By Enin Supriyanto (Project Officer Equator Symposium)

The Jogja Biennale attempts to look forwards, developing new perspectives and opening itself to confronting the ‘establishment’ or the conventions of events like it.

Contemporary art discourse is very dynamic, although the dichotomy between the centre and the peripherary is still very apparent.There is a need to find new opportunities to give meaning to these events. We imagine a common platform for them, that is at the same time able to provoke the emergence of a diverse variety of perspectives in order to present new alternative to hegemonic discourse.

–       Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation (YBY)

The Equatorial Symposium and the Jogja Biennale are two components of the the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation’s program that cannot be reduced or compared. Through out the program, the equatorial series of the Jogja Biennale has always worked with few countries, and in the future will always leave behinds its previous partners, consequently the opportunity to develop understandings together is reduced, if not lost altogether.Due to this working pattern the Biennale Jogja will also lose the opportunity to continue dialogue with intellectuals from its partner countries.

The Equator Symposium wants to be bridge between as many ‘local geniuses’ as possible from around the equator. Small occurences here and there are the triggers for various changes, the existence of which should be collected and vocalised in order to continuously refresh our thinking and inspire us.Their ingenuity in facing their respective national complexities along the equator is what the Equator Symposium is interested in.We believe that together we can give the world a reason to change! Through the Equator Symposium, YBY positions itself as the connecting agent and also the point of dissemination for the latest ideas, developments and growth from all the countries in the equatorial region. Whatever is connected to the creation of discourse around the equator is still open for negotiation.

The Equator Symposium is based on the spirit of organisation in the speech of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, when he opened the Asia-Africa Conference, 18 April 1955. “What can we do? We can do much! We can inject various reasons into the worlds business. We can move all the spiritual, moral and political strength of Asia and Africa for peace!” What occured subsequently in post-reform Indonesia is often simplified as a “change deficit” (to borrow a phrase from Sr.ST Sunardi).With regards to this, we feel we need to inspire ourselves, the people around us, and also Indonesian society in general, to realise that change can happen.We can implement change.

What is interesting from YBY’s previous official explanation, is the section that directly addresses the reality that “coincidentally” the choice of region and political agenda echoes socio-cultural-political issues that have brought Indonesia to an important position on the map of inter-regional relations, as well as particular prestige in the journey of modern Indonesia. YBY’s initiative and working agenda is also an echo of the past, from a meeting of “the nations of the Equator”, in the middle of the 20th centrury, with Indonesia as one of the main initiators, as well as the host.This brief essay will in fact exploit this “coincidence”. The coincidence I refer to is: nations within the Equatorial belt – between 23.27° NL and 23.27° SL – formed the largest proportion of the 29 nations (newly independent, former colonies of Western powers) that attended the Asia Africa Conference (KAA) in Bandung, 1955. [1] Furthermore, if we accept that the Non-Aligned Movement was an outcome of the Asia Africa Conference, then almost all the nations that have already or will in future become colleagues of the Jogja Biennale, can also be regarded as members of the Non-Aligned Movement. [2] I am of the opinion that lessons from – and reflections on – the Asia Africa Conference might provide stock for us to further understand our own problems today, and also a challenge. These efforts will supply us with many points from which to enter the issues and challenges that will be faced by the BJ if it genuinely wishes to pursue a political agenda in the world of global contemporary art.

A number of important footnotes about the Asia Africa Conference will give us a picture of the thinking that developed in the Asian-African nations when their leaders and intellectuals really began to consider their positions and attitudes towards the imperialism that had structured and controlled the hierarchy of relationships between nations after the end of colonialism, at the conclusion of WWII and the beginning of global tensions through the Cold War. In this particular historical context we can understand why Soekarno, the president of Indonesia at that time, in his courageous welcoming speech, clearly identified the Asia Africa Conference as the “first inter-continental conference of coloured peoples in the history of mankind!”[3]

Richard Wright (1908-1960) – a black American writer/journalist/civil rights activist who moved to Paris and became a French citizen – was so enthused as to come to Bandung on his own initiative and expense just to witness the events of the Asia Africa Conference. [4]
Day in and day out, these crowds would stand in this tropic sun, staring, listening, applauding; it was the first time in their downtrodden lives that they’d seen so many men of their color, race, and nationality arrayed in such aspects of power, their men keeping order, their Asia and their Africa in control of their destinies…. [5]

The YBY is what Wright called ‘an effort to control one’s own destiny’, because it is born forth by a group of contemporary arts practicioners who require a number of particular agreements within the Jogja Biennale in order that it fulfil standards, and can continue to be developed. In that reality it is logical that criticism emerge.

Because of this, the Equator Symposium, is an international forum that is intended to be an arena for the meeting of experts, theorists, practitioners and researchers in the field of visual arts and culture. This is an event for the sharing of information and knowledge, and the exchange of thoughts and opinions as a way of building critical understanding of various contemporary arts practice in their association with social, cultural and political dynamic in the equatorial region.

Hence, the practice and discourse of contemporary arts needs an open, inclusive space that is ready to undertake critical studies in the various relevant disciplines. The Equator Symposium also functions as an effort to develop networks between the various individuals and institutions that can activate the role of contemporary art experts and practitioners in Indonesia in an international forum.
[1] The 29 nations that participated in the Asia-Africa conference, Bandung 1955 were: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Burma/Myanmar, Iran, the Philippines, Cambodia, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Japan, Sudan, People’s Republic of China, Jordan, Syria, Laos, Thailand, Mesir, Lebanon, Turki, Ethiopia, Liberia, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Gold Coast, now Ghana, Libya, India, Nepal, Yemen.

[2] The Biennale Jogja’s zone of activity in the Equator series is framed byt the northern latitude 23’27” and the southern latitude 23’27”. The YBY introduces Indonesia with:India (2011), Arab Nations (2013), Africa (2015), South America (2017), States in the Pacific Islands and Australia (2019) – Because of the uniqueness of the area, the Jogja Biennale in 2019 will also be know as the ‘Ocean Biennale’ And then in Southeast Asia (2021). The series will then be finalised with the presentation of the Equator conference in 2022.

[3] At the time of publication, I have not been able to find the Indonesian language version of the speech printed in the book: Lahirkanlah Asia Baru dan Afrika Baru! Pidato P.J.M. Presiden Soekarno pada pembukaan Konferensi Asia-Afrika (Speeches from P.J.M. President Soekarno at the opening of the Asia Africa Conference) 18 April 1955, (Translated into English by Intojo), Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Jakarta 1955. For my needs in this instance, I have used the English version most widely available on the internet.

[4] Notes and commentary on the Asia Africa Conference was published directly in the US in the form of a small book after the conference:Richard Wright, The Color Curtain, A Report on Bandung Conference, World Publishing Company, N.Y., 1956. In this essay I refer to the new publication that includes three texts:Richard Wright,Black Power, Three Books from Exile:Black Power; The Color Curtain; and White Man, Listen!, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, N.Y., 2008.—pp. 429-629.

[5] Richard Wright, 2008, p. 536.


Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation

Team Work
Tn. Enin Supriyanto
Project Officer Equator Symposium

Nn. Grace Samboh
Program Manager Equator Symposium

Nn. Ratna Mufida
Operational Manager Equator Symposium

Mailing Address
Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation
c/o. Taman Budaya Yogyakarta
Jl. Sri Wedani 1, Yogyakarta,  Indonesia 55122
Phone: +62 274 587712