by Obed Bima Wicandra*. Translated to English by Gita Artia.

Urban art is closely tied  to its geographical factor–that is the city–not only just as a landscape but also as an open space where the dialogues and the dialectics of the citizen happen. The heterogeneity of the citizens ,which is significantly affected by their hometown origins, caused the many different characteristics and cultural signs in the (so-called) big cities. Jakarta is definitely different from Surabaya, just as the characteristics of Medan would be different from Yogyakarta and so on. The art produced is definitely more complex. This is what differentiates the city with its binary opposition, the village. A village is inclined to be more homogeneous. “Culture” in a village tends to focus more on the benefit of culture to produce the art products.1 The transcendental nature of a village influences the art movement more than in a city. Undeniably, the urban art is born under a very complex condition of a city, starts from social, economic, and politics. At the city, the infrastructure and the facilities to expand the urban art is supported by the ease of information access which can  make it possible to communicate globally.

Besides the geographic factor, urban art is also firmly related to the mass culture and the culture industries. The industrialization which has created the mass culture and it has torn down the absolute thinking of the modernism era. The absolute way of thinking , especially when it comes to the compartmentalization of art into high art and low art, surprisingly are being reduced. This kind of relativity  has later triggered the development of open minded thinking, particularly in ways  to find the real values in art. Now, art is not only considered as an object that is displayed in the gallery or museum, it is not also something that had to be watched in the opera building or had to be listened in the classic way. This kind of development has also been supported by the political system which has been more open. The resistance and the politic attitude has also applied a color to the mass culture of the whole world. This change forms the background that triggered the development of the industry familiar to all of us, which then produced pop culture.2 Thus, some people also define urban art as pop art. The urban art has started to expand not only on a village or a city level, but now also on state-wide, and globally. The urban art can be seen in the works of street art (graffiti, poster, wheat paste, etc.), mural, clothing, comics, lomo photograph, street dance and many more, especially in the creations  by the urban community.

Surabaya on the Record3

In 1996 up until in the early of 2000’s, Surabaya recognized a trend of  youth communities who liked to write something down by publishing a zine. Zine is an alternative media which is independently managed and published to balance the mainstream culture, and generally a media which is widely recognized by the hardcore community or punk community. In the earlier years, the political condition in Indonesia had publicly heated up under the new sociopolitical era. The opposition against politics was used to be done  by publishing articles that contain social critics. Photocopy was considered as an effective and cheap media to arouse the social consciousness at that time. In Surabaya, to cite from C2O library’s file (see the article on Zine//Picnic—ed.), in about 1996 there was a zine named Subchaos which only lasted until 2001. Subchaos was an alternative media that was published by the punk/hardcore scene. In 2000, there were many alternative media that had the same concept appearing from the indie-pop scene such as Pool Cat, Iki, and then Mellonzine.

According to my notes, there were also The Appreciate, Tu7uh, and Against! All of those three emerged from the Petra community. Different from the aforementioned three names which was born from the indie-pop music scene, zines that were created from campus were usually about cultural studies issue.

The appearances of these zines were mentioned as the second wave of the appearance of zine in Surabaya by Ayik during the zine//picnic gathering in C2O Library.

The third wave of zine movement in Surabaya was marked by the emergence of 11 zines which were: Sometimes I Do Mind The Animals, coretmoret, Botol, Dumb, main(k)an, Kremi, Aligator, KHAAK, Tropical Rembulan, Helloworld, Sunshine, and the launching of Subchaos #9, Halimun #6, and kurang Xajar #4. There were also Katalis, SAâI, Manazine, Seize, Ultrassafinah, and JMAA. The last four names mentioned were born from ITS which was based on using media as a religious publications and they are still being published up until this article is written.

