Art Worker Unsettled: Censored, Banned, Bullied

They want to make an idealistic art performance, but they are haunted by censorship. They want to make a mural, but are worried that they will be blocked.

That’s what art workers experience. To be honest, a career in the art sectors in Indonesia is hard, difficult. Art workers are made uneasy, especially if they want to do something different. In fact, all art workers have the right to freedom of art. From imagining, creating, to distributing to accessing existing works. All of that was not easy!

A Singer, Rara Sekar voices this in a short video titled Arts Coalition.

“Art should be free from government censorship, political intervention or any pressure from non-state actors. Isn’t it really cool, when you are tired of making works, it turns out that after the products appear, they are even censored or intimidated so that their work is not allowed to be shown at all?”

Rara Sekar, voiced her concerns regarding the fate of art and music workers, in the opening video for the launch of the Monitoring of Violations of Art Freedom, held by the Indonesian Arts Coalition, at the end of April 2022.

What Rara Sekar said was not without reason. In the past year, there has been a lot of milling about on social media the phenomenon of removing murals criticizing the government of President Joko Widodo. The Satpol PP and the police then deleted the works to hunt down the creators.

The Indonesian Arts Coalition recorded 6 cases of deleting critical murals throughout 2021. Some of the deleted murals depicted two cartoon characters with the words ‘Forced Health in a Sick Country’ in Pasuruan Regency, East Java. Meanwhile, another thing happened in Tangerang Regency, Banten, where the words ‘God, I’m hungry?’ Not long after they were painted, all the murals were erased by using black blocks or something else. Until it is unreadable and without a trace.

The deletion of mural works also occurs in the academic world. Creative and critical murals by students majoring in Art and Music were removed by the rector, as happened at the University of Muhammadiyah Tasikmalaya.

Not only that, a series of art performances were also canceled or disbanded unilaterally under the pretext of a pandemic. Whereas in some other events involving government officials, it is allowed.

The Indonesian Arts Coalition as of 2021 found there were at least a total of 48 cases of violations of artistic freedom. The majority, namely 39 cases of which were related to Covid-19. This number is much higher than in 2020, which recorded 12 cases, all of which were related to Covid-19.

If the 2020-2021 period is combined with 51 cases of violations related to Covid-19, the most violators are the Police (32 incidents), the Covid-19 Task Force (15 incidents), the Civil Service Police Unit/Satpol PP (2 incidents) and others (2 incident).

“Double standards are used by the state during the pandemic,” said the Coordinator for Policy Research of the Indonesian Art Coalition, Ratri Ninditya, during the discussion on the New Pretext of Oppression by the Indonesian Arts Coalition on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Ratri Ninditya then criticized the implementation of government rules during the pandemic which was also inconsistent and transparent. Although under certain conditions restrictions during a pandemic are indeed needed, it is wrong when restrictions during a pandemic become a new excuse that hinders artistic activities, especially those that are critical.

“Showing the state’s alignment with the cultural life of those in power only, not society at large. The pandemic is a new excuse for oppression (pressure) in this country,” she said.

The list of event cancellations due to Covid-19 reasons shows that most offline art performances during the pandemic are arts that are held together with various cultural traditions or rituals such as weddings, circumcision, and celebrations of holidays.

“Artists and enthusiasts who make art their main livelihood and an integral part of their lives are often excluded from the narrative of economic recovery after the pandemic, which is biased by industry and urban bias,” said Ratri.

The Director of LBH Jakarta, Arif Maulana, believes that the conditions recorded by the Indonesian Arts Coalition show the fact that the situation of democracy and the promotion of human rights in Indonesia is in a bleak condition. The Economist Intelligence Unit and the Freedom Institute also release an index of world democracy. Indonesia’s index score in the last five years is in free fall. We can be said to be in a broken democracy (flawed democracy).

“One of the key indicators that results in a poor assessment of democracy in Indonesia is that freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom of art, which is an essential civil and political right in democracy, is increasingly being threatened. The Indonesian Arts Coalition’s findings confirm this,” she said.

However, according to him, artists can use tactics to continue working. The trick is that art activists must fully understand the right to freedom of art that must be guaranteed by the state and then network.

