Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taring Padi (Teeth of the rice plant)

Yogyakarta, it's a funny name and not an elder god from a book by HP Lovecraft. It is in fact a city, the capital of Special Region of Yogyakarta on the Island of Java, Indonesia. Known for it's classical fine Javanese art, such as batik, ballet, music and puppet shows. It is here in Bantul and underground collective of artists formed in 1998 after the death of Suharto. Suharto is debated as either a hero or a villian, for the most part he improved education, health and living standards in the 31 years he ruled Indonesia but by the 1990's widespread corruption and authoritarianism had taken its toll on the people.


Taring Padi are a collective of cultural activists/artists that see themselves as rebuilding cultural democracy. They strongly oppose "Art for Art", which under the rule of Suharto, was maintained through cultural institutions and private state. As well as creating wonderful propaganda art they have organised some radical protests and performances. I will be looking more closely at the following work "Buruh Bersatu" - The workers unite, a woodcut print which is currently hanging on the walls of the GOMA.

The Workers Unite (2003) from the current GOMA exhibit Propaganda?

Elements of Design: The artwork is a large black and white woodcut in a cartoon style. It is predominately line work with shaded areas built up with crosshatching such as one would find in a cartoon. You are drawn to the centre by an image depicting workers using their tools as weapons. Reminiscant of some of the older European propaganda posters.

Presentation and display: Printed onto unprimed canvas and hung like banners on the gallery walls. Banners that are also used in protests.

Styles, genres the art belongs to: The style reminds me of some of the old woodcuts from the illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. Who was a political satirist/cartoonist who lived in Mexico, 1851 - 1913. The image is very similar to the style of anime and it also reminds me of some images found in the old Cole's Funny Picture Books.

Jose Guadalupe's depiction of the tyrannical General Huerta.

Image from one of the Cole's funny picture books, first published in 1869.

Subject matter: The image represents empowerment of the workers. Taring Padi translates to "The rice that have teeth". The workers are fighting with their tools against the remnants of Suharto's military regime. They are fighting for social change, justice and democracy.

Materials: All of their work is made by hand. It is a woodcut. It is printed on raw, unprimed canvas and hung like a banner or a flag might be hung on a wall. This material may be associated with the poor. The piece is a relief work. No mechanical press was used, a large piece of wood is placed on top of the canvas and the artists stand upon it to press the image onto the canvas. This process is not usually not carried out this way any more. The process behind this artwork is also important as it represents community, hand made and hard work. It is the opposite of mass produced materials.

To understand this artwork and access its meaning: Codes include propaganda, cartoon art specifically that of political satirists. Tyranny and rule under dictatorship and the uprising of working class people.  

The images that follow are propaganda posters and artwork from war, galleries, protests and revolutions from the 1920's to present...

Workers of the world unite - Banksy 2009

A piece from the People’s Republic of China
during the great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
during the 60's and 70's.

More workers propaganda from the late
1940's during the cold war era in the Soviet Union.

Here is a piece by Rodchenko during the Russian
Revolution (1920's).


From the Communist manifesto (1848) Carl Marx & Friedrich Engels.The full quote translates as such:
“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” 

And simplified as:
“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!”

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