Teeth of the Rice Plant (Taring Padi)

taring padi's picture
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Indonesian streetscape An overview of Indonesian art collective Taring Padi, who have been mixing art and politics in their street posters, painting, and illustration since 1998.

Words by Heidi Arbuckle

Art by Taring Padi collective. When Taring Padi first formed in December 1998, the collective could have been mistaken for the cultural wing of the defunct Indonesian Communist Party. At the time, Taring Padi went by the title Institute of People-Oriented Culture, and released a cultural manifesto that outlined a platform it dubbed `The Five Cultural Evils': a rap on anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, anti-militarism, anti-feudalism and anti-elitism. Taring Padi was planned along the lines of a mock politburo and numerous other bureaus that tackled matters of pedagogy, dissemination, agitation, propaganda, ethical conduct, and housekeeping. They even appointed a Taring Padi `President', who was divested of any real power, and thus performed as a plesetan or parody of the long-standing Indonesian President Suharto who by popular demand had finally relinquished grip of his thirty-two year military reign in May 1998.

Busyet! (Bullshit!)

Amid the plethora of artistic collectives that emerged in Indonesia after the fall of Suharto, Taring Padi is unique because it is one of few collectives who candidly assert that their cultural praxis is not separate from politics. After years of anti-communist rhetoric and de-politicisation under the Suharto regime, this is a radical position to ascribe to. But in fact Taring Padi cultural credo emerges from a melting-pot of local and imported ideas where budaya kerakyatan (people-oriented culture) - a tradition of radical cultural practice that flourished in Indonesia prior to the rise of Suharto in 1965, fuses comfortably with DIY punk ethos and a bunch of isms --- including anarchism, dadaism, even woman-ism (a local form of feminism).

This distinct cultural blend means that Taring Padi does not limit what they do to any one particular artistic medium. The collective is an eclectic bunch of people including art school drop-outs, former street-food hawkers, buskers, performers, poets, tattooists and dalang (puppeteers) who revel in applying their diverse talents in drawing, printing, chiselling, sculpting, writing, rhyming, performing, singing, and dancing to a myriad of situations. The themes that bind their work are equally diverse and aside from the Five Cultural Evils, Taring Padi often broach issues of societal change, egalitarianism, non-violence, anti-corruption, ecology, and community prosperity. Taring Padi's potency lies in their ethos of practicability --- anything is doable; ideas and enthusiasm take precedence over resource constraints.

berikan cinta pada sesama (give love to others)

Taring Padi have never strictly codified their collective methodology, however there are some distinctively local features and patterns to how Taring Padi work as a cultural collective. Most Taring Padi collaborative projects have been initiated merely through the custom of nongkrong (hanging out) and ngobrol (chatting). Nongkrong is a daily ritual for many Indonesians --- it occurs periodically throughout the day, often in the afternoon, whereby people take time out to just sit and ngobrol, be it just to natter or discuss more serious matters.

Taring Padi use nongkrong as an informal way to throw around ideas. When an idea flourishes, it is subsequently fleshed out at the level of ngerembug (discussion) involving group process and participation. Taring Padi decision-making operates by consensus, drawing on local concepts such as mufakat and gotong-royong, which implies an open exchange of ideas based on equality, respect, and mutual cooperation. These concepts also apply to the mechanics of the art-making process itself, and Taring Padi are remarkably at ease with sharing creative roles and skills without letting artistic ego get in the way. Their ability to diffuse negative group dynamics such as bullying or power-mongering is one of Taring Padi's strengths, and something they often negotiate with the help of humor, parody and pun. And perhaps this is the key to Taring Padi's cohesion and endurance as a cultural collective over the past eight years --- tackling `serious' issues without taking themselves too seriously;