In the street art world, in about 2002, the graffiti community in Surabaya was still a bit reserved. From my own notes, the graffiti community at that moment was enlivened by high school students. Yuck Fou and Humble were two names of the communities that were frequently announced by mass media such as Jawa Pos in Surabaya at that year. The responses from the media were various, from considerating them as vandalism to recognizing them as a new art. In 2004, Surabaya was surprised by a new-style graffiti which at that time was considered strange  even by the graffiti community in Surabaya. The tag line, “AYO REK!” was painted on the wall at some Nginden street as if it was triggering or taunting the urban art movement in Surabaya that was indifferent, unresponsive compared to the other cities that was already heating up. Actually that graffiti had been created by an international artist from Jogja, Nano Warsono, when he visited Surabaya. In the next year, Monica Never Come (MNC) emerged in about 2005 and added some glitter and glamour to the street art in Surabaya. The emergence of graffiti movement in Surabaya had also ruffled the feathers of Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja (Governing Bureaucracy) to clean up the graffiti from the walls on every corner of the city since they were considered as vandalism. 4 However, recently, there are even more street art communities showing up using various names, as if the more they are supressed, the more they multiplied. The last community that has recently come out and further adding colors to Surabaya’s street is Street Art Surabaya (SAS).

Along with the urban art form of graffiti, in 2005 mural art has also emerged. Different from graffiti which is more focused in exploring tagging, the mural art is about painting using the wall as the media. During the event Gerakan Mural Kota (City Mural Movement), the mass media was positively welcoming.

There were so many articles written in the media such as Jawa Pos, Surya, Surabaya Post and internet  that were welcoming the presence of mural in Surabaya. Not to mention the bloggers outside Surabaya who also enjoyed the appearance of mural in Surabaya and had latered inspired them to do a report about it. As a result, there appeared many communities like Tiada Ruang that facilitated other communities which want to get involved in the movement. Tiada Ruang community is actively in charge in facilitating mural event gatherings and has been positively receieved by the government of Surabaya at that time. Tiada Ruang has also been invited to the Biennale Jogja IX in 2007 and it was also mentioned in the art magazine, “Visual Art” on its 2008 article about the mural art scene emergence in the 3 cities, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya. Now, the mural community is increasingly glowing more than ever with the appearance of X-Go Warhol with its Bunuh Diri community, then Sembako, Arctic, and many more who were coming afterwards. Those mural communities are very massive and responsive towards the sociopolitical condition. So, it is not a surprise if there is any social issue on television airing today, then the next day in some corner of the Surabaya’s street, that issue will already be transferred into a mural. In the end of 2011, these communities created Serikat Mural Surabaya (SMS) as a place for doing mural art on the street together. Consequently, even Surabaya cannot be missed from the urban mural art.

The comic community cannot be underestimated either. Events are actively held since 2000 up until now. Not to mention the community growth as well as new comic talents from Surabaya. From my notes, Oret101 is a comic community which was frequently mentioned in 2000’s. The community that was established by Abdoel Semute has great presence in many comic events in Indonesia (Festival Komik dan Animasi Nasional (National Comic and Animation Festival), Pekan Komik Indonesia (Indonesia Comic Week), etc). Also emerged were names such as Broky, Yudis, Pak Waw, Is Yuniarto, Hangga Ganiadi, X-Go Warhol, Shienny Megawati, and many more. Broky and friends just launched a comic book with the title 101 Hantu Nusantara in 2011. Is Yuniarto also has become one of the most popular comic artist nowadays with his Wind Rider and Garudayana. Apparently, Surabaya still has not run out of energy to produce many great talentsin the comic field. The presence of comic usually is followed with the appearance of animators. Cak Ikin and Pak Waw are  a few names that areactive in the animation community in Surabaya.

