Means Without End
Means Without End
Date: Saturday 28 May 2022 to Sunday 17 July 2022
Time: Open 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Saturday, and 1pm to 5pm on Sundays
Location: Counihan Gallery, 233 Sydney Road (inside Brunswick Town Hall), Brunswick
'Means Without End' offers a unique opportunity to view two recent projects by artist Hoda Afshar side by side.
'Remain' (2018) is a series of photographic portraits of men who were detained on Manus Island. The collaborative project involves these men retelling their individual and shared stories through staged images, words, and poetry. 'Agonistes' (2020) is a tribute to whistle-blowers who have spoken out in the name of truth and justice. They did so at a terrible personal cost.
Hoda Afshar was Born in Iran and is now based in Narrm (Melbourne). She began her career as a documentary photographer. This influences her poetic investigation into the representation of gender, marginality, and displacement. Afshar is also a member of Eleven, a collective of contemporary Muslim Australian artists, curators, and writers. Eleven challenges the current politics of representation and power.
This exhibition includes video and sound content. Because of the varied sensory experience on display, this exhibition may be a difficult environment for visitors who experience sensory overload.
Content note: This exhibition includes mentions of suicide, abuse and mental health issues.
Phone: 03 9389 8622
For exhibition updates you can follow the Counihan Gallery Instagram Page. You can also go to the Counihan Gallery Facebook pagethe Counihan Gallery Facebook Page.
Hoda Afshar is represented by Milani Gallery. To find out more, visit the Milani Gallery website.
There is a Counihan Gallery Learning Resource to accompany this exhibition. To download your copy, visit our Learning at the Counuhan Gallery Page.
Means Without End is in the New Gallery.
Taiwan's Long Walk to Freedom of Speech
Time: Apr. 7th, 2022-Apr. 7th, 2024, 0900-1800, Monday-Sunday
Venue: Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Permanent Exhibition Hall
In October 1945, after the KMT took over Taiwan, many state violations and suppression of human rights cases occurred. After the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, President Chiang Kai-shek strengthened the authoritarian system with economic and military assistance from the United States, which further suppressed Taiwan's freedom of speech.
It was only after the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the termination of the Period of National Mobilization for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion in 1991 that the authoritarian regime ended. However, as to freedom of speech, it was until the abolishment of the Betrayers Punishment Act in 1991 and the revision of Article 100 of the Criminal Law in 1992 that the people of Taiwan were free from intimidation from the State. Since then, freedom of speech has been guaranteed.
Taiwan is now an advanced democracy in East Asia, and it ranks among the top in the protection of freedom of speech. "Taiwan's Long Walk to Freedom of Speech" focuses on the progress of freedom of speech in Taiwan. Based on the historical context from 1945 to the present, the exhibition is divided into the following units to present Taiwan's arduous journey from authoritarianism to freedom and democracy.
1. The Formation of the Speech Suppression System
2. 1945-1949: Taiwan's Media Catastrophe and the "April 6 Incident."
3. the 1950s: "Free China" and the Struggle regardless of Provincial Identifications
4. the 1960s: The Fearless Figures under the Suffocation of Speech
5. the 1970s-1980s: Setbacks and Breakthroughs of Dang-Wai Collective Actions
6. 1987-1992: Sacrifice and Crash on the Last Mile
7. Conclusion: Challenges of the New Era
The Big Waves Stroke: The Truth and Rehabilitation of the “Re-rebellion Cases” of the Green Island New Life Correction Center
The Big Waves Stroke: The Truth and Rehabilitation of the “Re-rebellion Cases” of the Green Island New Life Correction Center
Apr. 15th– Nov. 15th, 2022
Ren-ai Building, Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park
In May 1949, the Taiwan Provincial Government enforced Martial Law throughout Taiwan. In the same month, the Legislative Yuan also passed the Statutes for the Punishment of Rebellion. Since then, Taiwan has entered the White Terror period for more than 40 years. In the 1950s, several prisons of political prisoners had so-called Re-insurgency Cases that the authorities claimed, which led to the loss of batches of young souls. Why have political prisoners who fallen into round-the-clock imprisonment could be accused by the authorities of “Re-rebellion to the Government”?
To solve the mystery, the National Human Rights Museum launched a special exhibition: The Big Waves Stroke: The Truth and Rehabilitation of the “Re-rebellion Cases” of the Green Island New Life Correction Center during 1953-1956 in Green Island White Terror Memorial Park in 2021. The special exhibition received favorable reviews. This year, NHRM moved the special exhibition to its Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park. By launching the exhibition, we hope that the truth can be restored and the lost young lives commemorated.
The Awaken Healers: the Doctor Victims at the White Terror in Taiwan
Time: May 1st, 2022 - Mar. 26th, 2023
Venue: Green Island White Terror Memorial Park
During the White Terror period in Taiwan, there was a group of intellectuals with medical ethics and morality. Their participation in public and social movements caused traumas to themselves and their families. They have left an extraordinary history for the medical profession and democracy and demonstrated the value of human rights. We try to restore the truth and set the unjust right through court judgments, historical materials, and oral histories of political victims and their families.
Since 1 February 2021, Myanmar has been in turmoil as the Myanmar Army, known as the Tatmadaw, detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint following a general election which Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide. The coup d’état led by General Min Aung Hlaing brought an end to a decade of semi-democratic rule and returned full power to the military, a state of emergency and gross human rights abuses. Courageously, the population has been resisting and demanding the release of the imprisoned leaders, as well as a booming number of prisoners and the restoration of democratic rule. A massive Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) has emerged and hundreds of thousands continue to take to the streets in spite of the military’s use of lethal force against protesters. Amidst the failure of the international community to take action, atrocities are being committed on an increasing scale, with the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) in exile resorting to form the People Defense Force and justify armed resistance. As of 15 March 2022, 1672 people are confirmed killed by the junta coup and a total of 9625 people are currently under detention. In total, 84 people are sentenced to death, in person and absentia, including two children.
