Biennale Jogja (BJ) is an international biennial run by Yogyakarta Regional Government and organized by Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta (YBY). It was first organized in 1988, and this year reached its 14th edition. Starting with 2011, YBY launched the project of Biennale Jogja Equator series (Biennale Equator) with focus on the region of the equator belt. Biennale Jogja assumes the equator as a new perspective which simultaneously opens up to confront the ‘establishment’ as well the conventions towards the organization of such events. Equator represents the starting point to create a common platform to “re-read’” the world.


BJ Equator series will bring Indonesia, particularly Yogyakarta, on a trip around the planet for 10 years. For each of the organized editions, Biennale Equator will collaborate with one or more countries or regions around the line of equator.


Through visual art events, the encounter in BJ Equator will be implemented with the spirit to develop continuous connections to a point in which dialog, collaboration, and partnership create new wider and sustainable possibilities between practitioners positioned in the region of equator. Its hope is to bring contributions to the topographic establishments in the field of global art formulated in novel ways.


The organization of Biennale Equator along the years included:

Equator #1 2011             :            Indonesia – India

Equator #2 2013             :            Indonesia – countries from the Arab region

Equator #3 2015             :            Indonesia – Nigeria (Africa)

Equator #4 2017             :            Indonesia – Brazil


This edition of Jogja Biennale Equator 2017 represents the furthest point in the trip around the Equatorial belt. For the fourth equator edition, Brazil has been selected as the partner country.


Indonesia meets Brazil


In the National Front Seminar attended by hundreds of members as regimen students in Makassar, the Commander of the Armed Forces General Gatot Nurmantyo explained about the importance of collaboration between countries positioned in the Equator towards facing the global problems of the future. He warned that the current energy crisis presents the threat to change into an agricultural crisis. Moreover, these conflicts that take place in the region of Arab are expected to shift towards other regions in the equator with long cultivating seasons.


The shortage in the reserves of fossil energy to fill the production demands of the world big industries has put Arab region in a position of increasingly dangerous conflicts. The crisis in Iraq, Egypt, Libia, and Suriah triggered a wave of massive migrations, and humanitarian crisis awakened the consciousness of fundamentalists to demand urgent change. The violent outbreaks delivered to the wrong destination has spread to various parts of the world with traumatic explosions of terror actions having trounced Indonesia as well. These recent traumatic events open up new consciousness to review the collaborations between Indonesia and other countries.


Brazil is a country in the equator region with a long cultivating season which has successfully developed bioenergy as an alternative industry to fossil energy. Therefore, tightening the working collaborations with Brazil will nevertheless have a strategic value to answer the challenges of the future. In the process of tightening these relations, the long distance and the gap in cultural differences will be the main obstacle in the encounter with Brazil. Thus, the encounter between Indonesia and Brazil in Biennale Jogja Equator this time represents an effort to develop conversations to reciprocally understand the cultures of various countries through contemporary visual art.


During the first visit to Brazil in November 2016, Biennale Jogja team found an aesthetic moment in the 32nd edition of São Paulo Biennial, Live Uncertainty. This event did not just reflect the issue of political and economic instability due to the traumatic moment when the political power changed in Brazil in the previous year, but also wished to explore the issue of ecology as the base of the problem. Global warming and its effects on our habitats, the annihilation of species and the biological diversity have also largely contributed to the loss of cultural diversity. How to respond the issue of Live Uncertainty when the outbreaks of fear have influenced the psychological condition of the individual and collective is what stands as a proffered inquiry during the 32nd edition of São Paulo Biennial.

Curatorial Biennale Jogja

Biennale Jogja XIV Equator #4 will respond to the issue of live uncertainty which has made us less brave to hope as the reality has become increasingly hard to understand.


The main team raised in Biennale Jogja XIV Equator #4 is:



This big narrative invites us to experience a transition from uncertainty towards hope. The narration will present a series of traumatic moments which can be interpreted as aesthetic moments of raising awareness. Nine repertoires will be shown, consisting of three main parts such as Organizing Chaos as the main theme for Festival Equator, Stage of Hopelessness as the main theme for Main Exhibition and Parallel Events, and Managing Hope as the theme for Biennale Forum.



