Tanah Air : Art as Propaganda

I coincidentally pass through Ark Galerie which is located just 2 minutes from my house and there’re brownish-red eathernware that attracted me. That terracotta is one of an artwork for Tanah Air exhibition by Indonesian artist called Setu Legi. The exhibition is awaken our collective memory of a particular situation about our connection to natural and our environment.

1a 1b 2

Today, environmental problems such as land reform, exploitation of natural resources, and genetic manipulation of food corps seems to be one of the main area of advocacy, apart from political praxis. This exhibition captures the impact of the environmental issues and help the audience to think deeply about it.

5 6 7One of the wall exhibition is written : “Gemah Ripah Loh Jinawi, Tata Tentrem Karto Raharjo” which are Javanese idioms that describe Indonesia’s culture wealth. The first idiom means an abundance of natural wealth and the other idiom means peace and prosperity. This words are attach together with ironies illustration of the environment destruction for palm oil industry. There’s also an image of the human skulls to underscore the enormous amounts of victims and risks occur in the development projects that destroy the environment. I think his message express : development process have thus far tended to impoverish nature and have long term impact on the continuity of civilization, rather than fulfilling expectations of prosperity.

8 9 10 11 12 13 Honestly, this exhibition is impressed me a lot because I realize that in Indonesia, artist can freely speak their mind about country’s problem. I have ever lived in socialist country and this kind of propaganda is limited and based on government’s subjectivity. The phenomena of propaganda art in socialist state occurred mainly in order to build public strong opinion for the class struggle.

3 4 13 15 14 16Among all his artwork, one of my fave is sculptural installation of several human figures made from raw earth. This terracotta are stopping, places on a base that looks like tree roots, seeming to be praying and communicating with the land. It seems the artwork captures the deep feeling of human from unavoidable phenomena on some ecosystem problems and environmental issues in Indonesia.

Last, I would like to rewrite the Artist’s Statement about this exhibition :

When the last tree is felled,

and the forest is flattened,

in exchange for the buds of industrial plants,

it’s a sign that a generation is lost,

the beginning of life is broken,

blood frozen in a land full of anger

This exhibition presents my on going observation on the plantation based systems of production and consumption, land exploitation, deforestation, the destruction of ecosystems, impacts on traditional communities, and the extinction of plants, animal and herb species.

“Every day we replace tropical forests with palm oil plantations, trees that are hundreds of years old are ripped from the soil, thousands of plants are pulled up by their roots, hundreds of animal species no longer have homes. This diversity is replaces with patterns of uniformity, on this land only one kind may live. For this they implement land clearing, cleansing through killing (genocide).

These methods are a way of expanding humankind’s mastery over unilateral interests, the arrogance of the power of capital. Monoculture… it becomes a method of conformity, a reason for wealth, modernity and commodity. Monoculture, better known as a model of natural empowerment through eradicating all other life, this is done by burning and severing the existing food chain. All this done with force and violence.

“Every human needs land, life needs water,

when there is no water there will be no life,

when there is no land, everything will be sink,

a people, a civilization

Setu Legi


I think this art exhibition reminds us about Indonesia’s environmental issues and ask us to aware how the industry impact the surrounding nature. I think the art work wishes the audience to think deeply how they should deal with the environment. It is really up to personal decision whether we will ignore or care our nature.

Comments are welcomed  🙂

Photo credit : faniatmanti

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