After one full year of bracing and managing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia, there is no better time to launch our inaugural Culture List. Housed under the collective of Asia’s Most Influential directory, this list defines the impactful voices who are all about bringing changes amid tumultuous cultural. Here are 10 leaders in the Indonesian cultural landscape, which brings the total regional count to 100 names of creative varying disciplines.
SONGWRITER, AND FILM DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER
Mira Lesmana has a passion for movies since her high school days. The famous producer’s journey began in 1999 with a family musical movie, Petualangan Sherina; Mira also wrote all the lyrics for the songs in the movie. The film debuted in 2000 amid an industry-wide slump due to the fall of the New Order. Many doubted her decisions; however, it received a big applause from the audience and brought hope for the industry’s future. Mira did not stop there. She continued to create many award-winning movies that marry the modern and traditional sides of Indonesian life and culture, such as Laskar Pelangi and Sokola Rimba.
Even with the coronavirus pandemic, Mira was sure that momentum and chance are still there, and the industry needs to adapt. As such, Mira just finished making a new movie with only 50 crew members who always remained the same as they moved from one place to another. They also regularly did PCR tests for everyone, and none from outside could enter, or the crew to exit, for one month. Powering through the adjustment, she remained productive with Petualangan Sherina Animation and Petualangan Sherina 2 in the pipeline.
MUSIC COMPOSER AND CONDUCTOR
Erwin Gutawa is one of Indonesia’s legendary composers and conductors who have brought local soundscapes to the global scene. Erwin himself has worked with some of the world’s greatest orchestras, including Synchron Stage Orchestra in Vienna and London Symphony Orchestra. The latter had collaborated for the Rockestra album Erwin had recorded with at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in 2006. However, no matter where Erwin performed in the world, it is no secret that he only played Indonesian songs for orchestral performances.
“Western music has penetrated the local music industry for a long time. However, Indonesia has many traditional genres besides the modern one,” he said. “If no one plays these great Indonesian songs, who will hear them?” Erwin saw opportunities to bring these performances with Erwin Gutawa Orchestra, founded in 1992, through online platforms during the coronavirus pandemic. He has done 13 virtual concerts since April last year, and is keen to collaborate with more top Indonesian artists for upcoming ones. To top it off, Erwin has also earned the AMI (Anugerah Musik Indonesia) Award and a Cultural Award from the Ministry of Education and Culture last year.
ACTOR, AND THEATRE PERFORMER AND PRODUCER
Starting her career in the Indonesian entertainment industry as a model and an actress, Happy Salma had left an indelible mark both on the small and big screens. She also co-founded Tulola Jewelry in 2008 to further promote various aspects of Indonesian cultures with all of her creative energies. Her heart also went to literature, of which Salma had published four works and collaborated for five more, and theatre. “I co-founded Titimangsa Foundation in 2007. As a theatre producer, I translate a lot of Indonesian literary works onto the stage for everyone to get to know them better,” she said. “In total, Titimangsa has produced 42 theatre works.”
Since July last year, Titimangsa launched the Sandiwara Sastra podcast in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture. “So far, we have 10 episodes on budayakita’s channel on Spotify and YouTube and aired through the Radio Republik Indonesia,” she said. However, Salma realized that this medium could not replace the energy between the performer and the audience during a live theatre performance. Titimangsa has also recorded three theatrical performances and musical thus far with each one garnering at least 2,500 audiences.
PIANIST AND COMPOSER
Ananda Sukarlan started playing the piano at the age of five and, at 17, graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1993 from the Royal Conservatory of Den Haag in the Netherlands. Today, he has strengthened diplomatic ties between Indonesia and many countries through the universal language of music. Sukarlan was the first Indonesian artist to perform as a soloist with The Portuguese National Symphony Orchestra in 2000 after the country’s re-opening of diplomatic relationship with Indonesia. Living between Spain and Indonesia, he collaborated with Fundacion Musica Abierta to make classical music more accessible for disabled children.
Last year, the president of Italy bestowed him the Ordine della Stella d’Italia civilian knighthood title. Sukarlan always shows his love for Indonesia through many compositions for musicals, operas, chamber music, and so much more. In 2020, he held at least six virtual concerts recorded from culturally and historically-important sites around the archipelago, such as Ende in East Nusa Tenggara and the Pramba- nan Temple in Central Java. He continues to extend more invitations to talented Indonesian musicians and singers for seven more concerts this year.
