Indonesian art collective ruangrupa has become the first ever Asians and first ever art collective to be chosen to curate the prestigious documenta art exhibition in Kassel, Germany.

Running since 1955, documenta is considered one of the world’s most prestigious art events, and once featured the likes of Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso.

Held once every five years, it is on par with such global events as the Venice Biennale or Art Basel, and sees hundreds of thousands of collectors, figures, artists or the mere curious descend on the industrial German town for 100 days for an exhibition that does not focus on sales.

The collective was chosen unanimously by the event’s eight-member International Finding Committee, which consists of art curators and directors, to curate the event in 2022. The committee chose ruangrupa for its “ability to appeal to various communities, including groups that go beyond pure art audiences, and to promote local commitment and participation”.

“At a time when innovative strength stems from independent organizations active at the community level, it seems only logical to offer this collective approach a platform with documenta,” the jurors said in a statement released recently.

Ruangrupa is a unique choice for documenta’s 15th edition, named documenta 15, as it is the first time the festival’s curatorial role has been bestowed on a group of artists rather than professional, full-time art curators.

Set up in 2000, ruangrupa is known mainly for its bright-coloured aesthetics and fierce loyalty to local wisdom, offering intense social commentaries in various artistic mediums while at the same time balancing it with light-hearted methods and humour.

Ruangrupa has previously taken part in a documenta event. The group set up the Every Time a Ear di Soun Internet radio station as part of documenta 14 in 2017.

The group, the name of which loosely translates to “a space for art” or “a space form”, has exhibited works in such places as Brazil, Denmark, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the Netherlands and Turkey.

The collective has had curating experiences at international events as well, such as the Sonsbeek Art Exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands, in 2016, where the group focused more on exhibiting local interactions and the local wisdom of Arnhem.

In Indonesia, ruangrupa is renowned for its various exhibitions and participation in large scale Indonesian art events.

“Documenta is consciously giving room to the non-European view,” said Angela Dorm, minister of higher education, research and the arts for Kessel’s Hesse state.

“Ruangrupa uses art in its home country to address public issues and problems. I’m looking forward to seeing how they incorporate this idea in documenta,” she added.

Farid Rakun and Ade Darmawan represented the 10-member core of ruangrupa in Kassel. Other members are Ajeng Nurul Aini, Daniella Fitria, Praptono Indra Ameng, Iswanto Hartono, Julia Sarisetiati, Mirwan Andan, Narpati Awangga and Reza Afisina.

Ade, the collective’s director, said they had not planned out the entirety of what they would bring but aimed to create a globally oriented, cooperative, interdisciplinary art and culture platform that would have an impact beyond the 100 days of documenta 15.

“If documenta was launched in 1955 to heal war wounds, why shouldn’t we focus documenta 15 on today’s injuries, especially ones rooted in colonialism, capitalism, or patriarchal structures, and contrast them with partnership-based models that enable people to have a different view of the world,” said Ade.

Ruangrupa will also resort to their usual methods of utilising community oriented models of resource use, taking ideas, knowledge and programs into account.

“When we were chosen to become documenta15’s artistic director, we dedicated a large amount of time to internally discuss the opportunity and what could be done about it. Our curation plan will simply follow what documenta needs us to do, and also according to our own curation mechanisms that have made ruangrupa what it is for the past 19 years,” said Ade on behalf of the collective.

For the collective, the appointment is both as an opportunity and a testament to its two-decade long effort to sustain independent art in Indonesia. By bringing the country’s art to the forefront through documenta, it can make one if its largest contributions to Indonesian art.

“Ruangrupa is not just a collective of artists. Our backgrounds vary diversely and geographically. Everyone contributes their part equally – like in a band. The important thing now is to just take it in with the harmony and humor we have sustained among ourselves all this time.” – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network