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From the first sanggar or artist associations of the late-colonial era to contemporary communities, throughout Indonesian art history communal support has acted as a significant driving force of artistic production. Today, this trend persists, exemplified by the Yogyakarta-based Sakato Art Community. Comprised almost entirely of artists from West Sumatra, Sakato describes itself as the largest artist community active in Indonesia. This article argues that an examination of Sakato is significant for it not only provides insight regarding the continued role that community, reminiscent of the historical sanggar, plays in Indonesian contemporary art but also the significance of a group like Sakato that bound by primordial ties demonstrates the utility of "local"—in this case Minangkabau—a tradition in Yogyakarta's art world.

The Minangkabau, an ethnic group now synonymous with the region of West Sumatra, is known for a number of unique characteristics.1 Amongst these are its position as the world's largest matrilineal Muslim society that, coupled with a tradition of male-out migration known as merantau, has, throughout history, resulted in a disproportionate contribution by Minangkabau to Indonesia's intellectual, political and cultural history. In the realm of modern [End Page 119] and contemporary visual arts, this contribution begins in the early 20th century with the well-known landscape or Mooi Indie (Beautiful Indies) painter Wakidi (1889–1979), followed by names like Nashar, Oesman Effendi, Zaini and Mochtar Apin.2 In the contemporary era Minangkabau artistic prowess can be associated with two groups who call Yogyakarta home, namely the Jendela Art Group and the Sakato Art Community. The role played by these groups continues a tradition of collective organisation that has, and to a certain extent remains, central to the history of Indonesian fine art.

Since the late-colonial era, communal support has acted as a significant driving force of artistic production. Terms such as sanggar, komunitas, kelompok, kolektif and ruang alternatif have been used to describe different forms or structures of association, all expressing an ideal of bersama-sama or togetherness.3 Although such terms suggest a certain idealism, like the desire to work together to advance a particular platform, this has not always been the function of such modes of organisation. Instead, beginning with the history of the sanggar or artist associations that emerged in the 1930s, Indonesian artist communities have acted more often than not as support structures for the expression of artistic autonomy. Today, this trend persists, exemplified by the Sakato Art Community (hereinafter referred to as Sakato). The focus of this article, Sakato is referred to as the largest visual art community currently active in Indonesia.

Founded in 1995 by a group of students from West Sumatra at Yogyakarta's Institute of Art or ISI (Institut Seni Indonesia), Sakato is comprised almost entirely of Minangkabau artists.4 However, this defining characteristic along with the argument that Sakato is "market-oriented", at times draws criticism from other members of Yogyakarta's art world, who express concern that communities founded on ethnicity are too exclusive, or those interested in the market are less relevant than their politically-minded counterparts. While "apolitical" artist associations have and continue to exist, such as Sanggar Bambu, Sanggar Dewata and Sakato, these groups have, in general, received less attention for their contribution to Indonesian arts historiography.5

As such, in the midst of myriad communities and groups in Yogyakarta, I argue that Sakato merits attention, as an examination of this group not only provides insight regarding the continued role that community—reminiscent of the historical sanggar—plays in Indonesian contemporary art, but also reveals how forces like the international art market and globalisation have impacted the character of Indonesia's art world and the function of communities, like Sakato, that constitute it.

This article's purpose is thus twofold. First, it is intended as a contribution to understandings of the sanggar and collective organisation in Indonesian [End Page 120] art history. Second, it argues for the significance of a group such as Sakato, that is bound by primordial ties, to demonstrate the utility of "local"—in this case Minangkabau—tradition in what can be described as a context representative of both the nation and the global. Here, I refer to the city of Yogyakarta and its associated arts ecosystem. In the final section of this article, I focus on an examination of how Minangkabau artists in Yogyakarta are contributing local knowledge to Indonesian arts discourse through their annual exhibition Bakaba. However, here, I begin with a look at the historical trajectory and dynamics of Sakato, impacted by the tradition of merantau, followed by a discussion of the sanggar both historically and contemporarily in relation to Sakato.

The Merantau Effect

In October 1995, Sakato held its first exhibition at Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, in which the work of 55 artists was displayed. In this exhibition's catalogue, curator Suwarno Wisetrotomo states:

It is difficult to pinpoint a specific aspect of this exhibition that should be noted, because tendencies that standout, particularly from groups that have emerged in the 1990s are almost always the same. Many of these groups function as a type of container to achieve individual goals. They do not function as a vehicle to unite ideas or viewpoints in order to advance or mobilize a movement… in other words, they are not fighting together but rather, function to raise the group, "gang," or class [ angkatan ] spirit through a collective sentiment.6

Here, Suwarno's commentary sheds light on the nature of Yogyakarta in the mid-1990s, a period in which kelompok or groups multiplied as a popular and necessary channel through which to display one's individual production. Like many artists' groups that emerged in the 1990s, the idea behind Sakato grew out of friendship, fostered by frequent interaction in a shared living space or kontrakan (rented house). Founding members of Sakato describe a situation in which they, students at ISI who hailed from West Sumatra, gathered "setiap sore dan setiap malam" (every afternoon and evening). Although more senior artists from West Sumatra such as Risman Marah (born 1955), the late Kasman KS (1954–2009), Syaiful Adnan (born 1957) and Syahrizal Koto (born 1960) had to come to Yogyakarta as early as the 1970s to pursue their education and, subsequently, careers in visual art, the 1990s [End Page 121] was the first decade in which West Sumatran students came to Yogyakarta in "droves" (berbondong-bondong).7 In 1993, this influx of potential art students was supported by the admission of more students than ever before to ISI. Whereas previous angkatan (referring to a "class" of students admitted in the same year) generally consisted of around 20 students in a given discipline such as seni murni or fine art, in 1993, accounts suggest that over 100 new students were admitted, of which a large number would go on to make a name for themselves in Indonesian contemporary art history.8 In this context of increased anonymity and, subsequently, competition, forming a group like Sakato was, and continues to be, one means by which to be made visible.

