Stroom Invest interviews / curator #3 Riksa Afiaty

Riksa Afiaty is a curator based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Over the past five years she has been heavily involved in the Jakarta art scene through her work with the art collective Ruangrupa Jakarta and Jakarta Biennale. She has also gained international exposure through her work and residencies Asia and Europe, where she has worked to expose the unequal power distributions that still result from Western colonialist institutions.

J+T spoke with Riksa to learn more about her experiences as a woman and curator in Jakarta and beyond.

Stroom Invest interviews / curator #3 Riksa Afiaty
Riksa Afiaty

What is your favorite part of being a curator?
Being in an airport. Because when you just land yourself in the airport, I feel like I should be prepared to get to know the other contexts and I should prepare myself for what kind of culture I will face once I get out of the airport. It’s kind of a learning process. It’s important to learn from contexts, what are the issues, what problems in one context, and in another context, in another city, there are other issues that we should have to deal with.

What is your least favorite part?
Being away from my boyfriend.

What’s your favorite possession?
I think for now it’s my laptop.

What is the perfect art?
I don’t think there is such thing as the perfect art, but I think I would say art has to be more authentic, in ideas, and how art deals with issues, and how art works with a specific medium.

Is there any art that scares you?
Sometimes when it’s dealing with reality, and it’s exploiting the truth of the reality, I think that’s scary.

What is your motto or personal philosophy as a curator?
Being productive; not too much but not too less.

What do you consider your greatest achievement as a curator?
Learning from different perspectives. Art should have an impact or narrate social issues. I think learning from artists’ perspectives and other contexts, that’s important to me, and experiencing their authenticity as a woman and as a person. When you’re working with an artist from the Netherlands, and they’re talking about what they go through, it’s so different from me. I should get to know their struggle. We all share our stories and our knowledge. Something like this, it’s kind of like they speak another language from me.

What artists or movements have most influenced your life or way of thinking?
Errorista by Etcétera. I got to know them in Jakarta in 2015. I think the most important thing I learned from them is how to be subversive. Making an error is not making a mistake, but making an error for me, it’s kind of like a learning process. I think this is a positive message for me because in our society now, we always have to be more productive, and after you finish one project people always ask, what’s next? But nobody ever asks, what’s the person behind this project? It inspires me a lot.

Stroom Invest interviews / curator #3 Riksa Afiaty
From the exhibit "Power and Other Things," co-curated by Riksa Afiaty and Charles Esche at BOZAR in Brussels. Photo by Jin Panji

As a curator, what is your greatest merit? What is your biggest flaw?
Decision making could be one answer to both questions. I think decision making is important, but sometimes decision making also makes you scared because you suddenly know that you have the power, and after you have the power, I would feel, like, oh my gosh, did I abuse the power process within me? So I think it’s important to be careful as a curator to make decisions, like how to display something or how to deal with the artist, it seems very simple or fairly basic, but we have to be careful because you are the decision-maker. I’m still learning.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve been involved in? Either one-time or on-going.
Working with all-female curators toward the Moelyono (Indonesian artist) retrospective. I think we work with the same understanding and we’re working as equals, we have this vision, so I think that’s the most important thing to work with.

How would you describe the art scene in Jakarta and Indonesia? What do you think people outside the culture should know about it?
Jakarta art scene is raw, furious, and reactive, you should experience itself by jumping into the chaos. I think it comes from itself. The city makes the people and the people make the city.

You’ve done work to document street art and exhibit street artists’ work. Why is this an important collaboration for you?
I learn that street art and graffiti having specific syntax compare to other art. I think the difference between street artist and more traditional artists is how they deal with the space and working with the public space. I think they are more aware of this audience because of technology, the internet and social media. You can see art from three days ago from their own Instagram. When you go to see it, it may be already gone. In the streets, they have this consciousness that, when I do this, it will not last forever.

How does street art, which can definitely be seen as a form of resistance or statement against authority, tie into your interest in rethinking or rejecting colonial power structures that are often so influential even to this day in many parts of the world?
The endurance of resistance and existence toward the oligarch, I think, is important to highlight. Art challenges the colonial gestures by articulating subversive ideas so that they can be visible in daily life.


From the exhibit "Power and Other Things," co-curated by Riksa Afiaty and Charles Esche
Photos by Jin Panji

What is it like to travel to countries that were colonial powers? Do you feel like that’s something people like to concentrate on when you’re there? Are you hoping to spread awareness of what it’s like in these countries that were colonized?
I think to spread the issue and this awareness and deal with this kind of consciousness, that the colonial is still implemented in our society. I think for me it’s also to talk about this privilege, and the gesture of the colonial that’s still implemented in our daily society. I think it’s important to talk about the privilege because it’s part of this colonial problem. It’s the same as the abuse of power. I think this is still implied in our society that we are talking about it now.

