Art, Islam, and Nationality: Note of Pirous’ Mushaf Project

Abdul Djalil Pirous is a Moslem, well-known artist born in Meulaboh, Indonesia. He is one of the influencers in the Indonesian contemporary art sphere. Pirous’ work trip leads him to the most strategic position in the country, not only directing one of the best art schools, Faculty of Art and Design ITB back then, but also some of the big projects worldwide as well as in Indonesia itself.

American anthropologist Kenneth M. George, which works in Asian studies wrote an article that explains quite a lot of things about Pirous’ essential work and Indonesian art sphere as well. One big event that he wrote in there was Mushaf Istiqlal  Project which touches religious and cultural aspects and is loaded with nationalism savor.

The Mushaf was Pirous and the crew’s agenda. There was Festival Istiqlal I in October 1991 and there was the idea came up. Back then, up to 6,5 million attended the festival. So, the second festival held three years later in 1994. Mushaf was first symbolized by the president Soeharto’s calligraphy in 1991 and so did the end line in 1994. George wrote that this kind of practice was the political mind of Soeharto, well he did only the tracing, not actually made the calligraphy.

That wasn’t only textual and religious objects of work. The Mushaf also burdened by Soeharto’s political agenda. The practice was an effort to put his image toward the role in the project.

Indonesia is the country with the biggest Moslems in the world. And Istiqlal is the biggest mosque in SEA. The 6,5 million bodies attending the festival was also a thing. Soeharto’s authoritarianism must and can’t lose the moment for the political gain including on this track; text production and religious sphere. Authority will try to get to the peak, through hierarchy and control.

George cited Taufik Abdullah (1993) that said that the New Order government of Soeharto was recruiting Muslim artists and intellectuals in the political restructuring of the public sphere under state expansion. Hegemony leads the festival from “Festival of Islamic Art in Indonesia” stuff into “Festival of Indonesian Culture Inspired by Islam”. Soeharto demanded that Pirous and his group to give support to Indonesian national culture in their project. The piece embedding some provinces/ethnicity design taste. It is how the Mushaf trying to accommodate the identities. Not to forget some symbols like independence date and so on.

One thing to be considered, that George cited Clifford Geertz (1990) it said that the Soeharto governmentries try to make ideology "look like art without art being made to look like ideology". George cited Yampolsky (1995) when talking about the government's control. The government, through the Department of Education and Culture, has been committed to the guided development of national cultural life and has been instrumental in establishing museums, academies, cultural centers, urban art councils, festivals, public competitions, conferences, shows, and tours. It was here that art and culture are forced to comply with cultural policy and state ideology. It is depoliticized and subjected to an "aesthetic of respectability," an esthetic that demands that art be "neat and orderly, disciplined, inoffensive, attractive or impressive to look at," and "in line with the times".

However, even though the nation dominated the sphere, the artist may utilize the sources for other purposes; social, cultural, and religious. Pirous is an artist and also a Moslem. In any stances, he believes in the glory of Moslems and can be the civic society. It's called "room for maneuver" between co-optation and resistance.

Today, Islam and nationality are two entities attached to each other. However, barely we see art standing close to them. In addition, how we see Islam and nationality are limited to mass and suspicious. We see that Islam is exploited for political gains nowadays and it leads to such kind of suspicious. Cultural aspects that religion has is limited to the artifacts and symbols, as well as place, origin, and other dichotomic stuff. Whereas some other stuff is not considerable but purely untouchable. Religion also has the power to be attached to art and shown in the public sphere. And what George wrote there were religion and art are standing together in the middle of political hectic. The Mushaf is one of the products of it.


Title: Politik Kebudayaan di Dunia Seni Rupa Kontemporer: A.D. Pirous dan Medan Seni Indonesia
Author: Kenneth M. George
Translator: Atka Savitri
Publisher: Retorik & Yayasan Seni Cemeti, Yogyakarta
ISBN: 979-99045-0-1
Year: 2005
January 03, 2020