mapping yogya from below
It’s 10 pm and we are drinking sweetened tea and waiting. Waiting for someone, to bring something -paint maybe- from somewhere, all these details are currently unknown, but wait we do. The group of artists, all male and in their early twenties, slowly grows. Sitting on the footpath smoking and punching out rapid text messages. Tonight we are doing a throw-up, a Southside blockbuster. Spanning the corner of a busy intersection, this site curves around an abandoned shop front, on the second story above a protruding ledge, lit by nearby traffic lights.
People take it in turns. Someone climbs the ladder and then blocks out the outline of the background, then the next artists climbs up, the roller is passed along, and another stage of the throw up begins. The watery white paint seems to float as a ghost layer over the site’s previous incarnations of tags, abstract expressionist faces and cartoon characters, until finally the new layer is completed and sits more permanently as it proclaims ‘Southside’ to all passing motorists.
The next night we ride past, on a pair of rickety bikes which must be the worst in Yogya, and spot another group of street artists gathered at the same spot. Armed with stencils and paint and their own designs for the wall. The bold, square text of the throw-up was now accompanied by cursive script advertising a Valentines Day’s graphic design exhibition, their conflicting aesthetics sparring against each other on the contested walls.
In Yogya the pace of change is relentless, almost as if the walls themselves are restless to constantly renew. This culture of constant renewal ensures street art to be ephemeral. Fleeting and changing in an unorganised deluge of creation built upon addition and erasure. Its flux and change makes impossible any externalised, authoritative position of knowledge. Street art resists being ‘mapped’ in the manner of classical cartography, where a map represents something assumed to be fixed. Instead it is an activity whose ‘mapping’ must be an ongoing process of dialogue and interaction, which is self-conscious and reflexive about its necessarily limited and subjective nature. These then are maps not seen from the godly view of a satellite, but from below – within and between our memories and social relations. The kind of maps that can only be made together and which will never be finished.
We sought to initiate a more conscious process of community ‘mapping’ of Yogya street art; we wrote (and then butchered its words and meanings through Google translate) a call-out, inviting people to take us on tours of ‘their’ Yogya, sites where memories, experiences and emotions were mixed with the paint that stuck to the walls.
We also provided a traditional street map of the city where people could mark such sites in a manner of their choosing.
Finally, we also interviewed four graffers/street artists who with exhausting regularity remake the aesthetics of their city. Zine: Mapping Yogya From Below: 4 Interviews with Street Artists.
From the call-out:
“Subcultural expression such as street art and community spaces are the, unrecognised heart beat of cities like Yogya. Official or institutional maps of Yogya present a ‘top-down’ picture of the city, which ignores the lives of people living here, their passions, their artistic expressions, their interactions and the ways communities are formed. We are interested in ‘mapping’ Yogya from the ‘bottom-up’ or grassroots - mapping the artistic expressions and community interactions which give life to the city.
Here is an official map of Yogya - but so many things are missing. Grab a texta and draw in your favourite pieces of street art, places which are special to you, places which have fun memories, things that used to be here but are not any more, things that are not here but you would like to see here.”
We’re interested in collaboratively ‘mapping’ alternate futures based on community control. In this project we have chosen to travel to sites of potential antagonism; where a community’s future vision for the area is in conflict with the plans imposed by external interveners, such as national and foreign governments, multinational corporations, international financial institutions and large-scale western NGOs.
Our understandings of the spaces in which we live are intertwined with our social relationships, our relationships to nature and technology. In mapping our future geographies we are also demarcating how we want to engage with each other, and engage with and understand our worlds.
A map of the future offers a competing and potentially antagonistic vision to the narrow opportunities presented to communities by neoliberal globalisation. If self determination is to mean anything at all it needs to be about a collective empowerment to envision and materially create futures. These tensions between these futures are played out in ongoing struggles over access and control to land and resources.
Here we’ll be documenting this process as a kind of visual & audio scrap book. We hope to make this a space for people to be explores and cartographers for our own worlds.