Established Indonesian street artist, Ryan Riyadi, who’s better known as Popo has long believed that art is best used to convey social commentary. Now in the wake of the Israel-Palestine war, he has created a piece titled, The Palestine that highlights the art world’s general indifference towards the war, choosing to auction off the piece to benefit Palestinian children in reflection of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
As an artist whose career has spanned over a decade and a half, Riyadi has consistently been conveying social commentary through his murals and works on canvas. His comedic alter-ego character, Popo (an abbreviation for Positive Progressive), emerges as an iconic protagonist who conveys his whims.
Riyadi’s goal in artmaking was never to bring about concrete social change, but to simply give his thoughts an outlet, "[My] motivation is just to complain, or to say something. Just like a diary," he expressed in an interview with BBC News Indonesia.
With this in mind, over the years Riyadi’s art has spoken about everything from society’s polarized views on social media to the indulgence of brand names.
Amid the Israel-Palestine war, the artist shared a sketch for a new piece on his Instagram in which the art world’s current star, Kaws’ renowned bunny character can be seen. Splayed on its back with its ears cut off, Kaws’ bunny holds out a watermelon in-between its parodied cartoon hands, a prominent symbol of Palestinian solidarity that’s been especially popular amongst creatives online. In the caption, the Indonesian artist mentions Kaws using the Javanese phrase "wes tangi, lur @kaws?" which translates to "we are crying, are you? @kaws” bringing attention to the current crisis.
Riyadi then proceeded to create a mural out of the sketch, in his playful style while parodying Kaws’ piece again. He decided to auction off two 3x3 meters editions of the mural on Instagram as well. Aside from that he also auctioned Rich Saleh, a work on canvas which highlights socio-economic gaps in society, especially poking fun at the role that art plays within it. Riyadi does this by having Popo dressed up as Indonesia’s renowned modern painter, Raden Saleh, with a Bahasa Indonesia sentence that translates to “Rich people are afraid of being poor, poor people are not afraid of being rich” graffitied in red beside him.
After the auction, Riyadi declared that the proceeds from both The Palestine and The Rich Saleh summed up to USD 5,360, and was directly transferred to the Embassy of Palestine in Jakarta, Indonesia. He also included the proof of transactions in an Instagram post. Additionally, he collaborated with Geoff Max, a local streetwear brand to create 'The Palestine' T-shirt, ensuring that the profits would be contributed to the cause.