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art & design


Tisna Sanjaya’s Cigondewah Cultural Centre

Art, waste, and urban politics in Bandung, Indonesia Text and photography by Roy Voragen

“The future of art is not artistic, but urban.” —Henri Lefebvre Sustainability has for good reasons become a trending theme in recent years. However, Bandung-based architect Achmad D. Tardiyana, who is a senior architect at Urbane and teaches architecture at the Institute of Technology Bandung (ITB), stated that “most private clients in Indonesia do not yet prioritize sustainable architecture since they often write-off an asset after already approximately a decade.”1 Sustainable architecture, by definition, needs to withstand the time of a “normal” business cycle. If sustainable architecture is going to be a successful practice, we need to raise the ethical question of what forms our lives should take. Sustainability, therefore, is thus more than a technological or pragmatic matter. And this is why art can be of utmost importance. The arts can offer us the much-needed vivid imagination and new metaphors through which we come to believe passionately in the possibilities of different urban living and act accordingly. Art, therefore, can form a bridge between the real and the possible. Artists can show us that ethics and aesthetics can be the two sides of the same proverbial coin. What we value ethically is shown aesthetically in the forms of our actions and creations. And the built environment in general and our cities in particular are among these

creations. Instead of telling people what sustainability is or could be, or why it is necessary, artists can show this through their art.

dialectic stance—of passion and compassion, and of aesthetic ethics/ethical aesthetics—is more than just another fashionable lifestyle.

I am not claiming that all art should be politically charged (but, on the other hand, all artists should be politically aware of the contexts they are living in). One artist who not only has a sensitive awareness of the socio-political context he works in but whose artworks are often also very critical politically is Tisna Sanjaya (b.1958, Bandung, Indonesia).

The critical socio-political disposition that underlies all his work has brought him problems. In early 2004, an installation he had created and installed in a public space in northern Bandung (close to the campus of ITB) was burned down by local authorities claiming it was garbage. He managed to collect the ashes of this burned-down installation, which he in turn recycled into a new artwork signifying the life-and-death cycle. And he urges us to appreciate again cyclical temporality in a time dominated by linearity of the market, industrialisation, and urbanisation.

Tisna Sanjaya studied art at ITB (1979–1986) and at the art school of Braunschweig in Germany (1991–1994 and 1997–1998). And while he is trained as a printmaker, he has over the years explored many different media, such as painting, installation, and performance art to make his powerful voice heard. He has also been a longtime faculty member at the art school of ITB, where he inspires generations of aspiring artists. In 2008, he had a widely acclaimed solo exhibition at the National Gallery in Jakarta titled Ideocracy: Rethinking the Regime of Etching. Eddy Soetriyono commented on this exhibition by stating that Tisna Sanjaya “devotes himself so completely to his art that there appears to be no boundary between his daily life and his art. Art underlies his daily behavior and daily life provides the source of his art.”2 And while the term “the art of living” has become en vogue, Tisna Sanjaya’s

In 2008, his artistic work took a spatial turn when he decided to purchase a plot of land in Cigondewah in southwest Bandung3 where he grew up. Since his childhood, however, the area has witnessed dramatic changes: from a rural setting with lush paddy fields and kids playing freely on communal land, it has turned into a highly industrialised and polluted neighbourhood dominated by textile factories and garbage recycling. Several environmental issues plague the area: flooding during rainy season, an overflow of garbage, and pollution of soil and water. Tisna Sanjaya decided to found the Cigondewah Cultural Centre as an attempt to rejuvenate the area. As a community centre, Tisna

Sanjaya’s Cigondewah Cultural Centre strives to create environmental awareness by organising various public events, such as the planting of trees, workshops, discussions, performance art, martial art, pigeon races, kite flying, and soccer games. Instead of telling people what sustainability means, he shows it by building up a piece of land in an area of Bandung that has to deal with the unwanted or even unintended consequences of industrialisation and urbanisation. And while kite flying seems rather frivolous in the light of these problems, to Tisna Sanjaya, the activity epitomises the freedom to use communal spaces—spaces that today have nearly disappeared from the urban face. Industrialisation and urbanisation, according to Tisna Sanjaya, destroyed the traditional communal uses of open spaces. He calls the environmental destruction the dark side of modernisation and he hopes that art can give light to illuminate this darkness. He sees that prosperity is only for the very few and private, while all have to deal with the public side effects of modernisation. In other words, the moral hazard is toxic: “Where a clean river once flowed, it is now filled with waste, clear water has now been replaced with a rainbow of colours . . . depending on the toxic discharge from the factories upstream.”4 It is, therefore, safe to claim that a more sustainable city is a more just city.


