History is always contextual, and the history of the Jakarta Biennale is no exception. The bi-annual art event is evolving with time. Not only does it grow with the artistic trends, it also flows with the Indonesian social and political progression.
It started in 1974, when the event was first held by Jakarta Arts Council (Dewan Kesenian Jakarta/DKJ), carrying the name ‘Pameran Seni Lukis Indonesia’ (The Indonesian Painting Exhibition) at the art hub Taman Ismail Marzuki. It involved 81 artists from various generations and regions in the country, and a panel of judges presenting awards to the best works. The exhibition—which did not use the term ‘biennale’ but had already been planned to be held bi-annually—invoked protests from a young generation of artists and observers, who objected to the awarding standards. Today, we remember the protest as ‘The Black December’, which instigated the emergence of the New Indonesian Art Movement in 1975. This movement was accommodated by DKJ, and they had their first exhibition at Taman Ismail Marzuki.
The events were held in a similar fashion for the next three biennales, in 1976, 1978, and 1980. The name of the event though was changed into ‘Pameran Besar Seni Lukis Indonesia’ (The Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition), and it employed a more diverse collection of data in selecting the works. In the 1982 event, the word ‘biennale’ was first introduced as part of the name, ‘Pameran Biennale V’ (The Biennale Exhibition V). Painting was still the predominant type of art exhibited. The use of the term ‘biennale’ continued to the 1984 event, ‘Biennale Seni Lukis Indonesia VI’ (The Indonesian Painting Biennale VI).
Biennale VII was held in 1987, a year later than its scheduled date. Unlike its predecessors, the year’s event opened up a competition for young artists. DKJ and the panel of judges felt that the previous biennales had not produced enough novelty. Therefore, there was an urgent need to start injecting new blood. The competition went on to be held in Biennale VII in 1989, while still retaining the geographical classification of artists and works.
A number of changes took effect in the Biennale Jakarta IX in 1993; the most notable being the use of the term “seni rupa” (art) instead of “seni lukis” (painting) in the event. A collection of non-painting works was showcased, including installation art, video art, and performance art. The event also marked the first time Jakarta Biennale commissioned curators in the selection and exhibition of the works. The event received generally positive feedback from the public, although polemical debates also ensued. Some perceived the year’s biennale as the curators’ personal projects in interpreting post-modernist ideas—the intellectual trending topic at the time.
Painting was again a dominant presence in Biennale X in 1996 and Biennale XI in 1998. The organizers came up with additional programs to re-exhibit the works of Indonesian maestros. Biennale went into a lengthy hiatus following the socio-political turmoil and the shift in governmental power in post-1998 Indonesia. During this period, the Indonesian art scene lost a measuring standard that have been going on for three decades. However, the period also prompted DKJ to review the Biennale in order to be better equipped to face the bigger and more complex challenges of the future.
The biennale returned eight years later, headlined as 2006 Jakarta Biennale. In its 12th anniversary, the event took place at Taman Ismail Marzuki, the Art and Ceramic Museum, and several galleries. Three years later, the biennale returned as Jakarta Biennale XIII 2009: ARENA, featuring some breakthroughs. It was the first biennale that carries a theme, with the theme ARENA to interpret Jakarta as a perpetual fighting ground. It was also the first time that the event was designed in an international scale, inviting international artists and making Jakarta a host for a global art developmental space. The other breakthrough is the use of various public spaces in Jakarta to exhibit the art works.
Jakarta Biennale #14 was held in 2011 with the theme Maximum City, as a reaction to Jakarta as an increasingly dense and heavily populated city. The programs became bigger in scale, involving 150 artists and more public spaces. The next Jakarta Biennale was held in 2013 with the theme SIASAT (Strategy). The exhibitions focused on the strategies used by Jakarta citizens to survive in the city that often simply passes them by. Jakarta Biennale continued to use public spaces as its venues, even expanded its scope of work. The public spaces were not only used to display the art works, but also as a space for local communities to interact with citizens through art projects in several areas of Jakarta. The works and activities in the public spaces went hand in hand with the works exhibited in galleries.
In this year’s biennale, there is a need for Jakarta Biennale to be strategic in planning its future endeavors. There needs to be some kind of continuity, a coordinated focus in exploring actual social, cultural, and political issues, both locally and globally. This led to an idea to establish a foundation, an independent institution that can run the biennale autonomously.
The Indonesian Painting Exhibition, 1974
The Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition II, 1976
The Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition III, 1978
The Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition IV, 1980
The Biennale Exhibition V, 1982
The Indonesian Painting Biennale VI, 1984
DKJ’s 7th Biennale, 1987
Biennale ’89: Indonesian Painting Exhibition & Competition VIII
Jakarta Art Biennale IX, 1993
Jakarta Biennale X, 1996: Indonesia Painting Exhibition
Jakarta Biennale XI, 1998
Jakarta Biennale 2006
Jakarta Biennale XIII, 2009: ARENA
Jakarta Biennale #14. 2011: Maximum City
Jakarta Biennale 2013: SIASAT