Among the leading figures in the Indonesian art scene, FX Harsono first made headlines by joining in the 1974 Black December Movement. This protest led to the birth of the New Art Movement (GSRB) in 1975, in which 12 young artists called to change the paradigm and depoliticization of Indonesian art. Harsono continued to be the voice of the oppressed and marginalized groups until today. During the authoritarian reign of the corrupt New Order era, he vocally criticized the rulers and shed some light on the people’s plight.
After its fall in 1998, Harsono further explored the long, painful history concerning his identity as a Chinese-Indonesian minority. He received many prestigious awards, such as Anugerah Adhikarya Rupa and Prince Claus Award, both in 2014, for his dedication to the Indonesian art world. His works have been showcased internationally from the 1993 Asia Pacific Triennale in Brisbane to the 2011 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, and many more. In 2020 alone, Harsono joined four virtual exhibitions in Jakarta, Korea and Singapore, alongside many virtual talks and discussions.
The British-based artist of Balinese descent is known for her vibrant colours and geometric shapes, and her artistic journey began when she was living in Bali. Today, Tantra herself is growing in renown with notable artworks done in partnership with international players in the many industries, such as the Canary Wharf Group. The resulting 300-metre mural decorated the sides of the Canary Wharf bridge for the 2012 Olympics. The colourful tropical palette she used for the mural, and most of her works, recalls her Balinese roots.
During the pandemic, Tantra continues spreading joy with her vivid creations while remaining safe in her studio thanks to modern technology. Within the last semester of 2020, Tantra had done works at the H Forecent residential complex in South Korea and presented at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. In 2021, Tantra already has six shows and commissions in Jakarta, Berlin, Hainan and London—with many more surely to come as she spreads her wings wide.
Reza Rahardian has established himself as one of the finest young Indonesian actors with methodical acting. Thanks to the coverage he received from modelling, his magnetic presence is now prominent in more than 50 films and soap operas. His gripping role as an abusive husband in Perempuan Berkalung Sorban earned widespread critical acclaim and won many nominations. He has also excellently portrayed the third Indonesian president, B.J Habibie, which led to three awards among many other trophies on his shelves. Rahadian’s love for acting stemmed from teenage days spent on the stage, and his theatre and musical roles today are reviving the younger generation’s interest in the art form.
Often working together with Titimangsa Foun- dation, he has worked in performances such as Cinta Tak Pernah Sederhana, Bunga Penutup Abad and Anugerah Terindah. The latter two titles were virtually streamed, which further signalled how the Indonesian entertainment industry is still fighting to adapt and survive amid the pandemic. Last year, Rahadian also challenged himself to direct a mini-series titled Sementara, Selamanya. Featuring big names such as Ruth Marini, Christine Hakim, and Laura Basuki, the series focuses on the story of a long-distance relationship between a couple during the Covid-19 pandemic.
DEWI “DEE” LESTARI
Dewi Lestari, or more popularly known by her pen name Dee Lestari, is one of the most prolific writers in modern Indonesia. Although she started her career as a successful singer in the 1990s all-girl band, RSD, Dee has always been an avid writer. She released her first book, Kesatria, Putri dan Bintang Jatuh in 2001, which is part one of the six books in the Supernova series. Dee also writes more lighthearted works, among the most successful ones being Filosofi Kopi: Kumpulan Cerita and Perahu Kertas.
After Filosofi Kopi, she released another collection work as a hybrid between an album and a short story collection, Rectoverso, in 2008. In this collection, each short story comes with a song by Dee herself. The sim- ilar concept also applied to her latest novel to be pub- lished this year, Rapijali. Many of her works touch on spirituality, philosophy, religion, even shamanism and extraterrestrial life, which received a huge success both with her fans, Addeection, and critics alike. Within two decades as a writer, Dee has received at least ten awards from Indonesian literary circles, and had five of her works turned into award-winning movies.