In the midst of global worries, it is more crucial than ever to keep Myanmar on the public agenda. In solidarity with the democratic movement in Myanmar, SEA Junction and Human Rights Art Initiative (HuRAI), with the support of Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) and Asia Democracy Network (ADN), are therefore organizing the exhibition “Stand for Democracy in Myanmar” on the 3rd floor of Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) from 26 April to 8 May 2022. The thirteen artworks are produced by Marcelo Brodsky, an Argentine artist who advocates visual narratives through photography, installations, monuments, and work that combines text and images. Images of the demonstrations against the coup during the Myanmar Spring triggered him to create work in solidarity with the protesters, creating a visual experience for larger groups to engage—aestheticising the snapshots from the demonstrations, leaving resulting effects for mobilization. He activates personal and collective memory, communicating a message of resistance hoping to connect people across time and space, ending up working at the crossroads between visual art, poetry, and human rights activism.
Stand for Democracy in Myanmar leverages visual art to raise public awareness of and to express solidarity with the cause of the civil movement in Myanmar and their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. The exhibition at the BACC is part of a larger program of art shows and events at art institutions and museums around the globe which mobilize visual artists in support of the CDM and the democratically mandated NUG. Brodsky’s artworks have been exposed at the Tokyo Institute of Photography, Kunsthall 3,14 (Bergen, Norway) and most recently at Photobastei (Zurich, Switzerland).
Ayo! Ayo! Tomorrow Must Be Better
Oct. 6th, 2021 - Mar. 27th, 2022
Renai Building, Jingmei White Terror Memorial Park
In 2019, at the ICOM General Conference in Kyoto, the Federation of International Human Rights Museums officially announced the launch of its Asia-Pacific branch (FIHRM-AP), headquartered at Taiwan’s National Human Rights Museum. We build an education platform for our colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region, mainly to share more knowledge on the concept of empowerment, engagement, partnership, and collaboration. In response to the theme for International Museum Day 2020, “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion,” FIHRM-AP invited 14 museums and 15 NGOs in Taiwan and formed the 2020 Co-Learning Group on Migration and Human Rights.
In this exhibition, the National Human Rights Museum and 15 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) further transformed the discussion of "human rights and migration" into a joint curation. We looked into the fact that more than 700,000 migrant workers have become an indispensable labor force of Taiwan, the corresponding basic human rights issues such as religion, language, culture, daily life, and working conditions, however, have not been adequately secured with times.
This exhibition leads the audience to measure the distance between migrant workers and Taiwanese people’s daily lives. Migrant workers, Taiwanese people, and NGOs, there are three kinds of "sense of daily life" that interlinked and formed each other. We try to guide the audience to examine the various difficulties behind the legal system of migrant workers on the surface of "seemingly ordinary daily life." After introducing the objects and services migrant workers produce through product catalogs; we take the audience into the working environment to physically experience their working conditions. Furthermore, through the testimony and exhibits of the migrant workers, the audience can learn about the real needs and expectations of their life in Taiwan. This exhibition finally brings out how NGOs have been working for the human rights of migrant workers/ new residents by presenting the important events of the past 30 years of migrant workers in the memorabilia.
We hope that this special exhibition can act a public platform. We look forward to inviting the audience to notice the existence of migrant workers in their daily life, reflect on policies and systematic problems, and finally take action.
The National Human Rights Museum, FIHRM-AP
The Awakening Foundation
Brilliant Time Bookstore
The Garden of Hope Foundation
Khuôn viên văn hoá Việt Nam
National Domestic Workers’ Union
Serve the People Association
Stella Maris Center, Kaohsiung
Taipei Womens’ Rescue Foundation
Taiwan Association for Human Rights
Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA)
Taiwan International Families’ Association (TIFA)
Trans Asia Sisters Association, Taiwan
Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Immigrants Office of the Catholic Church's Hsinchu Diocese
Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union
FIHRM (Federation of International Human Rights Museums) Oslo 2022 was inaugurated on the 19th of September. In response to the drastic changes in the world, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, totalitarianism, and extremism, this year’s theme discussed how contemporary museums face political pressure and threats of war and how they reflect on issues such as minority human rights and mass atrocities. Hung Shih-fang, Director of the National Human Rights Museum and President of FIHRM-Asia Pacific (FIHRM-AP), and his team attended FIHRM Oslo 2022. Hung shared that Taiwan has achieved human rights education and international cooperation to show Taiwan’s determination to promote democracy and human rights.
FIHRM is affiliated with the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Since its establishment in 2010, FIHRM has established regional networks, including FIHRM-LA(Latin America) and FIHRM-AP, and collaborated with Demokratinettverket in Norway. FIHRM-AP, headquartered at the National Human Rights Museum of Taiwan in 2019, has the most significant number of international institutional members among all networks. In FIHRM Oslo 2022, four presentations were from FIHRM-AP, three of which were from the National Human Rights Museum. Including “Advocacy for Addressing Contemporary Human Rights Issues - the Case Study of FIHRM-AP,” “Developing Trust and Mutual Understanding through Co-Creating Process – An Example from Green Island Art Festival in Taiwan,” and “Beyond Single Narrative: A Case Study of ‘Shared Journeys’ Exhibition.”
