining his/her stance on happening issues, so as not to get caught up in extreme way of thinking. The satisfactory point in this case is if the artists could avoid the trap of an absolute opinion, and continue to look for alternative possibilities. In an instance when the artist can stand on the equidistant line, they unlock a potential of art as a possible mean to reduce conflict –to inject fellow human being with alternative way of thinking and for them to become wiser in responding to perplexing issues. This could be achieved only if the artist does not have reservation to go deeper in digging into societal issues. If this is achieved by the artist, the social function of art could then be realized. Artwork does not only play as a mean to relieve the boredom, but also as a key messenger of criticism, ideas, and wisdom.
Semarang, January 1st, 2020
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