Claiming the Fulfillment of the Basic Rights of Art Workers

Rara Sekar revealed, there are at least 6 basic rights that should be fulfilled by the state towards art workers. In addition to the right to work without censorship and intimidation, there is also the right to get support, distribution channels, and remuneration for works.

“You’ve already made a song, it’s impossible for it to stop on your own laptop. Of course it is necessary to introduce the work, distribute it through the available channels. So that other people can appreciate your work well. Because to make a song, you still need to eat rice,” said Rara.

In addition, Rara also said that art workers should also have the right to freedom of movement. For example, an artist from Indonesia who now lives in France and still wants to work there. So, it should be easier for him to take care of the conditions for his residence permit.

“By the way, regarding this matter, may we help if we want to do a residency or an exhibition or a gig in another country. That makes the permitting easier, please,” she continued.

Art also has the right to freedom of association. For example, the Indonesian Art Coalition which focuses on art policy, SINDIKASI is a gathering place for creative workers and PENASTRI for those who work in theater.

“Is it time to work alone? It’s more fun if you have a discussion partner to share knowledge and protect each other,” she said.

Not only that, the right to protection of social and economic rights should also be guaranteed in the arts. According to him, don’t let this artist die or leave their art because they don’t have money. This really happened, she said. Yesterday, during the pandemic, several artists were raising funds because they were sick or lost their jobs.

“Then why don’t artists get BPJS (health insurance owned by the Indonesian government)? In addition, art workers if they want to borrow money or apply for a mortgage to the bank, it is very difficult. Not to mention, if you become a musician, the income from streaming can only be used to buy iced coffee and milk. Then the matter of royalty is really complicated and full of question marks. It doesn’t make sense to starve to death in the name of art.”

Fulfillment of Art Rights

Rara Sekar does not deny that there are still many regulations that hinder freedom of art. The censorship criteria are also still very normative and tend to be in the form of problematic legal articles. As in the 1996 MPRS Decree, the Pornography Law, the Broadcasting Law, and the Film Law.

Therefore, she invites the community to jointly oversee the existing rules such as the regulations that support the protection of the arts in the 1945 Law, the Human Rights Law, the Child Protection Law, and the Cultural Advancement Act.

“If the regulations support us, we must observe whether the regulations have been implemented correctly. Because it’s useless for regulations that are already solid, but their implementation is lacking,” she said.

Quoting human rights researcher Asbjorn Eide, Rara Sekar said that there are three types of responsibilities that should be present especially for the state in protecting artistic activities. First, respect. For example, the state is prohibited from preventing a director from making a film that contains criticism of the ruling regime.

Second, protect. For example, the state is obliged to ensure the security of the implementation of musical performances that are threatened with disbandment. Lastly, fulfill. For example, the state is required to provide adequate performance space infrastructure for theater groups to perform.

“If we remember that we have already reformed, why do we feel like we are still living in the shadow of the new order’s authoritarianism?” she said.

In a country where the enforcement of human rights is in disarray, Rara continued, freedom of art may become increasingly unnoticed. In fact, Indonesia is obliged to report the condition of its artistic freedom every 4 years at the Unesco QPR.

However, in reality, Indonesia has made two reports in 2016 and 2020. But regarding freedom of art, there has never been a report.

According to Rara, freedom of art is still understood within the framework of freedom of expression. Especially in the annual reports of human rights institutions. And the most surprising thing, there are findings from the art coalition research, which recorded 45 cases of violations of artistic freedom in the last 10 years.

Of these 45 cases, the three most common offenders were the police, military, and anti-diversity community organizations. The reasons for the perpetrators to disband art events are usually because of issues of communism, LGBT, and religious slander.

“Seeing all this, do you still secretly know that the state of art freedom in this country is not doing well? That’s just 45 cases that have been caught, so let’s protect the right to freedom of art together,” she concluded.

(Translated by Widia Primastika)

Nurul Nur Azizah

Bertahun-tahun jadi jurnalis ekonomi-bisnis, kini sedang belajar mengikuti panggilan jiwanya terkait isu perempuan dan minoritas. Penyuka story telling dan dengerin suara hujan-kodok-jangkrik saat overthinking malam-malam.
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