Artists Channel Munir’s Spirit With Provocative Performances
Artist Wanggi Hoediyatno once performed a pantomime about the culture of impunity at the Indonesian Military — in front of its officers
By Yuli Krisna on 06:43 am Sep 07, 2014
Pantomime artist Wanggi Hoediyatno has produced dozens of works on the slain human rights activist Munir Said Thalib. (JG Photo/Yuli Krisna)
Carrying a poster saying “Desire for Justice” with the picture of slain human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, the tall and slender man is ready to perform his act.
Wanggi Hoediyatno is a pantomime performer from Bandung, West Java who is well known for his Munir-inspired repertoires. On a recent day he held a special performance at his rented home on Jalan Rajamantri Tengah for a visiting Jakarta Globe reporter on a solo piece titled “Jangan Diam,” or “Don’t Keep Silent,” a satirical title for a pantomime performance.
Without the use of words, using nothing but the power of his expression and gestures full of symbolism, he told a story of how Munir was killed and how the Indonesian government failed to bring those responsible to justice.
Wanggi said he came to know Munir, a year after his death, through an event that paid tribute to the human rights defender. Wanggi, who at the time was a senior in high school, became inspired to follow Munir’s examples, by speaking up for justice through his art.
“Munir’s words gave me energy never to be afraid to tell the truth no matter how hard it is [for others] to believe,” Wanggi said.
For Wanggi, Munir is a source of inspiration 10 years after his death. Wanggi, who majored in theater at the Indonesian School of Arts (STSI) Bandung, said around 40 of the 60 pantomime works he had produced are about Munir. The rest touches on social issues including malnutrition.
Songs and graphic designs
Wanggi is not the only artist to be inspired by Munir and his constant fight for justice. Munir has also become a muse for musicians, poets and performers.
Rock band Navicula, known for making socially and politically critical songs, wrote a song for Munir titled “Refuse to Forget” about the unresolved case over the circumstances of his death. Munir died on Sept. 7, 2004 on a flight en route to the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, pop indie band Efek Rumah Kaca wrote several songs about Munir like “Di Udara” or “In the Air” about how Munir was poisoned on board the flight to Amsterdam and “Hilang” or “Missing,” which talks about how his death left a void in the hearts of many Indonesians.
Yogyakarta-based art collective Anti-Tank created a graphic design work depicting Munir, which anyone can download and adapt into T-shirts, posters and other applications for campaigns and rallies. Likewise, anonymous graphic designer Nobodycorp has created several downloadable black-and-white works for rallies as well as more elaborate, colorful works for social media.
Novia Seni Astriani, campaign and network manager at Solidarity Action Committee for Munir (Kasum), says that art is the most effective medium to educate people about Munir.
“Most of today’s youth don’t know who Munir is, what his case is all about. Ten years ago, they were still kids,” she said.
“We want to say that Munir as an issue is not only for NGOs [nongovernmental organizations]. His struggle does not only benefit activists. As youths we can also contribute to the resolution of Munir’s case through our own means and media.”
Novia said year after year there had never been a shortage of artists and musicians willing to contribute to anniversaries of his death. To accommodate the artists’ desire to contribute, Kasum set up Sahabat Munir (Munir’s Friends), an informal group that unites activists, students, artists and victims of violence.
“There’s no form to fill or anything,” she said, adding that the movement has now spread to major cities and towns across Indonesia. The group lets people of different backgrounds to start their own campaign activities to push for the resolution of Munir’s case or other human rights abuses.
“Usually during anniversaries like this there will be a lot of activities. On other days, we usually visit local communities or victims of eviction or land grab. We play films [about Munir] and stage discussions,” Novia continued.
For Wanggi, Munir’s courage to fight for victims of violence despite facing constant death threats had helped him to deal with his own threats and criticisms.
In February 2011, after putting on a performance criticizing malnutrition, Wanggi said he was followed and for days received on his phone death threats.
“My friend and I once performed at a TNI [Indonesian Military] anniversary celebration, and we put on a pantomime performance about the culture of impunity at the TNI. Several officers politely told us to leave. Afterwards I was called a few times by Kodim [Military Infantry Command] asking me to meet them. I was afraid it might have been a set-up,” he claimed.
Since then Wanggi and his friends at Mixi Imajimime Theater were never again booked to perform at major events, with organizers saying they were afraid to invite them.
“But the threats Munir had received must have been a lot worse, but still he continued to fight. This emboldens me,” he said.
Wanggi’s consistency to fight against injustice through pantomime eventually paid off. Recently he and his team were invited to tour across Indonesia, Vietnam and Timor Leste by a French circus act.
Last year, he got to meet one of his idols, Munir’s widow, Suciwati.
On Sunday, several groups are staging various activities — from street performances to murals to discussions — to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Munir’s death, in several cities including Jakarta, Bandung and his hometown Malang.
On Wednesday night, Kasum and Sahabat Munir will stage a public film-screening event and a discussion. Three films about Munir will be on view: “Garuda Deadly Upgrade,” “Bunga Dibakar” (Burned Flower) and “Kiri Hijau Kanan Merah” (Left Green Right Red).
“We have the momentum of having a new president,” Novia said, referring to President-elect Joko Widodo, who will be inaugurated into office next month.
“We want to remind the public through paintings, music, performances. We want to say: Let’s remind the new president together that he has big tasks at hand. There are Munir’s case as well as other human rights cases still unresolved.”
Additional reporting by Nivell Rayda in Jakarta
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