In Papua, Indonesia, where silenced voices linger, a group of young artists is wielding their brushes and creativity as a formidable force against the systemic oppression that has shrouded the region. The Udeido Collective, a beacon of artistic expression, endeavours to bring the Papuan narrative to the forefront, challenging ingrained stereotypes by giving voice to a community familiar with the weight of silence through art creation and exhibition, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Reduced Inequalities.

Photo of Udeido Collective members (from left) Dicky Takndare, Nelson Natkime, Yanto Gombo, Andre Takimai, Betty Adii, Constantinus Ruharusun and Michael Yan Devis. Image courtesy of The Jakarta Post.

Contemporary art has emerged as a poignant medium for Papuans to articulate their identity and grapple with the pervasive violence that has haunted their region. The Udeido Collective has embarked on a journey to dismantle the prevailing silence that has muffled their community's struggles. Rooted in a history of racism and marginalization, the collective consciously employs art as a tool to narrate the harsh realities faced by Indigenous Papuans. According to anthropologist, I Ngurah Suryawan this artistic endeavour challenges the accustomed silence that has enveloped Papuan society.

The Udeido Collective's visual works serve as a compelling chronicle of the multifaceted challenges Indigenous Papuans endure. Take, for example, the pen on paper piece, Nao Temea Lamenge by Nelson Naktime. In an interview with the BBC, Naktime shared that the piece’s title begs the question “Who are we?” To the people of Timika, Papua. It’s his form of critique of the larger world, one that does not care for the people of Papua. 

For him, this is seen in the exploitation of Papua by entities like Freeport McMoran, a company which runs The Grasberg Copper and Gold Mine. The Grasberg mine is the largest of its kind, with an open mine pit so large it can be seen from space. The mine is estimated to contain $108 billion worth of minerals and yet it sits on sacred land, belonging to the Amungme, Indigenous Papuans.

Naktime reflects this in his piece, through a bulldozer, surveillance cameras and toxic chemicals that force Papuans to work and craters their land.

Nao Temea Lamenge by Nelson Naktime. Image courtesy of IndoArtNow.

Meanwhile, A Little Gate to Koreri, a mixed-media installation by Dicky Takndare is a metaphor for a gate that connects the material and immaterial worlds. It is also a reflection on Papua’s Memoria Passionis, a book that records the exploitation of Papua extensively. Published by the Bishop of Jayapura, Papua, the book chronicles the human rights violations that occurred during  1998-1999.

During the time, Indonesia was transitioning out of an authoritarian regime, which led to increased calls for independence from provinces and regions that felt like Indonesia did not care for them adequately. This included the people of Papua, who felt like they were a minority in their land with “no obvious benefits to Papuans from the exploitation of natural resources; no development of human resources of Papuans themselves,” hence Indonesia enacted a police crackdown on the territory.

On this, Takndare writes in his Instagram caption that the piece is “a gate between your mind and the recorded fragments of Papuan suffering. [As] peace built by force is hollow, only understanding can realize it. May the gate take you into the realm of the Papuan mind.” Therefore, he bravely calls out Indonesia’s historically violent ways of maintaining Papua as a province, all while providing inadequate support as a nation-state. 

A Little Gate to Koreri by Dicky Takndare. Image courtesy of @udeido_collective/Instagram.

The artists of Udeido Collective craft a narrative that goes beyond the canvas and sculpture, delving into the intricate layers of Papuan life. The ollective's commitment to shedding light on the issues faced by their community becomes evident in the deliberate choice of subjects—vital Papuan figures, victims of violence and cultural icons—each telling a story that reverberates with the socio-political reality of Papua.

However, the journey of the Udeido Collective is not without its share of challenges. The artists confront not only the complexities of portraying sensitive issues but also external attempts to stifle their expression. Instances of curatorial interference and the disappearance of online exhibitions hint at systemic opposition to their provocative yet necessary narratives. The very essence of their art, intended to be a voice for the silenced, faces resistance from entities reluctant to confront the stark truths depicted on the canvas.

Udeido's influence extends beyond the art community, seeking to spark a broader cultural movement that resonates with the struggles of Papuans. By participating in prominent art events like the Jogja Biennale, the collective aims to amplify public awareness and challenge negative stereotypes surrounding Papuan identity. 

Mairi, a Udeido Collective exhibit at Sangkring Art Space, Jogjakarta. Image courtesy of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).

Yet, Udeido grapples with challenges both within and outside of Papua. The artists are underestimated within the broader art community, with their Papuan identity sometimes relegating them to the periphery. Meanwhile, in Papua, their challenge lies in grounding their movement in real Papuan communities, ensuring that the resonance of their art is not lost in translation but becomes a catalyst for change within their communities. Bridging the gap between urban expressions of socio-political issues and the realities of Papuan Indigenous villages becomes a crucial task for the collective. 

As Udeido envisions its future, the collective is determined to maintain its existence and continue its alignment with the humanity and interests of Indigenous Papuans. Their dream is simple but profound – to survive and work for as long as possible, fostering a cultural movement that draws inspiration from the resilience of legendary Papuan artists like Arnold Ap and Donatus Moiwend. The real challenge for Udeido lies in not just creating art but in building a sustainable movement that uplifts the dignity of Papuans, proving that art can be a powerful instrument in addressing inequalities.

In their defiance of silence, the Udeido Collective stands as a testament to the transformative power of art, inviting the world to witness the resilience, identity and struggles of the Papuan people. Through their vibrant canvases and sculptures, they bridge the gap between silenced narratives and global consciousness, offering a glimpse into a world that, for too long, has been obscured by systemic oppression.

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