(Festival Equator)


Focuses on the emergence of unfamiliarity increasingly hard to understand, and the outbreak of craziness as a sign for change (phenomena of hoaxes and offending speeches).


As a theme for Festival Equator held before the opening of the main exhibition, Organizing Chaos is a organized accumulation of chaos. The unusual circumstances and unfamiliar events will be shown in the public spaces to remind people once again about the past traumatic moments. This will be the theme for staging the performances of this biennial.



(Main Exhibition and Parallel Events)


Denial of Reality, about the cult of an ideal life, refusal for painful changes, and the outbreak of total lack of care for change (phenomena of victorious fake promises in a corrosive democracy, in a free and arbitrary market).

Event illustration: the victory of Donald Trump, the election of Jakarta Governor in 2017, the change of power in Brazil 2015.

Anger at Circumstances, about the collapse of an ideal life, the coercion of will for change, and the outbreak of power unfairly (phenomena of apocalyptic daily life illusions in a corrosive system of belief, the emergence of fundamentalists and resistance of the global system, protests, etc)

Event illustration: boycotts, the public action 212 in Jakarta, labor strike, demonstrations, mass riots.

Despair at Nothingness, about the rupture of human relations, loss of love and togetherness, unproductive behaviour, and harmful outbursts (phenomena of alienation, behavioral deviations, desire for suicide, or terrorist actions).

Event illustration: terrorist attempts in Indonesia and various countries in the world connected with ISIS; the spread of narcotics in Brazilian favelas; domestic violence, the case of the child disappearance in Bali.

Life beyond Death, about the traumatic reality, negotiations between life and death, the surrender to the will of nature and survival instincts (phenomena of natural changes which overcomes the uncertainty and spiritual change that follows it).

Event illustration: natural disasters of large scale, such as the earthquake in Jogja in 2006, tsunami in Aceh in 2004, floods and landslides in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.

Consolation at Nothingness, about the tied and full of wittiness relations, the growth of love and togetherness, the capacity to see the beauty in simplicity, productive behaviour and creative outbursts (phenomena of human movements and environmental friendly actions).

Event illustration: the emergence of communities that defend peripheric communities, sub-culture, and humanitarianism.

Reality Awareness, about the merge of the intellect with the senses in facing problems, new awareness in creating alternative changes (phenomena of simple useful discoveries, the emergence of local wisdom and independent spirit non-attached to the global system).

Event illustration: innovative findings such as yams which can replace fossils for burning.

Reality Acceptance, about the courage to stop hoping, but ready to accept the paynful changes, and expressions of actions of freedom (phenomena of victory of sacrifice, the inheritage of the past for the future).

Illustration: the death of Salim Kancil in Luamajang.


stAGE OF HOPElessness is the theme for the Main Exhibition and Parallel Event. The theme will be responded by the artworks of the artists from Indonesia and Brazil through the main exhibition venue at Jogja National Museum and in the art spaces from Yogyakarta involved in the Parallel Event. The theme is a lengthy passage crossing the psychological stages from uncertainty to hope.



(Biennale Forum)

Focuses on productive conversations starting from the awareness of the existence of traumatic moments in our lives as aesthetic moments. These are hoped to provide answers to our problems of live uncertainty which we face day by day.

Managing Hope is the theme for Biennale Forum in a series of meetings to ignite discussions based on the reality of today and to search new possibilities for a better future.

Interviewing Equator: Biennale Jogja 2011 – 2022

Since 2011, BJ has shown a great change in its vision, mission and mechanism of organizing the event. In 2010, the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation (Yayasan Biennale Yogyakarta/YBY) designed and launched the new project of BJ as a long-term program plan that will be held until the next decade, the year 2022. It came out with the goal of developing new perspectives in contemporary art discourse, as well as opening itself and revising the conventions of programs of its kind. YBY intends to make Yogyakarta and Indonesia more known broadly as a significant site in the constellation of international art scene. Among the dynamics of a global art scene that appears to be inclusive and egalitarian, the hierarchies of centers and peripheries in fact still strongly exist. Therefore, the need  to intervene is urgent. YBY imagines a common platform that can support, intervene and provoke the dominance of the centers, as well as offering alternatives through the diversity of contemporary art practice from the Indonesian perspective.