In his welcoming speech, Bard Frydenlund, Director of Eidsvoll 1814, stated that under pressures from stakeholders and political situations, a contemporary museum would face many challenges when responding to the needs of the public. Guillermo Whpei, President of FIHRM, advocated that “every museum can (and should) be a human rights museum” and called on all museums to strive for equality and start global campaigns to support children in poverty, child labor, and people suffering from modern slavery.
On the second day of the conference at the Nobel Peace Center, Hung Shih-fang shared the fruitful results of human rights promotion in Taiwan and the FIHRM-AP’s role as the human rights hub. It connected museums with civil society and supported the advocacy and practices of museums and human rights organizations in the Asia-Pacific region through international advocacy platforms. Hung also talked about FIHRM-AP’s work on transnational migrants and human rights, and human rights and climate change. He invited all FIHRM members to work together to achieve social justice. He called on FIRHM-AP members to focus on human rights issues in the Asia-Pacific region, including gender equality, sweatshops, negative heritages, and traumatic memory. These are all critical issues that the international society should emphasize, stated Hung, and are also what FIHRM-AP will promote, advocate, and practice in the future.
FIHRM Oslo 2022
Venue: Eidsvoll 1814, Nobel Peace Center, and The Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies
Event Link: Fihrm Oslo 2022
Date: 19th to 21st Sep. 2022.
Author profile -Chu Kuan-chen:
A social worker dedicated to the issue of poverty. She is the co-founder of Do You a Flavor and Poverty Academy and the curator of We Own the City, We Own Ourselves. Chu also co-authored Street Survival Guide and City Commoning.
About Do You a Flavor
Do You a Flavor is an NGO focusing on the issues of homelessness and urban poverty. From 2014 onward, the organization has initiated public advocacy campaigns and direct service programs. It also forms alliances with community, mental illness, housing, labor and gender groups. Do You a Flavor is committed to becoming a "facilitator" between people and issues.
Curate an Exhibition of the Poor in a Prosperous City
"Should we take an interest in the past, it would quickly dawn on us that the glaring glory of the great Taipei city is the accumulation of the toil and moil of the dream seekers traveling between North and South, those penniless, laborers in the low stratum, migrants, indigenous people and the poor over the course of hundreds of years. They came all the way to Taipei from high mountains, different corners of the island, and Southeast Asian countries. It is through their hands that the new landscape of a great city is shaped.
In other words, this prosperous city is not exclusively owned by those who are successful and affluent. The city also belongs to the frustrated and the poor."
--Introduction to We Own the City, We Own Ourselves by Paelabang Danapan
The world has identified poverty as one of the critical problems of this century calling for urgent solutions. However, voices of the poor are often the missing piece in the discussion of the issue. As individuals directly living through and responding to poverty, they own the profound understanding and experiences derived from those circumstances. However, as the majority of society still see poverty through the biased lens of stereotypes, most of those who have lived it have chosen to bury or deny that experience and thus they have become a muted group.
In 2017, several organizations supporting the those socially marginalized such as homeless, urban indigenous people, vulnerable families, high-risk teens, and those with mental disorder experience jointly launched an exhibition entitled We Own the City, We Own Ourselves (or Poor Taipei in short), an annual campaign which invites members of the general public to walk in the shoes of the poor for a better understanding on the issue of urban poverty.
An NGO Curatorial Approach: Walking Far Matters More Than Walking Fast
Every year, the Poor Taipei exhibition selects different topics such as "Four in the Morning" and "Choices Not Understood" as entry points for the issue of poverty and invites those experiencing poverty, social workers and artists to create works together. In an environment where people feel safe and respected, they share their experiences and feelings before they translate their stories into works in forms like songs, paintings, theater performances, and games, forming the gentle but powerful narratives of the exhibition.
The company of those they trust is especially important in the process. The social workers can gauge the conditions of the individuals living in poverty and their willingness for engagement. What’s more, the new discoveries made in the creative process can feed back into these social workers’ daily practice and thus build deeper and longer connections with those experiencing poverty. As back-and-forth confirmation consumes a lot of time and uncertainties pepper the process—in 2018, one of the participants who agreed to be filmed later refused to appear on the screen—for the exhibition team of Poor Taipei, being vocal is more than being heard by other people. It is also an important way to process one's own feelings. Putting a brake on or leaving the creative process is also acknowledged as natural and approved of, and no one would be abandoned for doing so. With the rapport established over time, Poor Taipei has become a trusted avenue for documentation and exchange to the involved organizations. And the exhibition also has new stories and creative ideas to offer every year. https://youtu.be/KHlf4mfTTnA?t=1155
Author profile - Michael Beltran
Michael has been a journalist for six years and also spent much more of his life as a political activist. His work has led him to cover stories in his home country concerning human rights, the shrinking democratic space, the interventionism of China and other global superpowers, forced migration, eviction and displacement along with a host of other stories focusing on various marginalized sectors.
As the Philippine edges closer out of lockdown, the whole country still reels from the collective trauma shared throughout the pandemic. It was not the virus, nor the uncertainty over a vaccine and a future that troubled Filipinos the most.
In the Philippines, there are a wide range of civil society groups with different approaches to their causes. Likewise, NGOs, mass organizations, sectoral and cultural groups have all contributed widely to the country and its most vulnerable citizens staying afloat.
Civil society groups have stepped in to fill the at least some of what has been lacking amid the pandemic lockdown. Food and food security has been a major an ongoing urgent matter throughout the pandemic. Both the sustainable access and the storage of food in lower-income communities is something many cause-oriented groups have had to contend with.
