The Biennale Jogja XI this year is the first in a series of five international biennales to take place in Yogyakarta dedicated to bringing together Indonesian artists’ works alongside works by artists from countries along the equatorial belt. Entitled 'Shadow Lines' after Amitava Ghosh’s compelling book published three decades ago, the first edition of the Biennale focuses on India and Indonesia, with Alia Swastika and Suman Gopinath as the curators. The exhibition, spread out across 2 venues, comprises 40 artists and is accompanied by various parallel events, creative forums, and festivals in the city. Occurring during a moment of concentrated creative energy in the city, there were parallel exhibitions and talks organised by other bodies which focused on other focuses of the region, such as on photography from Southeast Asia. This photologue plots largely the Biennale, a couple of parallel events, and a separate exhibition and talk outside of the Biennale.
A bilateral focus on 2 countries along the equator is an interesting proposition, considering it is neither the usual world exposition of innumerable national pavilions, nor divided along the commonly-held historical axes of the civilisational East and West, and Global North and South. Shadow Lines is also a departure from the previous Jogja Biennales as it aims to be less self-centred about the city, less inward-looking regarding the celebration of syncretism, pluralism, and the so-called ‘tolerant’ attitude of the city towards cultural diversity there. Instead, curators point to an issue that is crucially sensitive to both regions today, i.e. religiosity, spirituality, and belief. With such resonating histories, the focus on two countries under this pretext is thought provoking. Giving breadth to resounding contemporary concerns, the artworks on exhibit are not all new; some go as far back as the 1990s, some to the middle of the previous decade, and some were made this year as part of a residency organised by the Biennale. The art exhibition, therefore, finally becomes less of an attempt at representing each nation and more of a curatorial dialogue on configuring ways in which various artistic approaches address a theme that is both celebrated but also mobilised for vehemence in both nations.
- Sun, 1 Jan 2012