Within the next 10 years, YBY will organize BJ as a series of exhibition and art activities that adheres to one great theme, EQUATOR. This Biennale series sets the equatorial locations as its main premise and working area, i.e. the particular geographical areas of earth ranged between the latitudes 23.27° NL and 23.27° SL. In every event, BJ will choose to work with one or more countries/regions as its partner, by inviting the artists and art communities from the chosen partnering countries within the equatorial areas to collaborate, create, exhibit, encounter and dialog with Indonesian artists, collectives, organizations and cultural communities, in Yogyakarta.

The countries/regions within the equatorial areas that have been planned to partner with BJ for the next 10 years are:

  1. India (Biennale Jogja XI 2011) – already held
  2. Arab countries (Biennale Jogja XII 2013)
  3. African countries (Biennale Jogja XIII 2015)
  4. Latin American countries (Biennale Jogja XIV 2017)
  5. Countries in the Pacific Ocean and Australia, including Indonesia as an archipelago (Biennale Jogja XV 2019) – for the particularity of this regional scope, BJ XV could be known as ‘Ocean Biennale’.
  6. Southeast Asian countries (Biennale Jogja XVI 2021)
  7. The conclusion of the equatorial series will be summed up with the Equator Conference in 2022.

Why Equator?

The ‘equator’ as a concept is not only imagined as merely a frame to accommodate uniformity but also as a point of entry to explore and interpret the diversities of the current global contemporary societies. ‘Equator’ becomes a common platform to review the world. As a geographical landmark, the equator comprises a set of regions that have their own ecological characteristics. As a socio-cultural area, the regions also have many historical and ethnographic similarities, for instance in terms of their political ‘destiny’ as ‘postcolonial countries’. This area promises many interesting aspects to be explored, for its diversities reflect the cultural richness of the societies, as well as endless resources of life. The equator – the earth zone that runs at a relatively higher rotation speed, stretches around 40,000 kilometers, comprises a plethora of islands and continental regions bound by great oceans – will be an arena of explorations, analysis, encounters, and exchanges of cultures that together raise the values of humanity.

The artistic encounters in the BJ Equator series are done with the spirit of making sustainable networks, so the dialogues, partnerships and collaborations can give birth to new, broader and continuous partnerships among art practitioners in the equatorial regions. This way, BJ hopes to contribute to making a new topography of global art scene, with new formulas and perspectives. The effort has been pioneered by the organization of the Biennale Jogja 2011 last year, with the meeting of two countries, Indonesia and India as two regions in the equator that have great potential and resources in Asia. India was chosen as the first since it is regarded to have a direct political-historical relation with Indonesia, with the history of the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, 1955, as well as strong cultural historical relations in the ancient times, with the great interactions between the two regions through spice trade and the distribution of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Biennale Jogja time after time