Figure 1. Locating West Sumatra in contrast to Yogyakarta. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 1.

Locating West Sumatra in contrast to Yogyakarta. Image courtesy of the author

When members of Sakato declared the group's existence, they referred to their organisation as Kelompok Sakato or the Sakato Group. The Minangkabau term sekato, in Indonesian sekata, can be translated to English as "unanimous" or "in agreement". The use of this term signified what was, and continues to be, a basic agreement or commitment to support and encourage the production of high-quality art, by acting as a type of home away from home for individuals who hail from the same kampung or village (that is, the larger region of West Sumatra). Described as kota pelajar or a city of students, Yogyakarta is a melting pot. Because of the high number of academic institutions, students from all over Indonesia's vast archipelago are drawn to this city. While this is one reason that can be attributed to the number of Minangkabau who migrate to Yogyakarta to attend institutions such as ISI, there is another factor at play important to an understanding of the means by which Sakato is viewed as, and has come to be, a metaphorical home for Minangkabau artists. Here I refer to the tradition of merantau or male-out migration.

Historically, the practice of merantau meant that Minangkabau men would leave their villages and travel into the expanded world—the rantau—in order to seek wealth, education and experience, eventually returning home to marry [End Page 122]

Figure 2. The area considered the heartland of Minangkabau culture or the ranah is comprised of three regencies including Tanah Datar (red), Agam (blue) and Lima Puluh Kota (green). Together, these regencies are referred to as Luhak Nan Tigo or the three wells and are believed to be the origin site of Minangkabau culture. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 2.

The area considered the heartland of Minangkabau culture or the ranah is comprised of three regencies including Tanah Datar (red), Agam (blue) and Lima Puluh Kota (green). Together, these regencies are referred to as Luhak Nan Tigo or the three wells and are believed to be the origin site of Minangkabau culture. Image courtesy of the author

as well as to invest that which was gained in the rantau back in one's home village. Traditionally, the rantau was understood as "anywhere beyond the village", wherein the village was located in an area identified as the heartland of Minangkabau culture in the highlands of West Sumatra known as ranah Minang (seeFigure 2).9 The constant movement of men and, subsequently, ideas between village and rantau is seen to have played a key part in the development of what is understood to be a highly adaptable culture open to new ideas and outside influences.10 While migration from peripheries to centres of production in sectors ranging from factory employment to the precarious life of those parts of what has been problematically referred to as the "creative class" is indisputably a national and even global phenomenon, it is not generally the case that the act of migration is made visible as it has been throughout history by Minangkabau.11 From political leaders like Indonesia's first vice-president Mohammad Hatta to literary and visual artists such as poet Chairil Anwar and the painters mentioned above (that is, Nashar, Oesman Effendi, Zaini and Mochtar Apin), Minangkabau have indisputably left their mark on Indonesian history despite constituting only a small portion of the Indonesian populace.12 This trend persists in the field of fine art, as [End Page 123] demonstrated by the size of Sakato, which is said to include approximately 200 members.

The following description from historian Elizabeth Graves of the 19th-century rantau s is informative, as it sheds light on the nature of networks that were and continue to be a significant product of Minangkabau migration, key to one's success in the rantau. Graves states:

The rantau was as much an experience as a geographic destination. The village man actively sought out the rantau; he consciously decided to leave home and family and to try and make it on his own. The ease with which this was possible resulted in large measure from the network of relationships represented by the notion of mutual obligation…common ties of blood, village of birth, or similarity of lineage name set up patterns for geographic movement with Minangkabau and in other areas where groups of Minangkabau had established semi-permanent settlements.13

Borrowing from Graves' description, I see the establishment of Sakato in 1995 as the initial development of a Minangkabau settlement in Yogyakarta. In the last two decades, this settlement has grown exponentially both in size and visibility. Regarding visibility, I refer to the construction of arts infrastructure by Minangkabau artists, in particular those that are members of the Jendela Art Group.

In the mid-1990s, when Sakato emerged, Yogyakarta's arts ecosystem was quite different from today's. Artist-run spaces like Cemeti and events like the Yogyakarta Biennale remained in their infancy, both having been founded in 1988. It was not until mid-2000, following Indonesia's art boom, that Yogyakarta's arts ecosystem experienced significant shifts spurred by the ability of artists to invest in the development of international-scale exhibition spaces and events.14 Of the artists that were recognised by the market during this art boom was a handful of Sakato's members who were part of a smaller group formed in 1993 known as the Jendela Art Group (hereafter Jendela). Comprised of five artists, including Yunizar (b. 1971), Jumaldi Alfi (b. 1973), Handiwirman Saputra (b. 1975), Rudi Mantofani (b. 1973) and Yusra Martunus (b. 1973), Jendela gained recognition in the late-1990s for its production of what was perceived to be apolitical art interested in material and form, rather than explicitly political art, which was dominant during the period leading to and following the end of the New Order.15 With Indonesia's art boom the position of these artists was solidified, demonstrated by the fact that four of the group's five members were included on Artprice's list of 500 best-selling [End Page 124] artists globally for 2008/2009.16 This success contributed to the development of infrastructure that has made visible the activity of Minangkabau artists in Yogyakarta.

Figure 3. Sakato's Secretariat featuring a display of members' work in parallel with Bakaba #6: IndONEsia and Jogja Art Weeks. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 3.

