Gesyada Annisa Namora Siregar didn’t expect to embark on a career as an art curator at 24. The Jakarta Institute of Arts (IKJ) graduate may not be as established as her senior colleagues, but her climb to the top represents a trend in her generation who look at the industry from a different perspective.
After being selected for the Indonesia Young Curators Workshop, Gesyada’s first curatorial work was “Buka Warung” an exhibition where industry experts took notice of her work. Soon after she had the opportunity to travel to Bangkok and South Korea for work.
Back to her old campus at Taman Ismail Marzuki, NOW! Jakarta spoke to her about her curatorial work and her missions to nurture emerging artists and to contirbute to arts education in the county.
How did you end up as a curator at such a young age?
It all started with my passion to write, do research, manage, and gather people to hold an art exhibition when I was in college. I have worked for Jakarta Biennale and Jakarta 32°C — a division of ruangrupa focusing in students networking through forums and visual arts festivals — as curator’s assistant, curatorial text translator, and liaison officer for international artists.
In 2013, I was selected for the Indonesia Young Curators Workshop, organised by ruangrupa and Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ). I was one of ten finalists who were selected across the region. At that time, I still didn’t know anything about curating, but it opened many doors. Everything started from there.
What was the first exhibition you curated?
My first curatorial job was “Buka Warung” an exhibition at RURU Gallery for biannual exhibition projects from Jakarta 32°C, in 2015, when I was in my sophomore year. It began with my curiosity about Indonesian young female artists who had edgy, absurd, and explicit works, challenging them to narrate [their thoughs on]‘lust’ and explore sexuality, inspired by collective social memory, as it’s a taboo for women to even talk about it. I don’t consider myself a feminist but it was interestingly controversial. We had an exhibition with 17 young female artists from interdisciplinary backgrounds.
However, I had a few critics and lost confidence in my ability to be a good curator. Even Hafiz—chairman of the Fine Arts committee at DKJ— told me that Buka Warung was the worst art exhibit that he had ever seen! But It also motivated me to do a better job. So, when I got the chance, I gathered the girls from “Buka Warung” to show at another exhibition, “Why Can’t We Be Friends” at Qubicle Center in 2015. Since then, I learned from my mistakes and understand my job as curator, how to treat the artists, etc.
“Buka Warung” was your first actual work but how did this lead to your trips to Thailand and South Korea?
I owe a lot to the people of DKJ and Ruangrupa who believed in my work, my “Buka Warung” team and I got a chance to be among the representatives from Indonesia at the “Mode of Liaisons” exhibition, organised by the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) and the Japan Foundation Asia Center in 2017. They had a tour programme for young curators in Southeast Asia. Then, ruangrupa sent me to South Korea to join a curatorial research trip. People were surprised knowing that I was only 23 years old [at the time], because many young curators are in their 30s on average.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I am working at ruangrupa. I am also preparing for another role, as one of five selected curators who will visit an urban kampung in Jakarta. As the part of DKJ programme, ‘Kurator Kampung’ aims to use art to form a creative movement. Neighbourhood activities will be held relgularly.
What does it mean to be a young curator, especially when you have to speak for your generation?
For me, working as curator is very fluid. It depends on what artists need from me. I just have to believe in the artists, and vice versa. It’s like working as a kindergarten teacher who takes care of the children who are excited to express themselves in the playground. Sometimes, I have to be motivator for young artists because few of them are not really vocal and are not confident. And I think it’s now all about collaboration, as I am involved a lot in collaborative works.
How did you become involved with the project at the Ministry of Education and Culture?
I was blown away by this unexpected phone call. The Directorate General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture had a project to produce a book about Indonesian maestros for high school students. Senior art critic and curator Hendro Wiyanto—who was also project coordinator— offered me a job as one of the writers. I was the only woman—and the youngest!
Using the students’ framework, we introduced five Indonesian art maestros through their artworks in a book “Buku pusaka Seni Rupa Indonesia” published last year. I hope the government continues doing this, not only for artists but also for other figures in literature and culture.
I really enjoyed the process of delivering knowledge, and I plan to keep doing this to introduce more art in formal education. For me, arts is a subject at school; I learned about all these figures when I studied in college. Our art history is still like a puzzle. I want kids to learn about Indonesian figures who have fascinating works, somebody they can look up to besides Van Gogh or any western figures.
Sudjojono and Nashar have been a great influence on your work as a curator. Tell us more about this.
Back in the day I did writing and researching, rather than painting. My undergraduate thesis was on the late 20th century painter Nashar who adapted “Three Non” (non-preconceptions, non-aesthetic academic, and non-academic) techniques on his painting, referred to Ki Hajar Dewantara a.k.a Suwardi Suryaningrat through his institution, Taman Siswa, which had resistance movements towards western tradition theories and education. Nashar’s perspective inspires legendary painter such as Sudjojono, Affandi, Oesman Effendi, and poet Chairil Anwar. Right after my graduation, I presented my thesis at Jogja Biennale International symposium in 2016, I was again surprised at the fact I was the youngest presenters.
That moment affected me a lot. I am much influenced by the father of Indonesian modern art, Sudjojono, whose voice is expressed in his work. I put my intention to Indonesian history which I frequently use the perspective of Indonesian people as a tool for my curating work, especially when I curated for “Non Theory (Tanpa Teori)” exhibition in 2017 and “Paripurna” by Divisi 62 at Ruci Art Space few month ago. It’s important for me to be mature in my curating. Besides the artist, curatorial text is tool for knowledge.
How do you see the Indonesian art scene today?
Speaking of my generation, artists have wider access to information, which creates more contemporary artworks with variety of medium and elements. The development of new media, number of information and its contemporary characteristic sometimes could make them seems shallow. Many critics came up that young artist are stuck with the Pinterest-ish reference because internet generation could be homogeneous as possible to access same information.
The good thing is that young artists can use everyday references and pop culture as a reference. That’s why many people visit galleries to take pictures. I am still learning.
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine August 2018 issue “Capital of Culture”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.