Monday, July 07, 2008

Bandung: The world in the city

Source: Jakarta Post

Roy Voragen , Bandung | Sat, 06/28/2008 11:54 AM | Opinion

Globalization is not something abstract; it is concrete. Globalization is not out there, but here, and now. While the consequences of globalization are obviously uneven, this does not mean that globalization leaves people powerless. Fatalism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: The feeling of powerlessness can block action and end in a lack of power.

Members of the creative industry in Bandung do not let globalization rock their lives. They translate bits and pieces of world views into their own lives. This is a complex, dynamic and ongoing process that is done in piecemeal fashion.

In esthetics, this is called appropriation: borrowing, copying, faking, reproducing, distorting and presenting things as one's own. It not only goes this against the cult of authentic originality, the artist as a genius and individual authorship in the West, it also goes against legal-political concepts in the form of copyright and intellectual property rights.

This is a two-way process. A multinational company that does not adapt to the local situation will have difficulty surviving. MTV is an excellent example. In 2003, the Bandung band Mocca had a hit, "Me and My Boyfriend" from the album My Diary, and the video was often aired on MTV Indonesia.

Artist Gustaff Iskandar, who is a graduate of the art school at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), directed the award-winning video. He created a visual story of the history of Bandung by referring to global art and pop culture. Bandung-based Fast Forward Records produced the album.

These days recording an album or making a music video is so much easier through the introduction of new technologies and software (often pirated). MTV VJs often wear apparel designed by Bandung "indie" companies, making these designs more popular outside Bandung.

Bandung has dozens of institutes of higher education; the city is therefore attractive to youth from all over the archipelago. Upon graduation many of these youngsters move to Jakarta where salaries are significantly higher. Jakarta functions as a brain drain.

However, many graduates pursue a career in Bandung. I already mentioned Gustaff H. Iskandar. With R.E. Hartanto and T. Ismail Reza, two other ITB graduates, he founded the Bandung Center for New Media Arts (BCfNMA) in 2001. This center was founded to foster a dialogue between the arts and the outside world (the world of technology and also urban design, among others).

In 2003, BCfNMA merged with Tobucil (Toko Buku Kecil, or "small bookstore"), cofounded in 2001 by Tarlen Handayani, to form the Common Room Network Foundation.

Common Room functions as a platform for local communities in Bandung, with the adagio that artists should be able to make a living with their creativity. Common Room also cooperates with international organizations.

In 2005, for example, it organized in cooperation with the Asia Europe Foundation the third Asia-Europe art camp on artist initiative spaces and new media arts.

In 2007, Hartanto, Reza and Handayani (and Tobucil) left Common Room. Tobucil organizes for courses for the general public on journalism, feminism, philosophy and other subjects. Tobucil also participates in the literacy movement.

Another important part of the Bandung creative industry is the emergence of the "distro" (distribution outlet) in the mid-1990s when imported designs became too expensive in the midst of Indonesia's economic crisis.

These distros are inspired by surfing, skateboarding and music. Sometimes called indie, i.e. independent and alternative, they no longer operate on a small scale. They make good profits; people from Jakarta make good use of the Cipularang toll road (which opened in May 2005) to come down to Bandung to shop for the latest fashions.

The Bandung creative community succeeds in appropriating the impacts of globalization without Westernization. The creative community has also learned, over the years and through repeated trial and error, how to combine creativity with entrepreneurship.

The creative communities in Bandung are hubs that form a node in a wider -- global -- network from Singapore to Sydney, Manchester to Amsterdam, Beijing to Helsinki. Does this community, though, succeed in bridging the wider Bandung society? They live and work within a sea of millions to whom to build social bridges.

State institutions have a role to play, but the state has lost legitimacy after decades of authoritarianism and corruption. Is a bottom-up politics that includes the grassroots feasible and sustainable?

How can we solve collective -- and thus global -- problems? Can we in the 21st century reform politics in the form of networks of coproduction between state institutions and civil society organizations? It would raise important questions of authority, transparency and accountability. Seeing the making of policy as a network of coproduction might be a way to hide the power struggle over meanings.

The writer teaches philosophy at Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung. His weblog can be accessed at

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