Sakato's Secretariat featuring a display of members' work in parallel with Bakaba #6: IndONEsia and Jogja Art Weeks. Image courtesy of the author

For example, in 2008 Jumaldi Alfi opened his SaRang Buildling. Across the street from SaRang, Handiwirman Saputra built his studio known as BKDP (Balai Keseharian dan Pemajangan).17 Next to BKDP, Jumaldi Alfi constructed a second SaRang complex comprised of a small gallery, meeting room and Sakato's secretariat, which functions both as an office-headquarters and exhibition space (seeFigure 3). In 2011, just 1.5 kilometres down the road, Yunizar opened his Aruna Art Space in collaboration with Gajah Gallery Singapore. This list goes on with other spaces such as Gusmen Heriadi's Ruang Dalam (Space Inside) and Stefan Buana's Barak Seni (Art Barrack), among others. The existence of such infrastructure demonstrates an important change in what is argued to be the historical nature of merantau, namely the implicit requirement to bring knowledge gained in the rantau back to the Minang-kabau homeland.

There is now seemingly no reason to return to the periphery (that is, West Sumatra), given the market success of numerous artists in Yogyakarta that has allowed for the development of the city's art scene, now capable of attracting international gallerists, collectors and art-world observers. Minangkabau artists in Yogyakarta are able to give back to a new metaphorical homeland, namely Minangkabau culture, albeit from a different location. Sakato can be seen as the backbone of this new homeland that helps to maintain a bond between entities such as those mentioned above.18 This bond is aided by the maintenance of an organisational structure that reflects certain traits of Minangkabau culture. [End Page 125]

The Politics of Community

After Sakato's first exhibition in 1995 and until its first edition of the annual Bakaba exhibition in 2010, numerous exhibitions were held as well as semiannual group meetings referred to as MUBES or Musyawarah Besar. These meetings are significant as they reveal Sakato's reflexive character. The term musyawarah, derived from the Arabic word shura or syawara, refers to a democratic consensus-making process. For Sakato, the MUBES meetings function as moments for evaluation concerning a certain period of time, as well as opportunities to choose a new ketua or head, a position that is democratically elected based on the consensus of the group. The nature of Sakato's leadership and organisational structure has been described on numerous occasions as reflective of the Minangkabau pepatah or philosophy of didahulukan salangkah dan ditinggikan serantiang. This phrase, impossible to translate directly, refers to the perceived distance between a leader and his people as only one step ahead (didahulukan salangkah) and above (ditinggikan serantiang). In this way, the position of a leader is only slightly elevated in comparison to those he represents. The leader remains an integral part of the community as he represents the interests of the whole.

Speaking about the position of ketua, Sakato's current leader, Erizal As, describes the importance of a community head as being someone capable of speaking to all levels, be it senior artists, established artists or young (student) artists. Having served as ketua in 1999 and since 2013, elected for an additional term of leadership in 2016, Erizal sees it as his responsibility to continue to fulfil the wishes of the group.19 A successful artist himself, Erizal contributes a great deal of time that might be spent producing his own artwork to the everyday needs of the community. Erizal is not the only established artist who devotes such time to Sakato. Also of note are the members of Jendela who are among Sakato's most vocal members. The participation of these artists mirrors, to a certain extent, the relationship of senior and junior artists within the sanggar, where senior artists served as mentors to younger artists. Although these "senior" artists are not actually the most senior artists in terms of age, their position as some of the most recognised artists in Indonesian art historiography and in the international art market affords them a particular level of respect, as these characteristics are both markers of status that cannot be denied in the context of contemporary art.

Along with the election of the group's leader, the MUBES meetings have also functioned as sites for the development of Sakato's identity, as reflected by its name. In 2000, at the group's first MUBES, Sakato changed its name from Kelompok Sakato to Sanggar Sakato. Where the term kelompok or "group" is a descriptor for an affable bond between friends, the term sanggar, with its [End Page 126] deep historical connotations in the context of Indonesian art, suggests a more serious engagement with processes of creative production and mentorship, supported by the group's organisational structure. Although many kelompok emerged in the 1990s, very few, if any, developed and sustained themselves as Sakato has done. In 2009, a final name change occurred when, at another MUBES meeting, Sakato's members decided to refer to their organisation as Komunitas Seni Sakato or the Sakato Art Community. This change came with the appointment of Jumaldi Alfi as ketua as well as plans for the first Bakaba exhibition that would be held the following year. While some members joke that this decision was based on the fact that outside of Indonesia the term sanggar is unfamiliar, such a statement holds significant weight, revealing the professional tact of Sakato's members. For, by 2009, the attention of those outside of Indonesia was of greater significance than ever before, the product of Indonesia's market boom. Yet, despite the fact that Sakato was only referred to briefly as a sanggar, I suggest that it is, in fact, more reminiscent than most communities that I have observed in Yogyakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia, of the character and activity of the sanggar historically, albeit with a contemporary nature. As such, I turn to a statement concerning the notion of sanggar in order to highlight more explicitly two parallels that are key to my positioning of Sakato as a contemporary sanggar.

