Dewan Kesenian Jakarta (DKJ, or Jakarta Arts Council) jumpstarted Jakarta Biennale (JB) in 1974, under the banner Pameran Seni Lukis Indonesia (Indonesian Painting Exhibition), held in DKJ’s location in Taman Ismail Marzuki. DKJ, founded on 7 June 1968, by the Governor of DKI Jakarta at that time, Ali Sadikin, is an institution whose mandate is to partner up with Jakarta’s municipality to govern and support artistic activities in the city.
Eighty-one painters and artists from diverse backgrounds and generations took part in the exhibition, and a board of juries were formed to award the best works included within. Although the label had yet put “biennale” on its title, this exhibition was planned to happen once in every two years. The Desember Hitam (Black December) incident, which then gave birth to Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia (Indonesian New Art Movement) in 1975, happened as a protest against this first edition of the bi-annual art event.
Similar model were then applied to the following three editions held in 1976, ’78, and ’80, under the slight name change: Pameran Besar Seni Lukis Indonesia (Indonesian Great Painting Exhibition). The “biennale” label was first introduced in 1982, known officially as Pameran Biennale V (Biennale V Exhibition). Biennale Seni Lukis Indonesia VI (Indonesian Painting Biennale VI) was held in 1984, while the simply-titled Biennale VII took place in 1987.
The polemical Biennale Seni Rupa Jakarta IX 1993 (BSRJ IX 1993 or Jakarta Visual Art Biennale IX 1993) was a milestone. The replacement of “Painting” into “Visual Art” signified the extension of media being included in the Biennale, such as installation, video, and performance art. It was also the first edition that properly enlisted a curator (Jim Supangkat) for its artists’ selection and presentation—garnering criticisms that considered the Biennale only as a vehicle for the curator’s post-modernism one-upmanship. Paintings’ domination reoccured in Biennale X (1996) and Biennale XI (1998).
As a result of Indonesian political and economical instability, Jakarta didn’t have a bi-annual art event after 1998. Only after 8 years, Biennale Jakarta 2006 returned as the Biennale’s 12th edition, taking place in Museum Seni Rupa & Keramik (Visual Art and Ceramics Museum) and a couple of Jakarta-based galleries, besides its regular main venue in Taman Ismail Marzuki.
Three years after, Jakarta Biennale XIII 2009: ARENA was held. Thematic approach signified this edition. It was also Jakarta Biennale’s first international edition, achieved through inviting foreign artists and putting Jakarta on the map as another host for global art discourse. This JB edition expanded its artistic space by intervening various public spaces in the city. Jakarta Biennale #14 was held in 2011, with Maximum City as its theme. The scale got significantly bigger, including 150 artists and tens of public spaces. Jakarta Biennale 2013: SIASAT followed suit. The public space interventions tradition got stronger, utilizing the urban nodes not only as mere locations but also inviting public participations by activating the surrounding locales to be co-authors in the process of art-making.
Jakarta Biennale 2015 “Maju Kena Mundur Kena: Bertindak Sekarang!” (Neither Forward nor Back: Act Now!) was then held by inviting the Biennale’s first foreign curator: Charles Esche, who worked together with six Indonesian emerging curators under the banner of Curators Lab. Continuing its interest for firsts, JIWA Jakarta Biennale 2017 has invited Melati Suryodarmo, a performance artist, to become JB’s first female Artistic Director, working together with an international team of four curators selected through an international Open Call process.
Institutionally, JB 2015 was the first edition held under Yayasan Jakarta Biennale (YJB, or Jakarta Biennale Foundation), which officially founded in 2014, after the idea was first introduced in 2006. The independence of YJB from DKJ was vital for the Biennale’s sustainability and professionalization processes. The mandate for YJB is to maintain, develop, and sustain the Biennale’s public, while giving back DKJ’s members their priority mandate (to be the municipality’s partner in policy-making). This way, the Biennale could form its own executive organizer, independent from the election of DKJ’s members, happening in every three years. JB doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel in every edition, because of the always-newly-elected organizers. These organizers, with YJB, are also expected to become more than an event organizer, and take more part in Jakarta’s art scene development actively.
Like the Biennale itself, YJB was founded by Jakarta art actors—like artists, curators, and other interdisciplinary practitioners and scholars—who already have long track in running art organizations in Indonesia. YJB has three main programmes: Jakarta Biennale itself—a regular big exhibition on contemporary art, Curators Lab—a curatorial educational forum, and Public Education Program—a public reachout, sustained through discussion, symposia, workshops, and publications.