The patriarchy, it’s still part of this colonial issue. The female erasure is part of our society. It’s been going on, but we do not realize it because it has become normalized. For example, it’s normal that the woman has a smaller payment from the man. We normalize this gesture. If we look slightly to the past, we realize it’s been a long time, and why doesn’t society change? Technology has changed, the knowledge has changed, the economical system has changed, but why, the simple gestures from the culture, the basic things from humanism, doesn’t change. We should realize this.

As a female curator in Jakarta, do you run into sexism often?
Of course. Yeah. Still the woman doesn’t have any position or doesn’t have enough position to make decisions. The man is always the leader or the decision maker of everything. I think I still see it. Or we normalize that. Like, oh, ok, there are a lot more man artists than woman artists, and we work with the woman artists, but [organizers] are always apologetic and say, oh, these artists are the best we can get. Why don’t we just say that working with the woman artist is also the best we can get? You have to reverse your logic, or something like that.

We are just becoming normal, that whatever we can get, the best we can get is always the man, because they have more chance to be in the university, for example. In the Indonesian context, when you are a man, you can be whatever you want to be. You can be an artist, a painter, a sculptor. But when it comes to being a woman, you have to deal with something more stable. You have to learn the economy, you have to become a doctor, you have to become a nurse or something that in the future, you can get a stable income. But for a man, you can just do whatever you want. Suddenly you realize that the men have more freedom. It’s privilege, again.

And how do you deal with that sexism? How do you not let it affect your work and what you do?
I think we should raise our voices. I think it’s important. But of course, when you speak your voices there is also this tendency that as a woman you are too difficult to work with, or as a woman you are too bossy. But no, I am not too bossy. If you normalize this attitude, you cannot change the society. That’s why, as a woman, some of my friends, woman artists and woman curators, we raise our voices and we say, this is who I am and you have to deal with who I am. So you have to deal with our problems and our society. So I think that is also important. Once again, it’s uncomfortable to say that because there is the judgement that, oh, you are too difficult. But we have to take the risk and say, this is not right, we have to change it. And from there, maybe we can start a new normal.


Stroom Invest interviews / curator #3 Riksa Afiaty
From the exhibit "Power and Other Things," co-curated by Riksa Afiaty and Charles Esche at BOZAR in Brussels. Photo by Jin Panji

What else would you like people to know about you, either as a curator or an individual?
I am socially awkward. It’s strange because when you are in this art world, you have to know how to break the ice, but I’m not that person. So I think sometimes, maybe I’m in the wrong world. But it is my thing, you know, being the awkward curator, being awkward in the opening, being awkward in the study. When Stroom invited me to be a visiting curator, it was challenging, but at the same time I was like, I am so socially awkward I cannot speak to people who I cannot get to know. So maybe I should Google it first, and then I can break the ice by asking, so what are you doing with your art? I have to be more social.

What do you hope to experience in the Hague?
I think the most important thing is to get to know the other contacts. When I saw the artist list from the Hague, I was thinking, it’s important to get to know them. With the artists, more or less they’re from the same generation as me, so maybe I can get to know what kind of inspiration, what kind of is their trigger to make artwork, because it’s important as my generation to get to know what we are doing and how we deal with our current issues today. It’s also like the contact of the Netherlands, it’s so specific because I’m dealing with this colonial issue. So maybe from the Hague, from the studio visit, I can see it, or I can compare, what is the difference, what is the similarity coming from the same generation? I hope we talk different issues than the colonial. It’s kind of a great deal to be in the Hague. I’m looking forward to it.


In a collaboration between Jegens & Tevens and Stroom Den Haag a series of interviews will be published with (inter)national curators, artists and critics participating in Stroom’s Invest Week 2018.

The Invest Week is an annual 4-day program for artists who were granted the PRO Invest subsidy. This subsidy supports young artists based in The Hague in the development of their artistic practice and is aimed to keep artists and graduates of the art academy in the city of The Hague. In order to give the artists an extra incentive, Stroom organizes this week that consists of a public evening of talks, a program of studio visits, presentations and a number of informal meetings. The intent is to broaden the visibility of artists from The Hague through future exhibitions, presentations and exchange programs. The Invest Week 2018 will take place from 18 to 22 June, the public evening is on Wednesday following the exhibition My Practice My Politics.

Stroom Invest Week overview