The Sanggar in Contemporary Art

The use of the term sanggar in Indonesian fine-arts discourse is generally attributed to the artist S. Sudjojono (1913–86).20 Derived from the ancient Javanese language, Kawi, sanggar refers to "a small room used for worshipping God".21 In the context of fine art, sanggar is understood as a space in which young artists learn under the auspices of senior artists, often living together, sharing resources. The first sanggar of note included organisations like PERSAGI or Persatuan Ahli Gambar (Union of Indonesian Painters), SIM or Seniman Indonesia Muda (Young Artists of Indonesia) and Pelukis Rakyat (People's Painters).22 These groups led by the so-called founding fathers of Indonesian modern art—Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan (1918–83), and Affandi (1907–90)—carried the spirit of nationalism during and after Indonesia's struggle for independence, moving between cities including Jakarta, Solo, Madiun and Yogyakarta. Prior to the establishment of Indonesia's formal art institutions, the sanggar was a site of learning and a means through which aspiring artists could promote themselves. As art historian Astri Wright describes, until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the first art galleries began to appear, sanggar also functioned as the primary organisers [End Page 127] of group exhibitions.23 Yet while sanggar were spaces of collective learning and gathering, they did not idealise collective production unless it came in the form of commissions by which young artists were given the chance to work together.24 Instead, as Claire Holt explains, artists had to cari sendiri, or "seek their own way".25 It is this characteristic of individual artistic subjectivity and personal expression, along with the act of granting commissions to younger artists, that I find of particular significance when looking at Sakato as a type of contemporary sanggar.

Throughout history, Minangkabau artists have been associated with certain aesthetic tendencies. In particular, these include an affinity towards landscape seen as the result of Wakidi's legacy, as well as a unique style of abstraction described by Aminudin T.H. Siregar as a type of "psychedelic artistic credo", the result of visualising an irrational subconscious, and by Enin Supriyanto as the visualisation of Minangkabau pepatah-petitih, which refers to a type of indirect literary form that is essential to Minangkabau modes of expression.26 Although such associations are accurate, they are not adequate. While there are indeed numerous members of Sakato well-versed in landscape painting and/or abstraction, there are just as many that fall outside of such aesthetic tendencies. This diversity of style is, in fact, an important point of pride for the Sakato group, and many members are quick to point this out if one tries to argue that Minangkabau visual art is synonymous with certain aesthetic tendencies. In her analysis of contemporary collectives, art historian Amanda Rath's description of sanggar in comparison to collectives is particularly useful. She states:

Arguably the sanggar can be seen as an artists' collective, but the artist collective is not necessarily a sanggar. Firstly… sanggar were fairly permanent with a fluid membership. Secondly, culturally and socially, the sanggar is a modern institution combining a traditional sense of communal organization and social relations, various pro-democratic, social-egalitarian ideologies, and a modern expectation of the cultivation of individual artistic subjectivity and personal expression [citing Holt 1967, 216-225]. [Where] the latter aspect was typically held paramount to artistic development in the "new age."27

If applied to Sakato, this description rings true on all accounts. Through a spirit that is cultivated by the various entities that constitute Sakato, members are given the space to develop artistic subjectivities that together are a collective strength. These various entities include the network of which Sakato acts as a backbone, a network that provides numerous opportunities for [End Page 128] Sakato's many members, similarly to how commissions might have functioned historically.

As described above, regarding the development of infrastructure by Minangkabau artists, following Indonesia's art boom a number of Sakato's members were able to build art galleries and studios. These spaces now provide opportunities for the wider Sakato community, in the form of employment and art world experience. For example, Handiwirman Saputra employs a number of assistants at his studio BKDP, whereas Jumaldi Alfi has, in essence, loaned a gallery space that is part of the second SaRang complex for use by a newly formed art management service called Kiniko Art. To date, Kiniko has organised a handful of exhibitions including, of most significance to this discussion, a show titled Young Blood #1, that featured the work of two Sakato members—Ridho Rizki and Oktaviyani Oktav—who are still students at ISI. This is not the only example of how Sakato helps its members to exhibit their work.

Following the most recent iteration of Bakaba in May 2017, Sakato had two smaller group exhibitions. The first, held in July 2017 at the Singapore-based Gajah Gallery's Yogyakarta location, Yogya Art Lab, included the work of six Sakato artists. The second, held in August 2017 at Nadi Gallery Jakarta, included the work of 13 Sakato artists. Sponsored by reputable commercial galleries with which Sakato has maintained a positive relationship over an extended period of time, each of these exhibitions promised opportunity on all sides: for the galleries, for Sakato as a community and individually for the artists included. For the galleries, these exhibitions meant new works by reputable artists like Handiwirman Saputra in the case of Nadi Gallery or new works by promising artists such as Fika Ria Santika and Iabadiou Piko in the case of Gajah Gallery. For the Sakato community, these exhibitions not only provided a chance to promote the community as a whole but also, in the case of the Nadi Gallery exhibition, the opportunity for members of the group's management division to exercise their skills.28 Finally, and perhaps of greatest significance, each individual artist's inclusion in one or both of these shows meant the possibility of revenue from the sale of artwork. While individuals such as the members of Jendela already have established relationships with Nadi and Gajah, for younger and less established artists the chance to show at these spaces is significant. The willingness of senior artists to share these networks with junior artists is just one example of the mediation between individualism and complete collectivism or knowledge transfer and resource sharing that demonstrates the maintenance of certain collective ideals, reflective of the once prevalent sanggar tradition. [End Page 129]

Where Sakato does diverge from the historic sanggar is in the orientation of its social platform, which has shifted from the national to the "local". Indonesia's first sanggar arose concurrently with the nation's fight for independence, and thus played a part in the production of an Indonesian national identity. By contrast, Sakato's social platform is oriented towards the advancement of its members who, for the most part, belong to a certain ethnic group; this, therefore, moves away from the historic sanggar's national orientation in favour of the "local", or Minangkabau. This fact is made especially apparent through the group's now annual exhibition, Bakaba.