Indrodjojo Kusumonegoro is the last remaining member of the legendary comedic group Warkop DKI, which stands for Warung Kopi or coffee stalls. The initials DKI stands for his name besides two other members, Dono (Wahjoe Sardono) and Kasino Hadiwibowo. From the late 1970s until late 1990s, the remaining trio appeared in 30 classic movies and dozens of TV appearances, which further showcased their comedic genius. Warkop DKI’s skits were broad-ranging in performance, from slapstick comedies to satires of social and political criticism. Following the death of Kasino in 1997 and Dono in 2001, Indro vanished from the show biz; the deaths of his two closest friends hit him hard.
However, he came back into showbiz in 2011, starring as an actor in Semesta Mendukung movie. He is also one of the leading figures in establishing stand-up comedy scene in Indonesia through the competition Stand Up Comedy Indonesia (SUCI) on Kompas TV. The form of comedy is previously unpopular in Indonesia compared to the situation and slapstick comedy genres. As one of the mainstay judges and mentors for eight seasons of SUCI, Indro continues to be an inspiration to the next generation of comedian.
DIDIK NINI THOWOK
DANCER AND CHOREOGRAPHER
Didik Hadiprayitno is a Javanese cross-gender traditional dance maestro and choreographer better known as Didik Nini Thowok. According to Didik, within the modern context in Indonesia, cross-gender performances skew towards comedic gags. However, they have deep, philosophical and spiritual aspects within their traditional contexts. Indonesia has a long tradition of cross-gender performance often forgotten. He also mentioned that different cultures in Indonesia see gender non-conforming people as more “spiritual”, such as the bissu priests and shamans in Bugis culture.
He has learned different forms of traditional dances from various masters across Java and Bali. Didik then went on to study a variety of dances directly from masters in India, Japan and Spain. Out of hundreds of choreographies he created, Didik’s most famous choreography is Tari Dwimuka. The beautiful dance requires the use of multiple masks, which he masterfully showcased and became viral last year for the Lathi challenge on Twitter and TikTok. Today, Didik continues to educate the younger generation at his Natya Lakshita dance school and Didik Nini Thowok Entertainment in Yogyakarta. On the shelves and walls of his dance schools are dozens of awards Didik had received, including from the governments of Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Japan.
HALL OF FAME
Guruh Sukarnoputra undoubtedly has brought Indonesian arts and cultures to a new height globally. Sukarnoputra is the youngest son of the first president of Indonesia from his marriage to Fatmawati. Besides an excellent traditional dancer, his artistic talents also extended the music industry. After its formation in 1965, The Beat G collaborated with the Gipsy group and released its album, Guruh Gipsy, in 1975. Although it was the only album produced by the group, it was a successful experiment to blend the Balinese gamelan instrument with rock-progressive. Two years later, he founded Swara Maharddhika Foundation and followed by Gencar Semarak Perkasa Production in 1989. The latter is a place for hundreds of artists and art enthusiasts to express their love for culture through cultural performances as well as producing film documentaries.
Under the two groups and with many legendary artists, Sukarnoputra has created dozens of concerts, albums, choreographies and arrangements that remained relevant today. Last year, renewed interests in his works resulted in a tribute album sung by prominent, young Indonesian singers. Sukarnoputra also had earned much global recognition for his significant contribution to further the Indonesian cultural heritage internationally. In Japan, he won the Kawakami Award and the Audience Selections Award in 1987; the French government also honoured him with Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1991.
To classify Remy Sylado, with given name of Yapi Panda Abdiel Tambayong, as a poet or a writer is an oversim- plification of his skilful masteries in the art world. This art graduate started his career as a journalist in 1965 before foraying into the theatre world by founding the Teater 23761 group. The critical yet humorous personality found in his works led to the birth of the mbeling literary movement. Seen as a creative way to break free from established norms in literature, Sylado’s mbeling poems both gained many critics and fans alike. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was busy writing music and acting for movies, heading local newspapers and magazines, producing theatre works and poetries, and going into novels.
Entering the New Millenium after the fall of Suharto, Sylado productively wrote thickly-bound historical fictions each year. He is a thorough researcher who would go on journeys as his characters would all around the globe. Sylado’s search for historical and etymological origins also lent distinct edges for his works, such as the Kerudung Merah Kirmizi that won the prestigious Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2002. Sylado’s literary prowess have spanned at least 50 novels, 30 stage works and thousands of poems—not to mention 13 music albums created. His Kerygma & Martyria book of 1,000 poetries received an honour from The Indonesia World Records Museum for being the thickest book of poems.