Since its inception in 2006 by photographer Refi Mascot, the BauTanah (Smell of the Earth) community has made it a mission to use public space for art exhibitions and cultural events. It all started with a photography exhibition on a street alongside Cikini train station in Menteng, Central Jakarta.
The place was chosen in order to reach a larger group of everyday people. Street children strolling around the area, students passing by after class, bajaj drivers taking a break, housewives on their way home from grocery shopping, as well as young professionals and business executives during their lunch breaks, all had the chance to stop and take in the colorful art that had given the walls a new look.
That small strip of sidewalk has since been actively used by the community, not only for exhibitions, but also for performances and discussions, part of an attempt to turn the city streets into a place of creative expression and fellowship.
BauTanah also organizes free classes in different fields such as photography, drawing and even English and French language courses, which are open to anyone willing and eager to learn.
Over the weekend, BauTanah hosted a new exhibition called “History for Today.” The exhibit highlighted the works of BauTanah’s writing class.
A statement released by the community said that it had decided on this topic for several reasons.
“It is very rare that there is an exhibition about the written word, because usually writings are ‘exhibited’ through readings,” it said.
“Second, the exhibition involved a strong collaboration between writer and source, up to a point where the communication and networking between them still continues until now and didn’t stop when the project was finished.”
The writing class, which takes place every Sunday at 3 p.m., aims to nurture constructive criticism through citizen journalism and is usually held by professional writers and journalists from various media outlets. Class participants also learn how to write articles and about the ethics of journalism without having to go through a formal education at a university or a designated journalism school.
For “History for Today,” participants had two months to prepare, and each selected a topic they wanted to explore and research. The general theme was the history of Indonesia, but beyond that, the aspiring writers were free in their choices.
The results could be seen on large boards placed on the sidewalk and plastered to walls, accompanied by vintage-style photographs.
Some participants chose to examine the legacy of colonial rule in Indonesia. Suparibowo unraveled traces of the Dutch in Depok in his writing, while Dwi Widyastuti focused on Portuguese influence in North Jakarta’s Kampung Tugu.
Putri Ayusha’s contribution was a profile of Komunitas Historia Indonesia (Indonesian History Community) whose main aim is to bring the country’s history closer to its people and awaken their interest in what has come before, especially for a younger generation that seems to be losing its connection to events of the past.
Wiwid Tri Laksono picked the topic of “ jugun lanfu ”(“comfort women”), a dark chapter in the nation’s history, when young Indonesian girls became victims of sexual violence during World War II.
The exhibition was accompanied by a series of fringe events, including readings, discussions and presentations by the participating writers.
Even though the BauTanah gallery only occupies a small space, the community has done an impressive job over the past couple of years in making its few square meters count.