To Spread Local Knowledge in a Global Art World: Bakaba

From 18 May to 4 June 2017, Sakato held the sixth edition of its now annual Bakaba exhibition. Held for the first time in 2010, this exhibition has developed both in form and concept with each iteration. While the first Bakaba took as its theme the exhibition title itself, subsequent iterations have included sub-themes, such as this year's IndONEsia. In order to understand the relationship of this exhibition to Minangkabau culture generally, and more specifically as a vehicle for the examination and positioning of "Minangkabau visual art" in both Indonesian and global arts discourse, it is useful to look first at the Minangkabau notion of kaba as described in the exhibition catalogue of Bakaba #1.

The term kaba (or kabar in Indonesian) can be translated as "news" or, in verb form, as "the act of spreading news or communicating" (bakaba in Minangkabau or berkabar in Indonesian). According to cultural studies scholar Yasraf Amir Piliang, who himself was born in West Sumatra, kaba can be understood as a type of oral discourse in which exists an intersubjective communication process that involves the use of language, message delivery and symbolic exchange.29 Traditionally narrated by a tukang kaba or speaker, the relay of kaba is understood to be dependent on an audience, with a similar knowledge system, capable of receiving the message conveyed.30 As such, the role of the speaker is integral to the act of kaba, requiring an individual presumed to have special qualities that allow him to detect the relevance of the information portrayed to the needs of the people. While the speaker is central to the process of kaba, he is not the author. Instead, kaba is understood as a collective process, historically performed in social spaces such as markets or, more specifically, in the Minangkabau culture, in the lapau, sura, dangau and other places used for traditional ceremony.31 The idea of kaba has developed in the contemporary era. No longer limited to oral expression, [End Page 130] kaba has been translated into written form. However, prior to its association with Sakato's annual exhibition, it had not been connected with visual expression, a fact that might be related to what is perceived to be a lack of visual expression in Minangkabau culture.32 As such, by choosing the notion of kaba as the theme for a visual art exhibition, Sakato asserted a unique interest in exploring and potentially developing the relationship of this traditionally Minangkabau form of aesthetic expression to visual art.

Along with Yasraf Amir Piliang's description of kaba, Jim Supangkat's contribution to the exhibition catalogue of Bakaba #1 is noteworthy. In an essay titled "Bakaba dan Seni" (Bakaba and Art), Supangkat compares the notion of kaba to the Javanese word kagunan, a term that he frequently engages with as a means to articulate "local" (that is, Javanese) understandings of creative production, in relation to the commonly used Indonesian term for art— seni—which he sees as more closely related to western aesthetics and art practice. In his essay for Bakaba #1, Supangkat is particularly interested in the relationship of terms like seni, kagunan and bakaba to the idea of "global art" as promulgated by Hans Belting as well as the value in examining the notion of seni based on Minangkabau culture in order to enrich Indonesian understandings of the term.33 Not unlike kaba, Supangkat explains elsewhere that in the Javanese dictionary, kagunan is glossed as intellect, useful and beneficial work, and the process of revealing one's mind and cognition through beauty (drawing, carving, poetry and song).34 In other words, it is a means of communication that is the product of intellect, expressed by way of an artistic medium.

Where kaba appears to differ from kagunan is in its inability to be expressed visually. While for some this characteristic, coupled with the traditional nature of kaba, might raise certain questions regarding the capability of a large-scale exhibition to achieve the same type of communication that was historically achieved by the act of kaba, I suggest that Sakato's continued development of this notion through visual art in fact creates greater potential for a broader type of communication than that which was achieved by kaba. This is because, unlike kaba performed in Minangkabau language for a Minangkabau audience, Sakato's contemporary kaba is multilingual, including not only visual language in the form of an aesthetically diverse set of artworks but also texts in each exhibition's catalogue, intended to provide a framework for the artworks displayed that are written in Indonesian and, for the most part, translated to English.

Following Bakaba #1, the next two iterations of Bakaba took place biannually in 2012 and 2014 with Antara Pintu dan Halaman [Between Door and Yard] and Kini [Now] as subthemes. Since 2015, Bakaba has occurred [End Page 131] annually, coinciding with Yogyakarta's annual art fair Art|Jog, a move that can be seen as quite strategic on the part of Sakato. As one of the most anticipated annual art events in Yogyakarta, Art|Jog draws a large number of both domestic and international visitors. As such, holding Bakaba at the same time as Art|Jog guaranteed a much larger number of visitors. Since 2015, the sub-themes of Bakaba have included Randang dan Rendang (2015), Cadiak Indak Mambuang Pandai (2016) and IndONEsia (2017).35 Here it is interesting to note that whereas earlier subthemes in 2012 and 2014 remained rather general and focused on the history of Sakato and the evaluation of Bakaba, 2015 marked what has since been a more directed examination of Minangkabau culture. For example, Bakaba #5 took as its subtheme the Minangkabau pepatah or proverb Cadiak Indak Mambuang Pandai. Translated loosely, this phrase refers to an individual who is cadiak (Indonesian: cerdik) or possesses a certain type of sharp-witted intelligence. Aware of such intelligence, one who is cadiak does not waste it but rather puts it to use for the good of society. In his explanation of this proverb, Anton Rais Makoginta, a member of Sakato who regularly acts as the group's resident writer/researcher, highlights the number of Minangkabau who, throughout history, fall into this category. His purpose in doing so is to remind a younger generation of Minangkabau of their responsibility to guard the legacy of these figures, a call that can be said to have carried over into Bakaba #6, with its subtheme IndONEsia. Again, this exhibition highlighted the accomplishments of the Minangkabau people, and their contribution to Indonesian history.36

