Swinging pink flesh drives Indonesian Muslims wild

The following post is, statistically, the most popular (well, most clicked) post on this site for Indonesian web-surfers. Google link stats suggest this is because many web-surfers located in Indonesia come here hoping to see ‘Anjasmara nude’ (‘Anjasmara bugil’). Could this be true? If you are visiting this site from Indonesia, leave a comment to register your disappointment, or any other feelings you have.


Here is the photograph and installation that is causing all the fuss in Indonesia. It is neither very offensive nor very interesting. As usual, scale makes up for what imagination fails to provide: apparently it is pretty big—“massive,” the journalists say. The photographs show the wall-height photograph is wrapped around an actual pink swing—like a backyard or playground swing, painted pink—large enough for a child (or small adult) to sit in. And the little, white dots that coyly camouflage the models’ naughty bits are in the original and have not been added to protect you here.

However, in truth, as everyone in Indonesia seems to realise, the furore about Pink Swing Park is not really about art at all but about the larger national debate in which power-hungry religious ideologues have decided they will mobilise the passions of their followers by attempting to outlaw whatever they say will inflame human desires.

Tight clothing, erotica and, who knows, maybe even chocolate (!?) are on their way out in Indonesia.

Women, in any case, should stay at home. That is the simplest way to prevent them inflaming male passions.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I think this is the correct strategy. I believe we should be encouraging the whole Muslim world to introduce radically repressive laws against all forms of indecency, sexuality and anything that inflames desire. While we are at it, let us encourage them, also, to reject everything tainted by the unfriendly, unclean hand of the West. And I think we should encourage them to keep their women at home, sheltered, uneducated and forbidden to travel without chaperon. The Muslim world should be encouraged to destroy all its great works of art, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, and to destroy as much history and as many books as they find objectionable. Only in their own countries, of course, and as an example to the rest of us.


Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up

Photo: Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar
By Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
February 25, 2006

ROCKING in a pink swing fashioned from the cab of a pedal-driven rickshaw, Agus Suwage felt at peace. He had just installed his Pinkswing Park exhibit at Jakarta’s international biennale and was surrounded by massive panels with multiple pictures of a near-naked man and woman frolicking in a utopian park—a world away from thoughts of religious furore, public condemnation and possible imprisonment.

The softly spoken, bespectacled 47-year-old seems an unlikely martyr, his only concession to the battle now enveloping his life is a peaked camouflage hat with a skull and crossbones button pinned to its front.

Within days of November’s exhibition launch, Islamic fundamentalists had shoved Suwage to the forefront of their struggle to redefine Indonesia by descending on the biennale, forcing its closure and demanding prosecutions. At first police claimed his work blasphemed the story of Adam and Eve, then last week they told Suwage he faced five years in jail for producing pornography.

The same groups staging violent demonstrations against the West over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad are targeting pornography in their battle to transform Indonesia into a strict Islamic nation. And they are winning: parliament is set to introduce a sweeping anti-pornography law.

Expected to be passed by June, the law imposes a rigid social template; couples who kiss in public will face up to five years’ jail, as would anyone flaunting a “sensual body part”—including their navel—and tight clothing will be outlawed.

Most women’s groups are horrified, entertainment industries believe it could destroy them and Bali’s embattled tourism authorities are alarmed at the prospect of sunbathing tourists being arrested.

Mainstream Islamic organisations are warning of moral decay and backing the bill, while politicians, wary of alienating Indonesia’s Muslim majority, are condoning the growing anti-porn movement.

Plans to introduce Playboy’s soft porn to the Indonesian market next month have become another focus of rowdy demonstrations, with protesters portraying the magazine as a symbol of the decadent West’s attack on Islam. Playboy’s publishers are proposing a bizarre compromise, no naked women will be featured—Indonesians, at least, will be able to say they only buy it for the articles.

In Jakarta, police have seized hundreds of thousands of “erotic” magazines—including FHM and Rolling Stone—and DVDs, after an edict from police chief Sutanto to “eradicate pornography”.

The Islamic Defenders Front spearheads the anti-porn protests. It took two days to track down its leader, Habib Riziek, this week—he was at police headquarters, seeking information about “his men” arrested for allegedly attacking the US embassy in Jakarta last week. Porn, including artworks such as Suwage’s, contributes to moral delinquency, Riziek claims. “We don’t care about the technicality of the picture,” he says. “What we care is that the picture is publicly exhibited and it is pornography and it would damage morals.” Suwage believes his work captured attention because one of the models, Anjasmara, is a popular soapie star. The two models, photographer Davy Linggar and the curator of the biennale, Jim Supangkat, are also facing criminal charges.

Suwage is increasingly bitter about Supangkat’s reaction to the protest. After hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the exhibition, a panicked Supangkat ordered the offending panels to be covered with white cloth. Other artists draped their own works in solidarity and Supangkat closed the biennale, permanently.

Suwage believes his prosecution is linked to pressure to pass the anti-porn law and the desire of fundamentalists to impose Islamic rule on Indonesia. Suwage, who is afraid of prison, says he is determined to fight.

Based at a small cafe gallery in Jakarta’s backpacker precinct, Suwage and a motley collective or artists are mobilising against the new law. “From this case, we make a manifesto for art against the pornography bill. It’s very dangerous for freedom of expression but it also threatens other aspects of society.” Riziek remains emphatic the bill is essential to “guard the nation’s morality” against pornography, which extends past explicit photographs to “anything that could arouse sexual desire”.

Balkan Kaplale heads the parliamentary committee finalising the pornography bill and is confident it will become law this year.

It would halt the publication of magazines such as Playboy, he says. “ Playboy would place a time bomb in Indonesia, what guarantee is there it would not arrive in the hands of our children? Playboy is American magazine. Please, don’t play this game with Indonesians, we have dignity.”

Indonesians also have sensuality, says leading feminist and university professor Gadis Arriva. “Women here have always dressed sexily and in tight clothes, this law is something very alien to us, we have barebreasted women in Bali and Papua, this is part of our culture.”

In Bali, the head of the government’s tourism authority, Gede Nurjaya, agrees. Traditional Balinese art and dance could become illegal, he believes. He is concerned prohibitions against kissing and revealing bodies could be imposed against foreigners, destroying Bali’s faltering tourism industry.

Arriva says most women’s groups oppose the bill. “Most of it restricts women, what they wear, how they act. It even creates a board that would go around monitoring women’s behaviour.”

The new law would also gag a flourishing emergence of young female writers, who write openly about sexuality. “It states it is illegal to express any sexual desire, even imagine sex—how do you prove that?” asks Arriva.

She sees the anti-porn movement as part of an agenda to reshape Indonesia, with pornography a symbol of Western culture to the many Muslims who believe globalisation aims to destroy their culture. Adrian Vickers, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Wollongong, agrees the debate is “part of whipping up a moral panic about Western decadence eroding Indonesian culture and morality”, with the potential to push Indonesia towards an Islamic state. “Given anxieties about terrorism, a more Islamic Indonesia could see Australia very much as the enemy,” he warns.

A closed society looms, says Suwage. “There would be no freedom, it will have a big impact for us, for artists, but it will go everywhere. I don’t believe a picture can change a person’s morality. Morality starts from the individual, from inside, not from dogma.”

with Karuni Rompies


Elsewhere, on a similar theme

and on the changing face of Indonesia