Jatiwangi art Factory (JaF) is a community that embraces contemporary arts and cultural practices as part of the local life discourse in a rural area. Their manifold activities, always involving the local public, include a video festival, a music festival, a residency program, a discussion series, and a TV and radio station. We met with members Ismal Muntaha and Gory over a Zoom call, which connected three cities (Zurich, Dubai, and Jatiwangi) to discuss the beginnings, background, and practices of JaF, which included the division of roles, funding issues, the role of the local ecosystem, their project Kota Terakota, their plans for documenta fifteen, and why the period after the 100 days of documenta is more important for them. JaF is part of the lumbung network of documenta fifteen, curated by the artist collective ruangrupa.
Maria Mumtaz: Could you tell us a bit about the Jatiwangi Art Factory (JaF) and your collective practice?
Al Ghorie: It started in 2005 in Arif's mother's house. Arif and his wife started inviting artists and organizing workshops, exhibitions, and residency programs. After that, it got bigger and bigger. By doing so, we would learn something from the invited artists, curators, or musicians. Jatiwangi is a very industrial area with no culture and art, but only the tradition of the roof tile factories since 1905. We were thinking that luxurious things are never happening in the village. It's always in the big city, in the urban area with the infrastructure, with the schools and galleries. At this point, we challenged ourselves to do something in a place that doesn't have those things at all. Since then, we have been thinking that maybe the identity of the roof tiles itself is culture.
MM: In what physical form does the JaF exist? Do you have a space, or is it a group of individuals who come together as a collective?
AG: We added art, because we have a lot of roof tile factories, and, instead of making roof tiles we are making art. We do the events, concerts, and workshops in the actual factory itself. We don't call ourselves a collective maybe because also our neighborhood is a part of our community. We are more of a community. Our focus is to connect the various interests of our friends, family, or neighbors, even our government.
MM: How does JaF function, how are the roles divided, and how do all members come together? If you can also just expand a little bit more on the collective and the collaborative practices; it's important given that, you know, this is the central theme for documenta fifteen as well.
Ismal Muntaha: What we do here cannot be separated from our daily life context because we are living here. We don't need to rent some space because we're living in the mother's house, which since the beginning has been a public space. People hang out in our house, in our yard. We are not some organization that is working for the community or some art collective empowering a community. It actually sounds very awkward for us if we call ourselves an art collective. From that context, we started inviting our friends and our neighbors to connect, and we have also always been introducing ourselves as members of the family. When we are inviting our friends, we are introducing them as our friends who come to our home or who are living in it. We also have various languages in terms of artistic approach or practice because we are very diverse with various backgrounds and various interests. Also, it gives us a very dynamic approach and fluidity, but then at the same time we feel we are a community, trying to survive the transformation. That's probably one of the main things that we are facing now, connecting what we are proposing for documenta fifteen. Jatiwangi and its industrial area are related to the colonial history. The Dutch constructed those huge factories, and then it's also since then that Jatiwangi has been connected to the first liberalization in Jaffa. The sugar factories changed our landscape, as the rice fields changed into sugar cane fields. This is also related as well with how the roof tile industry evolved. That also changed our social relationship. From 2008 until now, a new industry has been growing; for example, the Nike factory is located here, and it's very huge—about 10,000 workers—and also other factories like Puma. This transformation is something that we are facing now and what we are doing is related to it.
MM: The people you invite to participate, including friends and family, don't necessarily have to have an arts background. They come in as collaborators and could be involved in many different ways.
IM: Because Arif is an artist, and when he came back, he began to activate the house more as a common space. So, the circle is opening up to artists, musicians, performers, etc., but then the actual network is related to the roof tiles and the local community, so it is more diverse, including architects, policemen, and the neighborhood as well. To see this new relationship between those sectors is interesting.
MM: Could you also tell us a bit about the project Kota Terakota that you're working on for documenta fifteen and how different members of the collective are involved in this project?
IM: It's also still related to what we are, what has happened now, the literal transformation actually, the notable rural expansion, and the Kota Terakota is kind of crystallizing our activity. We now try to recognize our local resources, which is soil or clay. Before, that was only seen as a commodity or for making roof tiles, and consequently to make money. We are trapped in the kind of exploitation of our resources, and slowly with time we see our resources as our new identity or, our—we call it—dignity. And then with various activities, new rituals, and new traditions, like, for example, every three years we are bringing our roof tiles with thousands of people, which is very important to make a kind of common agreement to see our resources as something that can have a cultural value again. And from that point, it is crystallized into a more strategic plan or strategic artistic approach that we call Kota Terakota. We can now negotiate our territory as a cultural territory; before it was only an industrial area. That's why we call it Kota Terakota. Now in the city plan, it's written that Jatiwangi should become a terracotta cultural area and not only industrial area. So, we as citizens or as a community living here, we can also become a subject in terms of development.