While at first glance the emphasis on "one" suggests an interest in Indonesia as a singular united entity, this was only one interpretation of the exhibition's subtheme. In speaking with members of Sakato, some described a specific interest in looking at issues of nationalism and identity generally that continue to face Indonesia, as well as the role that visual art might play in articulating these issues, while others articulated the significance of looking at the position of Minangkabau within, but as separate from, Indonesia. This multifaceted interpretation was further exemplified by the works displayed. While some artists took national symbols like the notion of Pancasila or the image of the Indonesian archipelago as key referents in their work, others used languages including English and, to a lesser extent, Indonesian in their works' titles, expressing a particular locality that was overwhelmingly global (in the dominant use of English). Here, I do not provide a close reading of any one work because, as suggested throughout this article, each of Sakato's exhibitions is a display of the group's aesthetic diversity. As such, my inclusion of the images is intended to highlight my arguments concerning symbols and language related to the idea of Indonesia's (dis)unity. [End Page 132]

Figure 4. From left to right and in full view on the ground floor, works by: Rudi Mantofani, Lambang Negara Indonesia (Symbol of Indonesia), 2017, acrylic and gold plating on canvas, 200 × 200 cm; Erizal As, Identity Politics, 2017, acrylic and oil on canvas, 250 × 180 cm; and M. Irfan, So Far So Good, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 200 × 250 cm. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 4.

From left to right and in full view on the ground floor, works by: Rudi Mantofani, Lambang Negara Indonesia (Symbol of Indonesia), 2017, acrylic and gold plating on canvas, 200 × 200 cm; Erizal As, Identity Politics, 2017, acrylic and oil on canvas, 250 × 180 cm; and M. Irfan, So Far So Good, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 200 × 250 cm. Image courtesy of the author

Figure 5. Dwita Anja Asmara, Tanah, Laut, Udara (Finally, Our Country is Crack), 2017, stoneware Sukabumi, glaza, 100 × 100 × 25 cm. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 5.

Dwita Anja Asmara, Tanah, Laut, Udara (Finally, Our Country is Crack), 2017, stoneware Sukabumi, glaza, 100 × 100 × 25 cm. Image courtesy of the author

[End Page 133]

Figure 6. Opening night, Bakaba #6: IndONEsia. Work pictured at centre right: Handiwirman Saputra, Pemangkasan (The Process of Pruning), 2017. Inside the glass box: acrylic sheet, resin fiber, cotton, puff ink, pigment color, 180 × 420 × 210 cm. Image courtesy of the author
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Figure 6.

Opening night, Bakaba #6: IndONEsia. Work pictured at centre right: Handiwirman Saputra, Pemangkasan (The Process of Pruning), 2017. Inside the glass box: acrylic sheet, resin fiber, cotton, puff ink, pigment color, 180 × 420 × 210 cm. Image courtesy of the author

What I hope to suggest in this brief description of the discourse produced both in the form of text and visual art by Sakato is that as creative producers—narrators of not only Minangkabau but also Southeast Asian and even global culture (depending on the context in which their art is displayed and discussed)—their engagement with the specificity of the local can be a valuable act. As a community comprised of individuals from one specific region of Indonesia's vast archipelago, Sakato reminds us that Indonesia is not a singular homogenous entity but, rather, a nation constructed by its diversity. Put on display by Sakato, this diversity and the specificity of the "local" cannot be forgotten when talking about the complexities of what we perceive as the now "global art world" of which these artists are a part.

Concluding Remarks

In late January 2017, I attended the Singapore Biennale symposium. Held over the course of two days, a diverse set of speakers expressed their views, shared their experiences and raised questions concerning the importance and utility of biennales as sites for the display of contemporary art, in particular, in and [End Page 134] for the region of Southeast Asia. During this event, I was struck by the constant reference to the region of Southeast Asia as something new, something that more than ever before is being recognised on an international stage. As I am trained as an area studies scholar, this was somewhat shocking to me. If Southeast Asia is so new, how is it that I was a student in a department of Southeast Asian Studies that had been established decades ago? Grounded in my "training", I am quite aware of the nature of "regions" and their historical construction as tools of state control and political manoeuvring.37 I am also aware of the means by which regionalism is seen to reduce the diversity that not only exists between nations in Southeast Asia, but also within each nation itself. As numerous speakers lauded the power of "Southeast Asia" as a vehicle to support globally the work of artists from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia (to name only four of the 11 nations recognised as part of this region, of which only ten are included in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN), I could not help but think: well, what exactly is Indonesian art?38 While this is not a new query—the problem of Indonesia or the expression of Indonesian art has plagued artists and cultural thinkers for decades—it is a particularly relevant question for my research focused on the work of artists from one region of Indonesia, namely, West Sumatra. It is in the context of this age-old debate, now further problematised by processes of globalisation and the homogenisation of cultural production, that I see the significance of the local and the importance of a community like Sakato that has committed itself to the examination and maintenance of a particular culture, its history and the mode of social practice.

As I have suggested throughout this article, Sakato's successes would not have been achievable in the pre-boom era. For example, a series of exhibitions such as Bakaba would not have been possible without the support they have received from a network built by the individual achievements of Sakato's members. Although I have referred frequently to the significance of Jendela, they are, in fact, only one example of the success of Sakato's members, recognised for their artistic talents, sought after by both Indonesian and foreign collectors. Since the group's establishment in 1995, the individual members of Sakato have allowed for the strategic pooling of resources in order that, as a group, they might grow stronger. Sakato has, without a doubt, achieved its initial goal to support the production of high-quality art amongst its members in order that they be made visible as an integral part of Indonesia's art world. Working in a collective manner, reminiscent of the historical sanggar, Sakato demonstrates the continued significance of togetherness as a mode of practice indispensable for both individual and collective achievement in Indonesia's art world. While historically artist associations like PERSAGI (Persatuan Ahli [End Page 135] Gambar Indonesia) worked together in order to articulate an identity for the new nation and depict the struggles of revolution, the members of Sakato work together in order that individually they are able to subsist as artists, showing and selling their work in an increasingly competitive global market, while at the same time advancing discourse related to questions of identity—be it local or national—in Indonesia's art world.