Assembling the documents and documentation of the Biennale Jogja
Life seems to be too big to just be a research object, and too great not to be celebrated.
(Ignas Kleden, 1988)It is indisputable that the  Jogja Biennale (BJ) is the most consistent, big, routine arts event in Indonesia. It only rival is the Biennale Jakarta (which is older than BJ but not as routine). Several other biennales, such as those in East Java and Bali, are not as established as the first two I just mentioned, and are not as consistent in terms of their schedules. Just like the Biennale Jakarta, BJ is also a product of the local government.In its 21 years of existence, BJ has changed looks three times. It all began with the Yogyakarta Painting Exhibition which was organized by Taman Budaya Yogyakarta (TBY) in 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987. Afterwards, TBY, which was under the leadership of Rob M. Mujiono by then, changed the biggest exhibition into the Biennale Painting Yogyakarta (BSLY) in 1988, 1990, and 1992. In the introduction of the BSLY 1988, Mujiono said that the aim of the biennale event was to provide facilities for the best artworks in the past two years, so that, in time, the event could be a barometer of activity and the level of creativity of the artists, as well as the public’s appreciation toward Yogyakarta’s paintings. To select the best artworks, BSLY had a panel of judges who did not only choose the works to be exhibited, but also which works would receive awards; that continued until BSLY 1992.One day ahead of the BSLY 1992 event, the public and media attention was taken over by the opening of the Binal Experimental Arts 1992. (Jogja is indeed a wordplay city: “Biennale” in Indonesian dialect is pronounced “bee-null” and written “binal” in Indonesian, which translates into “naughty”.) Binal was organized by a number of young artists who objected to the requirements of BSLY participants. (The two most controversial requirements at that time were “Participants are professional painters aged at least 35 years old as of July 1, 1992 [and …] Participants may submit painting works [two dimensional] not using the batik medium” (Source: Binal Experimental Arts 1992 Proposal.) As the name suggests, Binal provided numerous forms of art other than paintings; from installation works in public spaces (alleys, round-abouts and the UGM boulevard), performances in public spaces (Tugu Station, Taman Sari and the South Square), artwork exhibitions at artists’ studios (Eddie Hara and Regina Bimadona), installation exhibition at the Senisono Gallery, as well as open public discussions at the Tempo Building. In nine days (July 27 – August 4, 1992), Yogyakarta was filled with art activities which involved over 300 artists. BSLY 1992 kicked off and ended losing popularity and exposure. There was barely any mass media which covered the BSLY, or if there was, it was only to compare it with Binal.Two years later, the BSLY name was no longer heard. As a replacement, TBY organized the Rupa-rupa Seni Rupa (The Variety of Arts) Exhibition comprising: Outdoor Sculpture Arts National Exhibition, Biennale IV Painting Exhibition, Contemporary Arts Exhibition (Installation) and Arts Workshop. The Variety of Arts exhibition triggered the birth of Yogyakarta Visual Arts Biennale (BSRY) which no longer included a panel of judges as had been the case with the BSLY. In exchange, the Variety of Arts exhibition in 1994 and BSRY 1997 and 1999 invited several source persons and a number of writers to be involved in the events. The source person team (which in the beginning, in 1994, was called the curatorial team) was the one who curated—in the curatorial logic that we understand right now—the event.There was no BSRY in 2001 due to a local autonomy policy which eliminated funds for one period of the BSRY event. In 2003, Biennale came back with a new look. One (single) curator came up with a theme for Biennale. The event was then officially called BJ. Not only was a curator involved in the BJ event, but also a commercial gallery came as one of the sponsors. As a result, the succession of BJ increasingly depended on the curator, the management team, and sponsors. Curated by Hendro Wiyanto, BJ VII 2003 was established under the theme Countrybution, and was the roots of the establishment of the BJ.Indeed so, BJ VIII 2005 themed Right Here Right Now, was curated by three curators, M. Dwi Marianto, Eko Prawoto, and Mikke Susanto; was organized in 13 different locations; and sponsored by Gudang Garam Internasional. BJ VIII 2005 brought back the “win – lose” principle (one is better than the others) with an award as a symbol of it. Merry celebration, festivity and award-giving ceremonies were patterns of the event, which are repeatedly (and are even getting bigger and bigger) in the next BJ events. Aside of the fact that the event was just organized in three locations, the four curators of the BJ IX 2007 Neo-nation—Suwarno Wisetrotomo, Kuss Indrato, Eko Prawoto, and Sudjud Dartanto—included 167 artists and four groups; while BJ X 2009 Jogja Jamming: Art Archives Movement was organized by four curators (Wahyudin, Eko Prawoto, Samuel Indratma, and Hermano) along with the board of curators (Agus Burhan, Ong Hari Wahyu and Sindhunata). No wonder there were 323 artists (including 82 groups) listed as participants of the latest BJ event. 

Something interesting happened at the BJ X 2009 event. A number of art workers who have long been involved in the arts scene proposed the institutionalization of an independent BJ. (Grace Samboh, Curator, researcher, based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia)


* This story is a short note out of my findings in the process of archiving the ten Biennale Jogja events. The assembly of documents and documentation, and the archiving of the Biennale Jogja were done with (and for) the Indonesian Visual Art Archive.