[Essay] Anon Suneko

Anon Suneko

Indonesia is an island country that stretches from Sabang on the western end to Merauke on the easternmost side and is comprised of a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, religions and faiths. More than 13,000 islands are spread across the land of Indonesia, which has a population of approximately 260 million with abundant characteristics of a diverse society and culture. Under the slogan of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, “Unity in Diversity”, the people of Indonesia have always coexisted in a dynamic fashion. Within a harmonious society, various forms of culture and art have been preserved, developed and protected in different ways. Various types of art, created by civilized people, took root and blossomed in Indonesia. The development of art was made possible by the open-mindedness of Indonesian society toward activities that took place regionally and in an international environment. It was because there was a strong foundation of rich traditional arts and arts culture that Indonesian society was able to develop its traditional arts in accordance with the changing times, using various methods. Yogyakarta is a city that accepts the interaction between regional and foreign cultures to a moderate degree and chooses between the two when necessary. Even the influence of western imperialism, which lasted for 350 years, is considered by the society of Yogyakarta not as a negative but a positive element characterizing this university town. Some of the classical pieces of very high artistic value from the Yogyakarta Palace are a result of the interaction between Javanese art and western culture. The fact that western instruments such as wind instruments, snare drums and string instruments have been incorporated into the traditional gamelan music of the Yogyakarta Palace specifically outlines how western and eastern cultures have intermingled. This format of the gamelan has been passed down over the generations and has been maintained to this day. As a young artist born and bred in Yogyakarta, I am proud of this city of art and culture. From a young age, when I first started learning about the traditional arts, I was aware of the environment of Yogyakarta that always encouraged the development of art and culture. As I grew up in artistic surroundings, I was familiar with the traditional arts from my youth. Having received support from my parents, my school and the government, my love for the traditional arts pushed me into studying art at the higher education level. Traditional music and dance are two areas in which I am still involved today. Studying these traditional arts in greater depth has made me ask more questions and has fueled my desire to know more and learn more. I felt a natural sense of responsibility to add more color to the lives of the people in Yogyakarta now and also in the future. This feeling of responsibility helped me to come up with a number of ideas to preserve and develop the traditional arts. Although Yogyakarta is known as a miniature version of Indonesia, it is not only the Javanese people that live here. There are people who move from other regions in Indonesia to study in this university town, a phenomenon that has formed the basis of dynamic intercultural exchange in Yogyakarta. It is this cultural exchange that has influenced the traditional arts of Yogyakarta, which has a tendency to be open-minded toward foreign culture. To keep pace with the changing times, Yogyakarta has formed a desirable environment for the exchange between regional and foreign cultures. We are not only talking about the environment within the palace. With the arrival of the age of globalization, we are witnessing changes due to the free interaction of cultures that transcends boundaries. In Indonesia, especially Yogyakarta, both the palace arts and the popular arts are developing with the times. They each have their own core but manage to coexist, complementing one another so that a balance is maintained between modernism and the traditional arts. The times change as do trends, and people’s tastes naturally follow these changes. Change is not something that we can stop or resist, even though it may be for the purpose of protecting the traditional arts. This is precisely why it is crucial for the inheritors of the next generation, who are increasingly attracted to modern culture that is gaining complexity, to maintain the traditional arts. The effective way of inheriting the traditional arts is not necessarily to teach tradition from its basic form but rather to understand the interests and tastes of the modern generation. I would like to make changes to the basic elements of the traditional arts so that our performances become attractive to children and young people. This would enable the young audience to absorb the characteristics and basics of the traditional arts step by step, and help them to understand that the development of the traditional arts is not something that happened overnight. I believe that this is the right approach for establishing the value of traditional arts more firmly among the people. During the process of passing on tradition to the next age, this method should lead the way for young people as they maintain, preserve and develop the traditional arts over generations.

Generally speaking, the Japanese traditional arts, like their Indonesian counterpart, embody the spirit and character of the Orient. The symbolism, philosophy, sophistication and complex interpretation are all part of the beauty of the Japanese traditional arts. Looking at the situation of the Japanese traditional arts as a performer myself, it seemed as if the code of tradition were more strictly observed in Japan than in Indonesia for the sake of preserving the arts in their perfect state. However, technology developed by the advanced civilization of Japan is being utilized effectively to facilitate both the preservation and development of the Japanese traditional arts. Through this program, I noticed that the traditional arts and modern living support each other in a relationship that is well balanced. One of my important themes as I embarked on this research of the Japanese arts was to study the “change of generations”. This is because the young people of Japan, whether they know it or not, are the ones that hold the key to the Japanese traditional arts. The appearance of Kinoshita Kabuki would have had a stimulating effect on other artists, as this theater company inherits the traditional arts with a “modern” twist that suits young people’s tastes and that is also accepted by the global generation whose source of information transcends boundaries.

The “Power of Tradition, Form of Artistry” program provided me with the opportunity to gain important knowledge and meaningful experience as an artist. During my 17 day research of the Japanese traditional arts, I visited the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka and Kyoto to see performances of Noh, Bunraku, Kabuki and Kagura. Having heard about the reputation of these traditional Japanese arts, I was able to witness their existence, development, history, change and transition. The program enabled me to feel in close proximity the spirit that truly brings these traditional arts to life. The experience of watching several performances of Noh, Bunraku, Kabuki and Kagura has given me inspiration for the development of the traditional arts with which I have been involved over the years. The essence of the ideas that I have gained from this experience will be written down as personal notes, which I hope will one day be referred to in my creative work. As a researcher, I was able to appreciate the Japanese traditional arts through this program and learn how the traditional arts in Japan have continued to exist dynamically from age to age under different governments. I would like to use the discoveries that I have made through my experience of the Japanese traditional arts to explore the still unknown aspects of the traditional arts in Yogyakarta. Deepening our discussion about our experience in Japan has helped me to gain a new perspective on my investigation of the development of the Javanese traditional arts, especially in Yogyakarta. Furthermore, my experience in Japan has taught me how I, as one of the inheritors of the traditional arts in Yogyakarta, should approach the issue of how to establish a harmonious relationship between the traditional arts and the development of civilization in Yogyakarta, following the example of Japan. In order for the traditional arts to continue moving forward dynamically from age to age, blending in with civilization, Indonesia and Japan should share information, learn from one another, be aware of people’s tastes and analyze changes in trends with the purpose of preserving and developing the traditional arts. I would not only like to use this valuable experience for my own personal benefit but also to share it with my friends in Yogyakarta and the wider community of Omah Gamelan of which I am the director. I would also like to share my experiences with my students at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, Yogyakarta and discuss the preservation and development of the Indonesian traditional arts while referring to the Japanese traditional arts for our research and creative work.