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Asia

What is your "ID"?

"ID - Contemporary Art Indonesia" is the title of an exhibition going on in Berlin. It does not simply show works by Indonesian artists in a German museum, but also aims to examine issues of identity.

Artist Anang Saptoto stands next to one of his favorite pictures

Artist Anang Saptoto stands next to one of his favorite pictures

Anang Saptoto examines his latest photo prints. They feature curious scenes from the streets of Berlin. One particular print is clearly his favorite. It shows a life-size artificial pig that a local corner shop used for advertising. The young artist plans to incorporate the Berlin pig into one of his huge photographic works that are based on pictures from his home town Yogyakarta. He said his work is "all about the situation in Yogyakarta, like public space, objects, and habits."

By mixing foreign, in this case German, elements with Indonesian ones he is familiar with, Anang aims to create an additional layer of identity. And he invites visitors to think about and discuss their own and foreign identities during the museum's opening hours while he works.

Project coordinator, J.C. Lanca (l), and Nya Luong (r), curator wish to provoke thought on cultural identity

Project coordinator, J.C. Lanca (l), and Nya Luong (r), curator wish to provoke thought on cultural identity

Nya Luong is the curator of "ID – Contemporary Art Indonesia." She explained the approach of the show. "If you come inside and you see there is some Indonesian guy drawing, then you always have the feeling, okay, I can go there and I can talk. So there is no invisible border between me and the artist or the artwork."

Invisible borders

Prilla Tania from Bandung is another participating artist. She produces short films in stop-motion, a technique in which objects are moved bit by bit for each individual film frame. In the pictures, Prilla herself is the object that is put in motion. She appears in front of a simple chalk board that shows, for instance, a fenced area with a closed gate and a flag post.

The bird houses from the All In The Mind performance were used to question views of religion and culture

The bird houses from the All In The Mind performance were used to question views of religion and culture

J.C. Lanca, project coordinator of the exhibition, gave his interpretation of Prilla Tania's position about national identity, saying, "A national identity is not defined by anything else but someone putting up a fence and drawing a border and claiming a certain territory to be, for example, Indonesia or, in our case, Germany. So, this feature of being perceived as an Indonesian artist is just based on circumstances that the individual couldn't influence ."

Prilla Tania made one of the films with a group of students from a secondary school in Berlin. Curator Nya Luong witnessed the workshop and remembered the artist's positive reaction. "She was telling me, oh, the pupils here are really open, they are well-educated and they all could speak English. They were also mostly from another cultural background, also [having] a migration background."

All in the mind

"All in the Mind" is the name of a performance that brought the exhibition out to the people in the city. Four performers put bird houses on their heads and took Berlin’s public transportation. The bird houses were made of food packaging from local restaurants and supermarkets. They were shaped like a mosque, a church, a synagogue, and a pagoda. It was up to the onlookers to decide what was going on and maybe ponder religious and cultural ideas, which are two important identity-forming factors.

Prilla Tania produces short films in stop-motion

Prilla Tania produces short films in stop-motion

Self-made identity

J.C. Lanca said it would be naive to claim the discussions about border and identity in present-day societies were coming to a close. But with higher mobility, constant communication and a constant flow of information, humankind has already entered what he calls a "hyper-cultural space."

He said because "we have a great wealth of cultural techniques, knowledge, and features," everyone can now chose their own identity. "So, identity becomes something that is more and more self-made. I think borders still exist and they won't go away any time soon. But they are probably more permeable than before."

Visitors of the exhibition should check out the works by Indonesian artists and put this hypothesis to the test.

Author: Thomas Voelkner
Editor: Sarah Berning

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