In Art, criticism and social protest have long find their place way before demonstration becomes a trend. Just take a look at the poetry of the late Rendra, Putu Wijaya’s dramas, Iwan Fals’ songs, Teater Koma’s plays, Hardi’s paintings, and also the paintings and performances of Heri Dono.
The target of the criticism and protest tends to vary in every era. During the period of the New Order, the target of criticism was the authoritarian government, the Cendana Family (Soeharto’s family lived at Cendana Street), the all powerful military, and political parties under the control of the rulers.
Certainly the criticism and protests were “wrapped” in such a manner and it would need great guts to convey them. The artists under close watch by the authority included Rendra, Rhoma Irama, Guruh Soekarnoputra, Iwan Fals, N. Riantiarno, and Hardi.
These critical and creative people were not allowed to disturb the development trilogy (national growth, equal distribution, and stability). Somewhat confusing was the answer of Sudomo (the then Coordinating Minister of Political and Security Affairs) when asked why did the “Cockroach Opera” (a play of Teater Koma) was prohibited. He said, “Well, why should the title be Cockroach Opera, just get a better one.”
Many prohibitions and bans at that time had unclear reasons. Say, the King of dangdut Rhoma Irama and Guruh Soekarnoputra were once banned from the TVRI station (when it was the only television station in the country).
Rendra had also been banned from performing in Taman Ismail Marzuki. Hardi, who displayed his graphic work titled “President RI 2001 Suhardi” in one exhibition, was arrested and being held by the Special Implementers of Greater Jakarta (Laksusda Jaya) with a serious charge: subversion. Thanks to Adam Malik’s intervention (he was then the Vice President), Hardi was released.
Thus, critical artists in the New Order era had their own special place within the heart of the people and the press. The press, who also faced pressures, threats, and even banning, had found its own ways to support the “fight” of the critical artists.
There was a particular requirement for the artists. Whenever they would perform or organize an exhibition, they have to own a permit from the security authority. Oftentimes, the poetry or theater script had to be submitted first. Then the security officers, whose taste of appreciation was certainly far below H.B. Jassin, would valiantly strike out certain words or poems, dialogues, or scenes that need to be erased (if they would keep performing). Even accomplished poet such as Emha Ainun Najib, had also experienced this treatment in Yogyakarta.
Similar treatment also found in film. The censor scissor of the Film Censor Agency at the time had a very sharp edge. For example the movie made by the late director Syumandjaya, titled The Young The Lovers, starring Poppy Darsono and Rendra, had stayed in the movie rack for two years before it was allowed to be screened. And it was not a complete movie anymore. In the literary world, perhaps we still remember the hustle and bustle of Ki Panji Kusmin’s short story “The Sky was Getting Cloudy” case that dragged Indonesian Literary Pope H.B. Jassin to the court.
In the area of books, the government had banned more than a few of literary and nonliterary texts. Writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer was one of those whose novels were not easy to find, although the ban had contributed to their popularity and drove people to seek them. (WI/Yusuf Susilo Hartono)