We see now in documenta how some states are facing what we are already have started, what we are already been experimenting here in Jatiwangi, and we see it as well as a chance to talk about the situation: what happened in Jatiwangi and also probably in another places, which is the urban expansion. And what we are proposing is a new Rural Agenda as kind of the umbrella project for documenta. The Rural Agenda is starting from a situation that has happened in Jatiwangi. Maybe you're familiar with the new urban agenda that was made by the UN after the summit in 2016 called New Urban Agenda. And it mentioned that, in 2030, people will go to the city and then they should make some kind of guideline on how to live in the city. But what happened now in Jatiwangi and also in other places in the world is that the city expanded to the rural areas, to the villages, not only people moving to the city. I think the perspective is still that they see the rural as something that is supporting the urban, not something that is a place with many values. Policing the rural can be some step to a common future, the field view, the relation, et cetera. That's why for documenta we want to make a summit to create a new rural agenda, but from the community. We are glad to connect with the lumbung members that also have some really strong relations or issues regarding land, communing, and collectivity, proposing to us something that we can articulate in the future. Of course, we cannot be separated from our ecosystem. I mean, we should also bring our ecosystem.
It is much easier for us to talk with the local government in this way, if we are not talking only from the perspective of art, like let's make some summit with a lot of practices from various backgrounds, or we can negotiate directly with the many stakeholders there, including the policymaker—for example, the UN. Now our mayor will also come, and we are examining the possibility of a meeting with our mayor and the Kassel mayor to talk about a new model of development. That is important for us, because when we come back, after documenta, we can have a different position in our local context.
MM: Does the government in Indonesia fund your projects?
IM: Our local government is already part of our ecosystem. Thanks to the international context, it's also kind of easy to seduce them to be more supportive. For the context of the Rural Agenda, actually we have like 17,000 islands and most of our country is rural; we are also starting to talk with our cultural ministry who already has 300 networks of rural/cultural villages. So, this Rural Agenda is for us also important for building a dialogue with the international rural network, with the lumbung ecosystem. We are already talking with UNESCO in Paris regarding the summit as well. But for the summit, the most important thing is how to put the community as the main actor. It is also important to see the non-human delegation as the stakeholder and to find a non-human delegation.
MM: Since we are on the subject of funding, would you explain a bit about how the summit and activities around it are being organized and budgeted?
IM: For the 100 days, it's more crucial for us to bring people rather than works or objects. Like I mentioned before, after documenta, it's easier to build a dialogue with the local government and our community even with our neighborhoods, because sometimes we invite somebody, but then for our neighborhood, it's not cool at all; but then we can also bring them to Kassel and do something together, so it is easier to continue after that. The production budget is fairly limited if we spend more on bringing people. That's why we invited our mayor to make some agreement, and it's also a strong reason for him to spend some budget as well to bring our ecosystem, our local leader, or even the businessman or some other collective or community in our city. So, they are supporting that, and we are doing some programs there. For the summit as well, we are trying to cooperate with our cultural ministry, and they are pretty excited about the idea because they also feel that we need experimentation on how to create some policy or a solution. This is a great moment for them as well to come together. So, they will probably also support us.
MM: How are you nurturing your relationship with other lumbung members for your project in Kassel?
IM: We always say that actually the period after documenta is more important for us. We see documenta as something that will strengthen our connection and collaboration, not only during documenta, but mostly after documenta. Two months ago, I was invited by one of the lumbung members, Más Arte más Acción. I feel that it is a necessity to connect the ecosystems of other collectives and communities and I feel that it will be very interesting to connect with our network, for example, connecting the Indonesian rural network with communities in the Amazon. There's a dialogue and relations that make us excited about documenta. Not something that we are preparing and showing in Kassel, but something that has already started, but then also after documenta.
MM: If I understand it correctly, the summit is going to be the only major aspect of your project in Kassel, or is there something else as well?
IM: It's more like the momentum. We plan to do the summit around the opening, and during the 100 days we have some space in Kassel that is also kind of articulating the process of the rural agenda—a space for dialogue and collaborations. A space for making agreements to realize the Rural Agenda. The Rural Agenda is actually something we are already experimenting with here in Jatiwangi, so people also can see our method and our approach. In the 100 days, we will do some programs or some activation, because we did some off-site projects related to documenta here in Jatiwangi as well. And then we will translate this in that space. This month, we want to start the new rural school also as part of the Rural Agenda to build a dialogue between the Indonesian ecosystem and the lumbung ecosystem.