In the last decade, a handful of Sakato's early members have returned to Sumatra. For most, leaving Yogyakarta was not an easy decision. Due to the absence of key infrastructure such as art galleries in West Sumatra, pursuing a career as a visual artist there is almost impossible. In order to alleviate some of the difficulties faced by artists active in West Sumatra, a new community has recently emerged that initially called itself Kampuang Sakato.39 Established by individuals who were once part of Sakato in Yogyakarta, Kampuang Sakato hopes to take the spirit of Sakato in Yogyakarta in order to stimulate and advance the development of fine art in the Minangkabau homeland. It remains to be seen whether or not this community, comprised of those that have returned from the rantau, will be able to activate an arts ecosystem capable of supporting the production of art and discourse in a peripheral node of Indonesia's larger art world, one without the necessary infrastructure and markets that are available in Yogyakarta. While some argue that greater support from Sakato in Yogyakarta would help stimulate West Sumatra's arts ecosystem, this has not yet become a concern for Sakato. It was only with the most recent iteration of Bakaba that artists living and working in West Sumatra were invited to participate in the Yogyakarta exhibition. This highlights the necessity of a continued examination of both Sakato and Kampuang Sakato, in order to understand the movement both of people and ideas between what was once, and is now less so, an interconnected universe, namely the Minangkabau homeland in West Sumatra, and the rantau. [End Page 136]

Katherine L. Bruhn

Katherine L. Bruhn is a PhD candidate at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation, provisionally titled "Minangkabau Artists in Indonesia's Art World: The History of a Creative Ecosystem", looks at the position of Minangkabau artists in Indonesian art history through an examination of Indonesia's creative economy over the longue durée. Research for this dissertation is supported by the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright-Hays and the American Institute for Indonesian Studies. Bruhn completed her MA in Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University and her BA in art history and anthropology at the University of Arizona.


1. Until 1957, West Sumatra was part of central Sumatra, which included present-day West Sumatra, Jambi, Riau and the Riau Islands.

2. In descriptions of West Sumatran art history, although Wakidi is positioned as the first modern artist active in this region he was, in fact, not of Minangkabau descent. Rather, he was born in South Sumatra, the child of Javanese migrant farmers. In order to pursue higher education Wakidi moved to Bukittinggi, where he would work as both a teacher and artist for the rest of his life, painting landscapes of his adopted homeland.

3. Nuraini Juliastuti, "Sanggar as a Model for Practicing Art in Communal Life", [accessed May 2017]. This paper was initially published as part of the Made in Commons exhibition held at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam in Nov. 2013.

4. The members of Sakato are almost exclusively of Minangkabau descent; however, membership is not actually limited to Minangkabau. Different members have described a situation whereby artists who show a certain promise might be permitted to participate in group activities or a situation where an artist of note might be invited to exhibit with Sakato. While a few examples of the former can be found, I have not yet determined concrete evidence of the latter.

5. Sanggar Bambu, formed in 1959, is an association of both academically and non-academically trained artists. This sanggar is not limited to visual art but has also included theatre, literature and music under its creative umbrella. In the mid-1960s when many sanggar were eliminated because of their political, often leftist leanings, Sanggar Bambu persisted because of its apolitical stance, declaring from its establishment no political affiliation. Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI), formed in 1970, is a visual art association comprised primarily of artists who hail from Bali. Originally based only in Yogyakarta, SDI now has two branches, including SDI Bali and SDI Yogyakarta. Rather than heralding a political orientation, like Sakato, SDI's identity is rooted in the ethnicity of its members. Along with Sanggar Dewata and Sakato, other groups founded on ethnicity have included Sanggar Bidar Sriwijaya and Rumah Seni Muara, both comprising artists from South Sumatra.

7. Interview with Stefan Buana and Zulfa Hendra, 25 Mar. 2017, Yogyakarta.

8. T™he class of 1993 (angkatan 93) included now well-known artists such as I Nyoman Masriadi and members of the Jendela Group.

10. For more on the impact of modernisation on Minangkabau culture as well as the perceived adaptability of this ethnic group, see Taufik Abdullah in Culture and Politics in Indonesia, Jeffrey Hadler's Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism and Audrey Kahin's Rebellion to Integration: West Sumatra and the Indonesian Polity, 1926–1998.

11. For more on the contemporary nature of migration or merantau in Indonesia, see John Lindquist, The Anxieties of Mobility: Migration and Tourism in Indonesian Borderlands (Honolulu, HI: Hawai'i University Press, 2009), p. 11 and Rudolf Mrazek, Sjahrir: Politics and Exile (Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1994), p. 17. In using the term "creative class", I refer to the work of Richard Florida, who is credited with coining this term, as a nod to a much larger body of literature that explores the precarious nature of the creative worker and the role that the creative worker plays in the growth of the 21st-century knowledge economy.

12. According to 2010 census date, the Minangkabau make up just 2.73 per cent of Indonesia's population, or 6.5 million people, in comparison to the Javanese who comprise 40.22 per cent of the populace, or 95 million people. These statistics come from the 2010 population census, cited in Statistical Yearbook of Indonesia 2016, p. 82, [accessed May 2017].