Mass organizations and foundations have set up Community Gardens and Kitchens throughout the country especially in slum communities where food sources and security has been scarce. Crops hang from rooftops in makeshift pots made from recycled plastic bottles. Harvesting is done by community groups collectively and the result is a cooperative effort at cooking and serving the food to all who are hungry and destitute.
Another initiative which also gained extreme popularity was the mutual aid phenomenon known as the community pantry. Patricia Non, a local activist and artist started with a modest idea, wherein one set up a table or shelf in a public place, packed it with food and bore the phrase “take what you need, leave what you can.” It sparked a nationwide mass movement for mutual aid.
Besides addressing a clear and present need, these efforts exposed the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the state’s pandemic response. Unsurprisingly, the state reacted by attempting to suppress these efforts, deeming them to be “terrorist” in what became a recurring theme in the politics of the pandemic.
The incredible distrust over the government’s response to the crisis has characterized much of the public sentiment over the last two years. Either that or a pervasive view that the Duterte government was incapable to do anything amid such apocalyptic circumstances. Instead of addressing a medical emergency, it had used the lockdown situation to exact more state-sponsored violence and terror on its victims.
Since late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte’s government had declared war against its political opponents. In the eyes of the state, only a communist or a terrorist - they used the term interchangeably - would question the regime. What’s more important is what comes after being labelled as such. Red-tagging or the labelling of activists and critics as supporters or recruiters for the communist insurgents is done towards the government’s political detractors. The label itself makes the case that someone who is a terrorist is fit for liquidation.
Concretely, Duterte established the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict or NTF-ELCAC. For context, a civil war has been going on in the Philippines for over 50 years, waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) with the armed guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA). While they have been the toughest opponents of an oppressive Philippine government for years, the civilian critics of the regime are being subjected to the same scrutiny as the rebels. The regime goes so far as to treat any and all forms of speech against the state as communist propaganda intended to recruit the youth into armed revolution.
The armed conflict in itself presents a myriad of questions left unanswered by the state. Why are there so many Filipinos rising up in arms, and why have they been doing this for so long? There has been a roadmap to peace agreements for a long time, but Duterte especially has chosen to answer this by clumping all his enemies together and demonizing them in order to rationalize increased violence.
This communist witch-hunting, reminiscent of McCarthyist practices during the cold war parallels Duterte’s infamous and bloody drug war. Early into his tenure, Duterte enacted Oplan Tokhang, a law enforcement–led anti-drug campaign. Much like the drug war, wherein those labelled as drug addicts or pushers were automatically ordered for elimination, the same was being done to the state’s political rivals.
In 2020, when the pandemic was at its most intense, it meant that activists were at their most vulnerable. Stay at home also meant staying in the line of fire. The killings among red-tagged activists noticeably increased as high-profile leaders were summarily and gruesomely assassinated in their homes.
Jory Porquia, Randall Echanis, Zara Alvarez and Carlito Badion were just a few of the prominent victims of state violence. Prior to their deaths they had carried the accusation of being a “communist-terrorist.” The term has been popularised by the military seeking to underpin that one cannot be a communist without being a terrorist as well. Subscribing to any ideology is not illegal in the Philippines. But to the armed forces, someone who is left-leaning is definitely a communist and therefore also and always a terrorist. Thus this terrorist must be eradicated.
Even the Commission on Human Rights expressed alarm over the disturbing pattern by which red-tagging landed you in a coffin. And it wasn’t just activists that were red-tagged. A whole array of civil society members were deemed terrorists, from lawmakers, members of the church, journalists, even a UN Special Rapporteur and also popular celebrities who were merely carrying out philanthropic efforts.
Criticism of the state was severely warranted! The Philippines has had some of the largest donations and loans for COVID-19 but has offered some of the lowest and littlest forms of aid. Most of the funds were funnelled to boost the police and military presence in the country enforcing severe prejudice against even the smallest violations. No mask, violating curfew, or even stepping outside your front door meant you could be handed a jail sentence.
Commonly you would hear Filipinos in slums fearing starvation and hunger over lost jobs and livelihood than the virus itself. All of this came to the fore when in April 2020, hundreds of slum dwellers in Metro Manila spontaneously protested the lack of aid and food shortages while Duterte’s allies flaunted their wealth and privilege. They were met with battering batons, truncheons and handcuffs. Twenty-one of the nation’s hungriest were thrown in jail and it took a national outcry to release them on bail.
In July of 2020, the state even made the whole process of eliminating targets easier. It passed the controversial Anti-Terror Law. It is the most draconian and repressive state policy since the country experienced all-out dictatorship during the Martial Law years of the 70s and 80s.
The Anti-Terror Law crystalized everything that Duterte and his cohorts were prattling on about and it allowed the unbridled curtailment of civil liberties. Arrests can now be made without warrants and only based on mere suspicion that one is a “terrorist.” The notion of terrorist itself is broadly defined to encapsulate anyone.
Most of what I have described is just the year 2020. Unfortunately, like the virus, these events set the tone for what has been happening in the Philippines up until the present. The country has been going through one of the worst human rights disasters in its contemporary history with the economic rights of the most vulnerable being continually deprived as well. What is grotesque about the Philippines is not only its atrocious human rights record, but the enormous social inequalities that were on full display during the lockdown. More of the same, if not ripples of the past crises persist to haunt us. The recent election results in May 2022 only cemented this feeling further.
The overall encroachment of human rights has been met with unprecedented opposition in the form of protests, assemblies, social media wars and the like.
Thankfully because of community-led efforts, the push back from civil society to carve out even a small space for democratic rights has gone a long way in terms of not letting the country fall completely back into its draconian and Martial Law era.
