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18 June 2014

Collective Creativity: Indonesia’s Answer to Social Change

Following a visit to Bandung and Jakarta’s most innovative creative organisations, artist, curator and hub-founder Bill Ngugen talks about why he thinks Indonesia is leaps ahead in the collaborative game.

© Prassprasetio

Can you tell us a bit about your company Manzi and what can be expected from a typical day at the space?

 Manzi presents established artists to the community and gives special support to young and emerging artists in Hanoi. We host art exhibitions, workshops, movie screenings, talks and musical performances and run seminars on a wide range of social and cultural themes. Manzi is a place that we believe can inspire critical and cultural debate - something which is essentially lacking in Vietnam today. We like to think of ourselves as collaborative: we work with local galleries, international cultural institutions in Vietnam, NGO’s, universities and publishing house - as well as with innovators from the private sector. 

What did you expect from your trip to Indonesia?
I honestly had no idea what to expect as I had no prior knowledge of the Indonesian art scene. However, after doing some preliminary reading on Indonesia which the British Council had provided, I came to realize just how many creative organizations and communities there were in Jakarta and Bandung, and from fields as wide ranging as fine art and design, urban planning, and community development. Reading these things interested me because it challenged my definitions of “creativity” and what it means to be part of a “creative hub” – in my experience, these terms are only ever associated with fine art. With this in mind, I began my trip hoping to understand how these different organisations could come together creatively - regardless of their expertise or background.

© Doan Ky Thanh and Phan Gia Nhat Linh

Brainstorming at Ruangrupa, a creative hub in Jakarta

How did your trip to Indonesia meet/not meet your expectations?

This trip was a real eye-opening experience. I met with such a wide variety of organisations and witnessed their continuous effort to be, and stay, creative. Their commitment to transferring that creativity to their own communities - something which is seriously lacking in Vietnam - was truly inspiring for me. And organisations that stay connected to one another were present in all the communities we met - an admirable trait, in my opinion. I think this is why Indonesia has such a vibrant and interdisciplinary art scene: it includes creative professionals, governmental bodies and - most importantly - the public. Indonesia has consistently involved the public in the process of art-making and regarded them as equal to that of professional artistic creators – this really resonated for me. There was only one thing I would have changed: I wish I could have stayed longer!

What was the most interesting organisation or person you met on the trip and why?
Interestingly, the organisation that interested me the most did not come from the fine art arena. Urbane, based in Bandung, is a well-established architecture and consultancy firm whose focus lies in urban design and development. One of their most notable projects; “One Village, One Playground” is an ongoing community project where the starting point is always the people and their need. Urbane always works in the same way to carry out these kinds of projects - they choose a community and map out an abandoned area of land that does not have any commercial use and persuades large companies to purchase it in the name of corporate social responsibility. Urbane then begins the design process based on the community inhabitants’ needs. Once building is complete, Urbane lets the community run the space themselves. What I find invaluable about this project, is that Urbane has treated these communities with no less importance than the clients of their commercial projects. I guess their method could be described as “bottom-up” - responding to the needs of a community first, and ending by giving the citizens the freedom to take ownership of the space.

© Doan Ky Thanh and Phan Gia Nhat Linh

Ruangrupa, Jakarta

What was the very best bit about the trip?
I loved comparing the art scenes of Jakarta and Bandung and spotting their creative differences. While Jakarta tends to be more commercial, Bandung is experimental and conceptual. The cities’ landscapes also contribute to this: the scale and intense traffic jams in Jakarta mean that these organisations act more individually since their locations are more scattered; while the modest, mountainous and peaceful nature of Bandung allows for a more neighbourhood-like creative scene. People seem to be within arm’s reach in Bandung and they frequently hold meetings with each other. 

What did you learn from the trip and now you’re back, how will you use it/put it into practice?
I learned the importance of social consciousness and responsibility. All of Indonesia’s community projects aim to give a voice to, and improve, the living conditions of the marginal and neglected. In Vietnam, this would mean informing local artists to be more socially conscious and responsible which has proven a bit of a challenge so far. I guess our artists would have to experience first-hand, the benefits of contributing to their communities. What I’d like to do is start gathering creative organisations in Hanoi and invite them to present their activities at regular meetings - giving everyone a chance to better understand the work of their counterparts and potentially collaborate. This format worked perfectly with both the Common Room and Bandung Creative City Forum.

Any comparisons of creative hubs and creative industries between Indonesia and Vietnam?
I think where Vietnam prioritises commercial endeavours and financial values, and underestimates social and communal values, Indonesia maintains a real sense of togetherness. Indonesia is a prime example of how collective creativity can transform society and politics. Unfortunately, Vietnam suffers from a lack of support from the government, whereas from my experience it seems that Indonesia receives support from both local and national government bodies. It’s plain to see with Indonesia, that sharing skills and knowledge is more than a means to an end – it’s a daily need.

© Phalinn Ooi

Bill Ngugen was interviewed by Lan Dang, British Council Vietnam's Creative Economy Advisor