14. As Yvonne Spielmann describes, in 2007 Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art fetched top prices at Sotheby's Singapore auction. Indonesian art, in particular, fetched prices 10–15 times higher than their original estimates. While this was not Indonesia's first "art boom", it was the moment that Indonesian art was catapulted onto both a regional and international stage with artists like I Nyoman Masriadi fetching more than a million US dollars for his painting The Man from Bantul (2000). For more on Indonesia's mid-2000 boom see Yvonne Spielmann, Contemporary Indonesian Art: Artists, Art Spaces, and Collectors (Singapore: NUS Press, 2017). For more on the historical character of Indonesia's art market in the 1980s and 1990s, see Yuliana Kusumastututi, "Market Forces: A Case Study of Contemporary Art Practice in Indonesia", MA thesis (Casuarina: Charles Darwin University, Nov. 2006).

15. For more on the Jendela Art Group see The Window of Jendela: Handiwirman Saputra, Jumaldi Alfi, Rudi Mantofani, Yunizar, Yusra Martunus, published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name organised by the OHD Museum in Magelang, Central Java. While throughout this article I refer to Jendela Art Group's five members, when this group was founded it included an additional artist, M. Irfan. As in most references to Jendela only five members are referenced, I follow this convention. [End Page 138]

16. The four Jendela members included on this list were Rudi Mantofani, Handiwirman Saputra, Jumaldi Alfi and Yunizar. In addition, M. Irfan and Zulfa Hendra, both members of Sakato, were included. Artprice is described as a French online art price database. The report, "Contemporary Art Market: The Artprice Annual Report 2008/2009", is available at [accessed Dec. 2017].

17. The name of Handiwirman's studio, Balai Keseharian dan Pemajangan, is not easily translated. It refers to a gathering space [ balai ] that is open daily [ keseharian ] for the display or exhibition [ pemajangan ] of that which is produced there, in this case fine art.

18. In an interview with Jumaldi Alfi, he used the word "cell" to describe the different communities, spaces and initiatives that make up the Sakato community. Here, he was referring not only to formal spaces like those mentioned in this article but also smaller communities or initiatives such as but not limited to FORMMISI-Yk or Forum Mahasiswa Minang ISI-Yogyakarta (Forum of Minangkabau Students at ISI Yogyakarta), Kelompok Seni Rupa Genta (Genta Art Group) and Kelompok Semoet (Semoet Group), Kiniko Art.

19. Interview with Erizal As, 22 Feb. 2017, Yogyakarta.

20. One such reference comes from art historian Aminudin T.H. Siregar, Sang Ahli Gambar: Sketsa, Gambar, & Pemikiran S. Sudjojono [The Picture Expert: Sketches, Drawings, and Thoughts of S. Sudjojono] (Jakarta: Galeri Canna, 2000). In this work, Siregar quotes at length an interview from the 1980s between artist Mustika and Sudjojono in which Sudjojono recounts how he chose the term sanggar (p. 26).

22. I take these translations from Claire Holt, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), noting that in regards to her translation of PERSAGI she indicates the more literal translation to be "Union of Picture Experts" (pp. 197–201).

24. Wright makes reference to such commission work; she describes how artists part of Pelukis Rakyat undertook numerous public projects both sculptural and architectural, p. 168.

28. Sakato comprises numerous divisions, of which one is a management division tasked with the organisation of certain exhibitions from their inception (concept, artist selection) to execution (display, catalogue production).

29. Yasraf Amir Piliang, "The Aura of Kaba, The Visual Narration", Bakaba #1 (Yogyakarta: Sakato Art Community), p. 41.

30. Umar Junus, Kaba dan Sistem Sosial Minangkabau: Suatu Problema Sosiologi Sastra [Kaba and the Minangkabau Social System: A Problem of the Sociology of Literature] (Jakarta: Balai Pustaka, 1994), p. 23.

31. Yasraf Amir Piliang, "The Aura of Kaba, The Visual Narration", p. 42; the terms lapau, surau and dangau refer to spaces of social interaction that hold both symbolic and practical significance in Minangkabau culture. Lapau refers to a small warung or coffee shop in which people, primarily men, of all ages convene and converse. Symbolically, the lapau is understood as a space in which information is shared, decisions are made and the spirit of democratic consensus is expressed. Surau refers to an Islamic assembly building smaller than a mosque, where learning takes place. In Minangkabau culture, the surau was a place where unmarried men, too old to live in the family long house, would stay. Dangau refers to a small hut, usually found in the middle of a sawah or rice field.

32. Minangkabau culture is recognised for a strong literary tradition, both oral and written. The lack of visual culture other than that portrayed in the motifs of carving and weaving is often attributed to the influence of Islam. This is a significant point that is almost always included in discussions of the abstract tendencies of modern and contemporary Minangkabau artists.

35. The 2014 iteration with the theme "Randang dan Rendang" refers to the famous cuisine synonymous with Minangkabau culture; rendang is beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices. While this food is referred to as randang in West Sumatra, in the rantau, outside of West Sumatra, it becomes rendang. As a subtheme for Bakaba, reference to this food intended to touch on the effects of cultural transfer and its development, both geographically and overtime.

37. See Donald Emmerson, "'Southeast Asia': What's in a Name?" Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 15, 1 (1984): 1–21 for more on the construction of Southeast Asia as both a real and fictional entity, brought into being by its name.

38. The 11 nations I refer to as part of Southeast Asia include Brunei, Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Of these, all but Timor-Leste are included in ASEAN, a fact that demands attention in future discussions of the influence organisations like ASEAN play in the development and promotion of culture; economics acts as a key force in the production of knowledge.

39. I state "originally" because this group, on 12 Nov. 2017, posted, via social media, news regarding a change in the group's name from Kampuang Sakato to Tambo Arts Center. This change was in order that the community be more inclusive, allowing any artist in the region of West Sumatra to join rather than only those who were formerly members of Sakato in Yogyakarta.


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