There are reasons to be hopeful. The gardens, kitchens and pantries represent just one side of the resistance. Opposition takes on many forms. But the undercurrent of dissent has been spilling out into the streets with more people and with more frequency. Things will get worse before they get better and many Filipino, organizations, associations and the like are readying themselves for that.
Author profile - Erpan Faryadi
Erpan Faryadi is currently the Project Manager for the Advocacy and Research Circle of Borneo (Link-AR Borneo), a community organization engaged in advocacy, campaigning, education, and research on the themes of democracy, human rights, natural resources, climate change, and people's sovereignty in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
About Link-AR Borneo
Link-AR Borneo (Borneo Advocacy and Research Circle) is a non-governmental organization that was established on April 2, 2009. It was established to carry out advocacy to address the massive problem of control over land, forests, and the natural resources above and contained therein by extractive industry. This is caused by political economy interests that prioritize the need for raw materials to supply the world's giant industries. This condition is inseparable from the earth of Borneo which contains abundant natural resources.
Based on this, Link-AR Borneo was established to carry out evidence-based advocacy. This advocacy is a manifestation of Link-AR Borneo's alignment with community interests and sustainable ecological justice. Since its establishment, Link-AR Borneo has been active in making various efforts in upholding and defending human rights, encouraging the improvement of just, sustainable forest and land management, as well as encouraging community independence in forest and land management.
Now is a good time to assess the Indonesian government's policies and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact these policies have on the people, including their impact on the fulfillment and respect of human rights.
Since the beginning of 2020 (January to March 2020), the Indonesian government and government officials have never seriously responded to the presence of COVID-19. They even seem to underestimate and do not believe that COVID-19 exists. The Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia in early 2020, stated that with the prayer of the religious leaders, COVID-19 will not befall Indonesia. Even the President of the Republic of Indonesia in March 2020 misled the people by stating, "The people of Indonesia will be able to contain COVID-19 by drinking herbal medicine." (See CNN Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Media Asing Soroti Jokowi Minum Jamu Untuk Tangkal Corona”). These unscientific responses are the basis for the Indonesian government's policies in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steps by the Indonesian Government in Handling COVID-19
Since the WHO announcement in March 2020 on COVID-19 as the global pandemic, the government should have started to take systematic steps to prevent transmission in Indonesia, by inviting health experts, especially infectious disease experts (epidemiologists). However, although the main problem is health problems, the views of health experts are rarely listened to by the government. Sometimes it is even underestimated and there are also many cases where the views of health experts are against the government. However, since April 2020, the Indonesian Government employed the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and the police to lock people in their homes, restrict worship, restrict people's movement and prohibit protests and demonstrations, which invite potential violations of human rights, particularly civil and political rights.
After the determination of the corona as a global pandemic, the Indonesian government took control measures, but without a 'national command'. Public health experts consider Jokowi's steps to be "slow" and not enough to calm the public. (See BBC News Indonesia, 16 March 2020, “Virus corona: Jokowi umumkan langkah pengendalian Covid-19, tapi tanpa komando nasional.”)
The government is also fond of introducing new terms and policies every month in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, without any significant meaning for preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in Indonesia. This shows the panic and lack of systematic policy direction from the government at all levels in tackling this deadly disease.
Government officials such as Minister of Social Affairs Juliari Batubara also corrupted social assistance (bansos) in the form of basic food packages for the poor in the context of handling COVID-19 in December 2020. This is an act of Indonesian government official who is very embarrassing in the midst of the difficulties the Indonesian people are struggling from COVID-19 pressure.
The situation with the increasing number of COVID-19 patients and the increasing number of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made it increasingly difficult for the Indonesian government to handle it. Whereas the government should guarantee the people's right to health, which is a human rights, including ensuring personal protective equipment for health workers who work on the front lines against COVID-19. Facing the ferocity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indonesian government seems helpless as it reports every day the numbers of patients and deaths due to COVID-19 have been increasing since mid-June 2021.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Indonesian People
Since April 2020, the Indonesian government has issued a large-scale social restriction (PSBB) policy aimed at breaking the chain of transmission of COVID-19. The PSBB policy has not achieved its goal at all, namely reducing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing deaths due to COVID-19, in line with the two general goals of handling COVID-19 issued by the WHO. In July 2021, the Corona Virus Disease-2019 or COVID-19 pandemic is getting crazier in Indonesia due to the government's indecisiveness in choosing between people's health versus economic growth.
Throughout July 2021, the Indonesian government implemented an Emergency Enforcement of Community Activity Restrictions (PPKM) for the islands of Java and Bali which took effect from 3 – 20 July 2021. Through the Emergency PPKM for Java and Bali, the government hopes to suppress the surge in cases of COVID-19 and reduce the number of deaths due to this pandemic. Meanwhile, outside Java and Bali, the government runs PPKM Micro (Enforcement of Community Activity Restrictions at the micro level such as regency and sub-districts). All of these government policies have no impact on the reduction of COVID-19. In fact, the number of transmission and death of COVID-19 in Indonesia is increasing.
The Role of Civil Society Organizations in COVID-19 in Indonesia
Civil society organizations (CSO) in Indonesia are active organizations since the era of Reformation or post-authoritarian era. Many civil organizations in Indonesia have played active role in the fields of human rights, climate change, health, law reform, food sovereignty, land rights and reform, peasant and workers issues, and others. Civil society organizations in Indonesia are also attracting many groups and individuals to join their actions and campaigns, including doctors, lawyers, agricultural experts and others which make civil society organizations are more credible and experienced in their fields. In essence, civil society organizations in Indonesia are contributing to the process of democracy in Indonesia after post-authoritarian era (post-1998).
