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Photo: Photo Courtesy of Art Stage Jakarta

Known for his long black hair, American brands plastered on murals, and unique stencil patterns, Farhan Siki is without a doubt Indonesia’s prominent graffiti artist. Born in East Java in 1971, Farhan first came in contact with graffiti before his university days. Fast forward, he decided to become a professional artist in 2000 when Farhan was involved in a series of comic projects, painting murals for street galleries, and got involved in more collaborations with international artists in Yogyakarta, the art capital of Indonesia.

In 2011, Farhan Siki took up a short residency at the art community in Lecce, South Italy, before moving to Beijing to work on a mural project one year later. In 2017, Farhan will be participating in the upcoming ART STAGE Jakarta 2017 where this year sees a special exhibition called ‘Off The Wall – Europe Meets ASEAN’, focusing on urban and street art.

We caught up with Farhan Siki, who will also debut his collaboration project with Chekos Art during ART STAGE Jakarta 2017, and asked him about street art, his interest in graffiti and his thoughts on the negative connotation associated with graffiti.  

What made you interested in graffiti?

It started when I was a teenager. In the end of 1989, I was in a rock band called, Accept Society. We used to write on the walls around Surabaya and beyond. After a few years, I then went on to study history and art in the university and later joined a student activity group in the campus, which liked to explore graffiti, posters and banners, not only as an expression of art, but also a form of social protest, which at the time was in parallel with the biggest demonstrations seeking reformation in the era of President Soeharto in 1998.

As I continued to participate in art activities provided by several public spaces around Jakarta, Bandung and Yogyakarta, I grew more confident about my passion for art and decided to become a street artist specializing in graffiti and murals, since I found the concept intriguing—I could create art whenever and wherever. 

Tell us about the creative processes when you start a new project.

I need constant creative nutrition, such as information, knowledge, real-life experiences and references from other artists around the world, to ensure that my creative process is evolving.

The first thing that comes to mind when I’m about to start a new project, of course, is the idea behind it followed by what and how I visualise the project in my imagination. Next, I gather the materials and the art tools before I start working. At this stage, I believe that my ideas will evolve and change, which means that whatever I imagined at first in my head will never be the same as the final outcome. But, that’s where I get the excitement in experimenting with my art.

What were the things you learned during your time with Apotik Komik, Yogyakarta’s street gallery?

Back in 2000, I was interested to join Apotik Komik, which was formed in Yogyakarta in 1997, because it is an active community that created various art projects like murals and alternative comics in many public spaces. I was then involved in making several of its mural projects, like the public gallery project in 2001 for more than a year, and followed by the mural project Sama Sama from 2002 to 2003, where I collaborated with the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) community from San Francisco.

I believe that my experience with Apotik Komik has a had a huge contribution on my career as an artist. Any mural or art project on this national or international scale serves as a platform for my work and how engaging we can be with it.

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Photo: Photo Courtesy of Art Stage Jakarta

What do you want people to feel when they look at your art?

I don’t often think about how my artworks will be perceived by the public because I believe that everyone has a different interpretation that is subjective depending on their background, life experiences and even their intellect. For me, the interaction with art is enough by reading and interpreting it as they like. I don’t think we need to interrupt or try to change minds.

Do you have a regular theme? Where do you get your inspiration for your work?

For me, the themes in artwork don’t need to be regular or the same old song because an art theme for an artist is like an attitude towards reality and social phenomenon that’s very dynamic and that can shift anytime. The “theme” for me, however, serves more as a guideline to make me focus at the ideas that I want to transform into an artwork.

Recently, I chose urbanism and consumerism as my theme. I chose them because these two intrigued me as I lived among the hustle and bustle of Yogyakarta and indirectly I received many inspirations from the people around me, such as by how they live, their work routines, lifestyles and enjoyment.

In your opinion, how did the street art scene develop in Yogyakarta? Will Jakarta’s street art scene also flourish as in Yogyakarta.

Obviously, the street art developments in Yogyakarta are very dynamic, even too dynamic with the murals and graffiti on the walls around town changing every week since the city has a lot of street artists. These street artists are made up of veteran artists, young artists, art students or other artists from different cities or international artists that live in Yogyakarta. All of these individuals impact the urban art atmosphere in Yogyakarta.

Besides that, I think the street art scene in Yogya is able to evolve because of the government’s permissive attitude towards any citizen who wants to express their art in the public spaces. I think that they consider there is no indication of disorder or damage in the public facilities, which is true.

Meanwhile, according to my own observations, Jakarta’s street art scene has also improved in the recent years with many graffiti-jamming’s events or collective projects held by distribution stores or graffiti shops. Elsewhere, there are also plenty of official projects commissioned by the Jakarta’s government to decorate the public spaces wall, like the one in Kalijodo.

Graffiti is often associated with negative connotations. What do you think of this statement? What would you like to convey to the public about the misconception?

Yes, I know that graffiti is likely to be thought of as an act of environmental vandalism. The first step to counteract this is by presenting the basic knowledge to the public with a concept as to whether a certain location is beautiful or unpleasant, clean or dirty, exciting or disturbing, and so on. From this, the public can make an effort to understand the context of a location where the graffiti artist will work, and then make a comparison on before and after the graffiti is done. With this basic assumption, one can understand that the graffiti artist also takes many things into consideration before they create, as well as the expectations of the creation.

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Photo: Photo Courtesy of Art Stage Jakarta

You have collaborated with many other artists, both local and international, like Chekos Art and Kitlas in Yogyakarta. What’s the difference that you have observed?

I think that from the visual and body of work point of view, I don’t see much difference between our artists and other artists from America and Europe, because from the media and technical point of view until the paint’s brand and visual images, it’s all the same. The only specific difference is the execution and other specific details like languages. Moreover with the rapid increase of globalism, almost all of the graffiti and mural artists from anywhere in the world will always be connected to one another whether it’s via social media that implicated directly on how the artist work and how the artwork will be created, which later will be shared to the public.

In your opinion, what’s the difference, creatively, between graffiti and a mural?

I think it is actually just a matter of perspective, such as how the general public assumes that graffiti is merely a doodle on the street without any essence. But, when they see a beautiful painting on the wall that’s nice to look at they call it a mural. For me, it’s the same in the landscape of urban art: both of them serve the same cause: they respond to the undisciplined development of the city that is both monotonous and rigid.

What are the challenges you face when creating a new artwork?

As an experienced artist, my biggest challenge is to conquer the space I am working in by developing and executing ideas with creative approach or multiple media or even with visual language with all its metaphors. From this process, I will learn and experience the real taste of the art world, which is infinite beyond measure.

We look forward to seeing you at ART STAGE Jakarta 2017. What can we look forward to?

For the upcoming ART STAGE Jakarta 2017, besides my collaboration project with Chekos Art from Italy, I will also be presenting a new experimental project: stencils with a painting approach or vice versa, worked purely on stencil technique.

See also: New Things To Look Forward To At Art Stage Jakarta 

Tags: Interview, Lifestyle, Mural, Artist, Profile, Graffiti, Art Stage Jakarta 2017, Farhan Siki