And while kite flying seems rather frivolous in the light of these problems, to Tisna Sanjaya, the activity epitomises the freedom to use communal spaces—spaces that today have nearly disappeared from the urban face.

In cities dominated by exchange and consumption, space and time have become colonised, which, in turn, results in a dissolution of the power to transform everyday urban life. However, art as a political praxis, as in Tisna Sanjaya’s Cigondewah Cultural Centre, can transform the everyday. And by creating again a shared space, Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city is cultivated. Henri Lefebvre writes: “To put art at the service of the urban does not mean to prettify urban space with works of art. This parody of the possible is a caricature.”5 The dissolution of power leads to apathy, which in turn erodes collective solidarity. Tisna Sanjaya’s public art deals with this public apathy. He claims that contemporary art is too isolated from social issues as it appeals to the mind rather than the heart. The use of art in places where it is out of place can lead to critical questions concerning its uses. As NUS Museum curator Karen Lim writes of Tisna Sanjaya’s Cigondewah project, his art “becomes a vehicle [rather than a commodity] to understand the world.” And we can add: to change it in the long run.6

doa untuk Batu Rengat (prayer for Batu Rengat), 120 × 120cm, mixed media on canvas (Batu Rengat is an area in Bandung).

(left) pelangi diatas sungai Cigondewah (rainbow above the Cigondewah river), 120 × 120cm, mixed media on photograph. (right) survey air (water survey), 45 × 65cm, mixed media, river water.

Through the many activities at Cigondewah Cultural Centre, Tisna Sanjaya attempts to raise awareness on how to adopt and adapt to more sustainable modes of urban living, which he sees as a necessity. And by creating awareness, a critical public could be formed. Therefore, by creating awareness of urban ecology, we can learn to relate to the city as participants. In the many mosques of Cigondewah, on the other hand, pollution is not discussed and he notices a “lack of connection between religion and reality.” “I want to stay here [in Cigondewah] and make that connection possible,” he writes.7 Tisna Sanjaya’s Cigondewah project certainly involves a long-term strategy, which requires patience in lobbying the local government and a focus on children as their hearts, as he puts it, can easier be touched. But he has to deal with suspicious factory owners in the

neighbourhood and the occasional setback. For example, he cleared a field so kids could play soccer, but it is now again covered with garbage. Andy Merrifield characterises Henri Lefebvre’s writings as a form of “new romanticism”—“a brazenly utopian response to the problems of technological culture and industrial civilization.”8 These words apply to the Sisyphean work of Tisna Sanjaya as well; it is remarkable that he does not despair but keeps on working on more sustainable ways of living. Tisna Sanjaya's public art in Cigondewah is a form of urban politics: he calls for poetic justice, which requires imagination and compassion (mixed with a good sense of humour so not to despair).9

1 Interview, June 25, 2011. 2 Eddy Soetriyono, “Tisna’s wholehearted stance,” C-Arts Magazine, accessed June 12, 2012. php?Title=TISNA%20SANJAYA%E2%80%99S%20 WHOLEHEARTED%20STANCE&articleID=46. 3 The plot of land was purchased in exchange with Tisna Sanjaya’s artworks, ever since he used the sales of his works to develop Cigondewah Cultural Centre. He calls the relationship between the art market and Cigondewah Cultural Centre a paradoxical one. 4 Artist’s statement, exhibition at the NUS Museum, 18 February–24 April 2011. 5 Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 173.6 “London 2012 Olympic Stadium,” in Deskarati, 6 Curatorial statement, exhibition at the NUS Museum, 18 February–24 April 2011.8 Stanley Matthews, 72. 7 “Theatre, religion and politics,” Pipeline 25 (December 2011): 35. 8 Andy Merrifield, “Lefebvre and Debord: A Faustian fusion,” in Space, Difference, Everyday Life, Reading Lefebvre, eds. Kanishka Goonewardena, Stefan Kipfer, Richard Milgrom and Christian Schmid ( New York and London: Routledge, 2008), 180. 9 Interview with Tisna Sanjaya, June 12, 2012. I thank Tisna Sanjaya for taking his time to give me his valuable input.

art & design



si Kabayan, 200 × 200cm, charcoal on canvas (Kabayan is a popular character from Sundanese culture, i.e. the culture in West Java province of which Bandung is the capital).

collaboration with KMSR ITB 2006 (KMSR is ITB’s art school alumni organisation).

wajah peradaban (the face of civilisation).

siklus sungai Citarum (the cycle of the Citarum river), mixed media.

survey air (water survey), 45 × 65cm, mixed media, river water.

art & design


Tisna sanjaya's Cigondewah Cultural Center in Bandung  

Tisna Sanjaya's work in Cigondewah, Bandung, intersects art and urban politics. In this essay, published in Singapore Architect, I argue tha...

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