Civil society organizations in Indonesia also pay great attention to the handling of COVID-19, including the Citizens' Coalition to Report Covid-19. The Citizens' Coalition for LaporCovid-19 or LaporCovid-19 was formed by a group of individuals who are concerned about citizens' human rights and public health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This coalition was formed in early March 2020, when cases of COVID-19 spread and were officially discovered.
LaporCovid-19 has built a citizen reporting platform that is used as a place to share information about incidents related to COVID-19 that have been discovered by residents, but have so far been out of reach of the government.
Using a crowdsourcing approach that involves the participation of citizens to be involved in recording COVID-19 numbers and reporting issues around COVID-19 in the vicinity, becomes a bridge for recording the number of COVID-19 incidents in the country. LaporCovid-19 is a forum to help the government and other citizens to find out the distribution and magnitude of COVID-19 in Indonesia. The data collected on the LaporCovid-19 channel is input for the government to formulate policies and steps to handle COVID-19 based on data in the field.
LaporCovid-19 is composed of the following civil society organizations in Indonesia: YLBHI, Tempo magazine, Efek Rumah Kaca, Transparency International Indonesia, Lokataru, Hakasasi.id, U-Inspire, STH Jentera, NarasiTV, Rujak Center for Urban Studies, Indonesia Corruption Watch. YLBHI is a human rights group that formed since 1970s to monitor consistently the human rights obligations of the Indonesian government; while Tempo Magazine is a part of Tempo group which focuses on human rights, environment, and corruption.
The chaotic handling of COVID-19 was highlighted by the Civil Society Coalition consisting of LaporCovid-19, ICW, YLBHI, LP3ES, and Lokataru. This coalition assesses that the Jokowi government has failed in handling the pandemic that has been experienced by Indonesia since early March 2020.
LaporCovid-19 criticizes: the government cannot prevent the death rate due to the problematic handling of COVID-19. According to LaporCovid-19, the death toll could have been reduced from the start if the government had implemented prevention and control quickly and strongly. See the article "Kasus Meninggal Melonjak & RS Kolaps, Negara Gagal Tangani COVID?", Tirto.id, 6 July 2021, https://tirto.id/ght5. Even though the government has budgeted Rp 695.2 trillion for the COVID-19 handling strategy in 2020. (See Kompas, 20 December 2020, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Menangani Covid-19 Sepanjang Semester II 2020.”)
Author profile - Huatzu Chan, Li-Chen Loh
Huatzu Chan holds a Ph.D. in Arts Management and Cultural Policy from National Taiwan University of Arts. Huatzu is currently the deputy head of the Research Division in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei. Her former positions include the secretary general of the Association of the Visual Arts in Taiwan (AVAT) and the executive director of the Digital Art Center, Taipei.
Li-Chen Loh specializes in contemporary art and new media art studies and creation, art creation and criticism, art education, and digital marketing and trend studies. She is on a temporary transfer from the Department of Public Relations and Advertising, Shih Hsin University to serve as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei.
About the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei
Founded in 2001, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei is the first art museum in Taiwan dedicated to contemporary arts. The museum further explores contemporary visual culture and society through a wide range of exhibitions and activities.
Today, the discussion of contemporary arts cannot exist independently outside of society. By encountering the ideas put forward by art works and reading the messages conveyed, the public are given the opportunity to freely start dialogues and exchange views. As an actor of socially engaged practice, the art museum aims to move the audience to reflection through their exhibition visits. By taking home with them the new ideas, they can take potential actions and make changes in the future. This is the power of contemporary arts which cannot be ignored.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei seeks to create space for discussion on contemporary social issues
Driven by this philosophy, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (MoCA Taipei) in recent years has mindfully incorporated a wide range of human rights issues in its curatorial practice. For example, in 2017, the Judicial Yuan's constitutional interpretation ruled that the failure of the current Civil Code to protect the freedom and equal rights of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and ordered that the legislature to complete relevant regulatory amendments or formulation of a special law to protect the right to same-sex marriage. This move made Taiwan the first country in Asia which legalized same-sex marriage. In the meanwhile, MoCA Taipei launched Spectrosynthesis - Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now by independent curator Sean C. S. Hu. As the very first large scale exhibition on LGBTQI+ issues organized by an art museum operated by the state in Taiwan, the significance cannot be more self-evident. Installed on the plaza before MoCA Taipei was a work called Rainbow in the Darkness by artist Chih-Wei Chuang. Viewers could leave messages revealing their darkest secrets and protest against injustice in silent screams. These were juxtaposed with many praises and good wishes, making them heard to the public. This giant closet rattled loudly with all kinds of voices and a powerful rainbow shined through. The exhibition further toured to places like Bangkok and Hongkong and continued to manifest the power of contemporary arts in action when it engages with social issues.
Author profile - Andi Achdian
Andi Achdian is an assistant-professor at Sociology Department, Faculty of Social and Political Science, Universitas Nasional. He is also the head of Omah Munir Foundation.
About Munir Human Rights Museum
The Munir Human Rights Museum was originally established with the name Omah Munir (House of Munir) Human Rights Museum by the Omah Munir Human Rights Foundation in 2013 in the city of Batu, East Java, where Munir was born and raised. The establishment of the Museum is to promote human rights education for Indonesians, especially the youths to nurture peace-loving citizens that respects human rights and upholds the principles of tolerance and equality.