MM: During a talk at our university, farid rakun put forth some keywords including local anchor, humor, independence, generosity, transparency, sufficiency, and regeneration, which we thought was very interesting. How does JaF refer to some of these ideas? Where do you position yourself?
IM: Probably that principle of the lumbung actually is something that we are familiar with as well regarding the local anchor and family; we cannot separate it from our local contexts and what we are doing. Also, humor plays a key role, while generosity is more like a driver.
MM: How do you archive and document activities of JaF?
IM: It is always challenging how to translate what we are doing here to other places. For documenta, it's more interesting for us to bring in the people. But, of course, regarding some production budget, we already spent that on the offsite project, so there should be something that we bring to documenta in terms of documentation or archive. For the summit, we are thinking of experiencing it through the five senses. When we are talking about a non-human delegation and how we communicate, we need our five senses. Maybe the summit will smell. Regarding other lumbung projects, probably compost will be some delegation as well, or some cow dung, or a lot of flowers. It's the five senses that we want to maximize in the summit.
MM: How do you take your project forward after documenta fifteen? What can we expect after the 100 days of the exhibition?
IM: What we are now working or discussing often is regarding that, because there is a group working on land. So probably that will be some kind of future collaboration, how we can also have some land, reclaim some land. Land ownership or reclaiming land is one of the aspects that we are talking about, and one of the questions is also how we can also find some new investment models regarding land. Because, for example, now we know, we already have a soil (bangla in Bengali) in Jatiwangi, which is important for Kota Terakota. It is the material for pursuing our vision. This can also be some cultural anchor to negotiate with the territory. We are developing the discussion: how we generate land into something that can be commonly as well as collectively used.
Marinella Sofia Gkinko: You mentioned earlier that you have been introducing yourselves as members of a family, but you also use the term community. Do you, therefore, define JaF, as a community or more as a family?
IM: Family. We have the word tanah. Tanah can be one word for many things: tanah means soil, clay, earth, plan, ground. So, everything is one word. And for the summit as well, we are thinking of including tanah from other places as delegation.
This interview was conducted on January 14, 2022.
Established in 2005, JaF is a community-based organization focused on the ways that contemporary art and cultural practices can be contextualized with the local life in a rural area. At the beginning of the twentieth century, its clay industry made Jatiwangi the biggest roof tile-producing region in Southeast Asia. A hundred years later, in 2005, using the same clay, JaF encouraged the people of Jatiwangi to create a collective awareness and identity for their region through arts and cultural activity. In doing so, JaF tries to cultivate clay with more dignity and to raise the collective happiness of the community. The project Kota Terakota thus marks the beginning of a new clay culture for Jatiwangi, remodeling the city based on its people’s desires and their collective agreement. In this sense, Kota Terakota speaks to “terra” not only as a material, but also as land, territory, or an idea. The work of JaF has been shown at various venues in Indonesia and abroad, including Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2020), the Asian Art Biennial, Taichung (2017), the Gwangju Biennale (2016), Copenhagen Alternative Art Fair (2016), SONSBEEK ’16, Arnhem (2016), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2013), and the Jakarta Contemporary Ceramic Biennale (2012).
Sophie Brunner is a freelance curator based in Switzerland and Italy. She is the founder and director of Atelier Rohling, a project that demands and promotes a contemporary and equal concept of art since 2012. She is currently leading the national project access, which gives marginalized Swiss artists better access to the art world.
Marinella Sofia Gkinko holds a PhD in Literature, specializing in Periodical Press, from the University of Patras, and a MAS in Curating from the Zurich University of the Arts. She has participated in international conferences and interdisciplinary research projects with emphasis on literature, translation and periodicals. Gkinko has been an exchange PhD student at Lumière University Lyon 2 and trained in Digital Humanities at the University of Leipzig and University of Oxford. Within the curatorial realm, her interests encompass art, language and technology. She is based in Zurich and currently working at elementum.art.
Maria Mumtaz is an arts strategist and curator based in the UAE with ten years of experience in contemporary art from the Global South. She currently works in the Publishing division of the Learning and Research Department at Sharjah Art Foundation, a contemporary art and cultural foundation based in Sharjah since 2009. Prior to this, she was part of the core team of Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth. She has also served as Director of Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, which represents a significant and pluralistic roster of artists from the MENASA region. Mumtaz started her career as an editorial assistant at Canvas magazine, the region’s premier magazine on art and culture from the Middle East and Arab world, where she wrote several in-depth articles for magazines, newspapers, and books. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Media Studies from SZABIST, Karachi, and an MAS in Curating from Zurich University of the Arts.