The New Order regime collapsed in May 1998. After ruling more than three decades, General Suharto resigned, replaced by the vice president B.J. Habibie who is committed to taking Indonesian politics in a democratic direction. With the collapse of the New Order, political parties sprang up like mushrooms. The new era of the multiparty political system has been evolving to be the foundation of the democratization process in Indonesia to this day. However, not all the basic building blocks of the regime disappeared. Some of the regime's legacy persist in contemporary Indonesian politics.
One of them is the conception of the history of modern Indonesia that features the role of the military, specifically the army, as a key force to save Indonesia from the communist threat in 1965. This historical narrative span more broadly after the army succeeded in fully controlling political power towards the 1970s. The narrative was no longer about the success of the army in crushing the communist movement but also emphasized that Indonesian independence was the main achievement of the army in struggling against the Dutch.
The role of the anti-colonial movement activists such as Sukarno, Hatta, and Sjahrir slowly faded away, replaced by the role of the army and their heroism in the war of independence. In her study of the 20th century modern Indonesian historical narrative, Katherine McGregor (2007) aptly describes it as “history in uniform” to picture how the construction of official Indonesian history that promotes the role of the army was built during the New Order period. This gave us clues that apart from its use for progressive and liberating activism, a museum can also be used by ruling regimes to grease the wheels of the reactionary false historical consciousness of authoritarian rulers. The architect behind it was Nugroho Notosusanto, an academic and military historian who later became the minister of education during the New Order era. Under his direction, the historical narrative is supported by the construction of museums and monuments in various big cities in Indonesia that remind the public of the services and important role of the army.
Movement Against Forgetting
Under the New Order regime, museums have gone beyond their conventional definition as places to store "objects of artistic, cultural, historical or scientific interest" (Oxford Dictionary), to become an instrument of power that legitimizes the historical role of the regime. There came efforts to dismantle this narrative not long after the 1998 reformation. In early 2000, the narratives promoted by independent historians in Indonesia became polemics. Asvi Warman Adam was one of the main figures who proposed “rectification of history” (Adam, 2004). In highlighting the role of the army, the official narrative of the 1965 event was then juxtaposed with the narrative of the killing of hundreds of thousands of communists and those accused of being communists in various places in Indonesia. However, this new wave was still limited as an academic discourse circulating in limited circles. The New Order’s official narrative was still the dominant version, supported by history texts in elementary and secondary schools, films, and especially in the New Order’s museums and monuments that remain to the present.
Another challenge came from human rights activists and the pro-democracy movement as they attempted to strengthen the public's memory of what happened back in 1998 when Indonesia was under economic and political crisis. On December 10, 2014, activists and academics from the Trisakti University inaugurated the May 12, 1998 Tragedy Monument coinciding with the world human rights commemorates. The monument is made of black ceramic in a 3 meter-height as an effort to commemorate four students shot dead by security forces during a student demonstration on their campus.
At the same time, Komnas Perempuan (the National Commission on Violence Against Women) made the May 1998 Tragedy Inscription as part of an effort to remember the violence and rapes against Chinese women. Volunteers conveyed the rapes of Chinese women to the media and the stories became controversial at the beginning of the reformation. The government responded by forming a Joint Fact-Finding Team (TPGF) to explore the facts surrounding the issue. However, they did not find any supporting "evidence" about the mass rape cases, and the government officially denied that it ever happened. Responding to the government's response, Ita Martadinata as a young volunteer, citizen of Chinese descent and a victim in the incident, planned to give testimony before the United States Congress. However, before her departure to the US, she was found murdered, and the story of the mass rape of Chinese women was forgotten. The May 1998 Tragedy Inscription is a witness that reminds the public of this history.
Meanwhile, in the westernmost region of Indonesia of Aceh Darussalam, a more phenomenal step was taken by several NGO organizations in 2011 by building the Aceh Human Rights Museum. The museum is small. They built panels in the yard of the Tikar Pandan Community office which displayed narrations of shootings against residents protesting at Simpang KKA, people who went missing during the conflict, and the houses "rumoh geudong" where soldiers tortured people suspected of being the Free Aceh Movement sympathizers. It’s a simple museum, but with a great mission as stated in their manifesto:
We believe that small lights will always keep a sign in dark spaces. So, we built a sanctuary of memory; so that we, the women and men of Aceh, who live and die, who are raped and slaughtered, who are tortured and obliterated, raise a voice that goes beyond life and death: Never again! Aceh bek le lagee njan! Aceh never again!
In short, political reformation in Indonesia has opened the door for human rights activists and pro-democracy movements in Indonesia to create new historical narratives aside from the official one. They use the main slogan "against forgetting" to respond to the prevailing culture of impunity in Indonesia that allows perpetrators of past human rights crimes to still breathe free air. The movement against forgetting through museums and monuments eventually became an initiative to counter the government's neglect of these crimes.
Another account that illustrates how museums become an arena for activism is through the ongoing construction of the Munir Human Rights Museum in Batu City, Malang, East Java. I will describe here briefly from my own point of view as member of Omah Munir Foundation’s member.
It starts with the stories on gross human rights violations in Indonesia similar to what happened to Munir Said Talib (1965-2004), a prominent Indonesian human rights lawyer who was murdered on September 7, 2004, on his way to the Netherlands for his further studies. Besides the fact that the reformation has opened the political faucet for democratization in Indonesia, Munir's death is a wake-up call for many Indonesians that the old regime legacies remain entrenched in their contemporary life. His case trials could only imprison the field operators, but key figures coming from high-ranking military and intelligence officials remained free from legal sentences. Impunity was back in power in this case.
In 2013, Suciwati contacted me while I had just completed the establishment of a police museum in Indonesia. She expressed a desire to build a museum dedicated to her husband and the struggle for human rights in Indonesia. I know Munir quite closely. He was an old colleague when I worked under his leadership at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. I saw Suciwati's proposal as a brilliant idea, emphasizing the importance of museums as an “engaged of protest” arena, as exemplified in the establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian in the 1980s and the civil rights movement in the United States (Kyle Message, 2013).
The question is how do we finance the plan? Museum is an expensive project with the involvement of architects, construction engineers, and historians, and it became a formidable challenge. The first solution came from Suciwati who gave up her house with the late Munir in Batu City, East Java Province, as a museum. It was a small house of no more than about 400 square meters including a yard and house buildings. Although small, it has a significant historical value and a good underpinning to start the initiative.
By mid-2013, Suciwati planned to gain wider support. The idea of building a museum that talks about Munir's life and the history of the human rights struggle in Indonesia has become viral. Young activists joined, as did artists and media celebrities, including politicians and public officials who sympathized with Munir, for example, Lukman Hakim Syaifuddin (who later became Minister of Religion) and Dahlan Iskan, owner of a media network who became Minister of State-Owned Enterprises. The development of museum eventually has provided a kind of engagement of a wider network in democratic movement in Indonesia.
The process of building this museum has finally opened a new way of campaigning for human rights in Indonesia. People previously distant from human rights and democratization issues suddenly appeared to involve by giving their time, energy, and funds in a joint project. This seems to represent Sidney Tarrow’s idea (2011) about modular collective action which brings together various parts previously separated in a joint action among civil society. Entering the end of the year, the museum building was complete, and it was officially opened to the public under the name Omah Munir (literally Munir's House) on December 8, 2013. What was previously just a dream, has finally come true. The Omah Munir Foundation consisting of the initiators of the museum was later established for the purpose of management.
Omah Munir is a project that directly challenges the official and conservative historical narrative that has been lasting for decades. The museum provides a counter experience to the established historical narrative. As visitors arrive at the museum, they will meet the bust of Munir donated by a sculptor while the museum was under construction. Visitors are then taken to see a flow of historical narratives presenting about the birth of the human rights movement in Indonesia through the formation of YPHAM (Human Rights Care Foundation) and YLBHI not long after the birth of the New Order. The fact that YPHAM is an organization that actively defends communist political prisoners and campaigns for justice has challenged the official narrative of the army's success in crushing the communist movement.
Another story in the museum also features a female worker, Marsinah, who was killed in an interrogation process by the military for her involvement in leading a labor strike. The presentation of her story in Omah Munir is also a reminder for visitors about the achievement of Indonesia's development which must be repaid with the sweat and blood of the workers. Other stories highlight incidents of gross human rights violations in Indonesia, such as enforced disappearances and political killings as in Papua and East Timor (now an independent state). It for certain includes Munir's personal story and his life journey as a human rights defender, and the murder incident against him as well.
Since its official opening on December 8, 2013, Omah Munir has received visitors from various backgrounds and of all ages. However, university students and young students make the highest number of visitors. They see their visits as part of the human rights learning process in schools and universities. After five years, it is interesting to reflect that museum could be an effective medium for campaign activities of human rights institutions for instilling important universal human rights norms in the lives of Indonesian people.
Munir Human Rights Museum
The fact that providing alternative discourse to the conservative historical narrative by a small museum like Omah Munir was undeniably limited. In 2018, Omah Munir management board has begun to consider the importance to develop cooperation with government to enhance and develop Omah Munir’s museum into bigger human rights museum in terms of building, infrastructure, program, as well as support system. This step was quite successful by having the government's commitment to fund the construction of a museum as provided by the East Java provincial government, and land as provided by the Batu city government.
In addition, the management board elaborated a wider collaboration with other elements of civil society. There were three main activities on this regard. Firstly, cooperation with Indonesian Architects Association (AAI) to organize museum design competition to build public awareness about the importance of human rights museum. The result was an attractive design by the architect Achmad Deni Tardiyana (Apep) with an eco-friendly and sensitive to diffable. Secondly, Omah Munir Foundation was also collaborating with the Jakarta Arts Institute to hold a competition of creating artworks to be displayed at the museum. Thirdly, Omah Munir has also organized consultative meetings with environmental activists, journalists, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and women activists to explore the possible narrative and themes for the museum. The points from this meeting then resulted in a key issue for museum curatorial development.
The first floor is specially designed for children to recognize important values such as tolerance, freedom, and equality in public life. The second floor is for the history of human rights in Indonesia which brings content such as issues of gross human rights violations, the environment, indigenous peoples, women, and press freedom as proposed by civil society groups in Indonesia. The last floor is the stories about Munir and his initiatives such as the campaign about missing persons are on the third floor which is the last room for visitors to reflect on human rights issues in Indonesia.
Collaborative works with government undeniably raised some questions about curatorial independency, especially in the issue of human rights. Does the future human rights museum will be able to stand with impartial integrity to the thorny case of gross human rights violence in Indonesia’s history?
Yet, some adjustment and changes did occur during this process. The first was the changing of museum name into Munir Human Rights Museum. But rather than signifying conformity to official view, it was intended to embrace a wider issue of human rights in Indonesia beyond the specific theme of human rights defender stories as represented in the previous museum. In terms of curatorial independency, thankfully the political climate in Indonesia still provides an open room to keep it.
Worst scenario might happen in the future. But one thing is certain from this experience. Museums and historical sites have become an important arena of social activism for human rights activists and pro-democracy movements in the reformation period. Time will tell whether this is an effective method to instill the importance of human rights values in the mind of Indonesia’s younger generation.