How about the clothing line in Surabaya? Noted up until now, there are tens of clothing lines and clothing stores. Urban Clothing Fest and KICK Fest (Indie Clothing Expo) are the proof of how the culture product such as clothing can be so popular in Surabaya. In addition to that, there is also a lot more fashion designers in Surabaya who held fashion festivals. Of course this has encouraged the growth of creativity of Surabaya youth in the clothing field. How about the city architecture? In Surabaya there is DeMaYa (Desainer Muda Surabaya – Young Surabaya Designers) which also presented the design of city parks that is quite urban. There are still a lot more forms of urban art in Surabaya—if we list all of them here, it would be very long and take a lot of pages.

I think, in the future, Surabaya will still be livened up by many kind urban art forms brought by the youth. Like the lyrics  if a song bySuperman Is Dead,  the youth has a “dangerous” potential. No one ever knows what the future holds while they are still young and dangerous.

The Paradox of Urban Art as a Culture Industry

There are several things that have to be put into attention for the urban art communities in Surabaya as a reflection material to see that urban art is “a work of art” that is commonly full of originality and creativity. The growths of urban art in Surabaya (and in other big cities) often just becomes a temporary euphoria, at least to show that their city is not behind the others. With that kind of pragmatic mission, the movement is definitely going to be short-term and would easily disappear. Urban art as a dialectic will only become a parity of thinking. It would even be possible that the urban art has no dialectic. If there is something that is happening at England, with the ease of technology access, we can make it happen in Surabaya.  Likewise, if something has become a new trend in Australia, in a second we can make it happen in Surabaya. The impact, like Adorno and Horkheimer had said, because of the industry, the urban becomes just a celebration for the global diversity. There is no such particular characteristic to be used as a signifier for a city or a country.

Adorno and Horkheimer posed an idea about “the culture industry” to show that culture does relate to the economic-politics and the cultural product created by corporations. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, cultural product is a commodity that is produced by the cultural industry which may seem democratic, individual, and diverse at first, but is in fact authoritative, homogenic,  and standardized5 Similar to Kopytoff’s thinking, the culture industries will change the formation of value of things that are produced by the capitalist system, which is to place and to use consumer as a commodity. Advertising encourages the promotion of a lifestyle rather than promoting a product6

Adomo distinguished the idea of culture industry and the idea of mass culture. In his opinion, the mass culture believes that the people have a genuine responsibility towards the culture they enjoy. Hence, culture had been designed through the inclination of the mass itself. With few steps ahead from the mass culture experts, Adorno sees that the mass culture  as a burden that is being put to the mass of which they are ready to embrace as long as they do not realize that it is a burden for them.7

Culture industries take something from books, paintings, and music and then transform it to movies, posters, or recordings just to look for some money or to entertain audience to help them forget about what they have been through. Consequently, books, paintings, and music have in fact become part of our daily life, where the ability to defy the inherent values in all cultural products, have been sterilized, eliminated. Through the studies of culture industries, the point of the argument is that the media and the culture are often in an unbalanced position .8

Isn’t now the era of globalization,? Yes, indeed. But the facility to communicate globally that we have gotten so far is not only just enough as an effort to copy-paste the trend that is happening. The urban art that historically is a form  of resistance   (economic, politic, and also the art itself) has lost its original value. What happens next is the homogeinity in the pattern of thinking and the lack of creativity. If Basquiat was able to present the anti-aesthetics through his graffiti, why could we not able to do the same thing althought it may possibly gets many insulting comments in the beginning? This is where the dialectics happen. If it happened, then the urban art would find its new form. Surabaya truly could present new things just as the paintings behind the trucks that move passed the streets every day. This kind of form is a new thing that we will not  be able to find in Britain and in United States – as the countries with prominent urban art scene. Urban art still needs a local genius though we cannot ignore the growth of the urban art in other countries.

*The DKV lecturer of Petra Christian University. The head vice of “Pusat Studi Seni Vernakular” in Petra Christian University Surabaya. A researcher of popular studies, got a degree in Master of Arts (Media and Cultural Studies) in UGM Yogyakarta.


[1] Arnold Hausser, 1982, The Sociology of Art, Chicago: The University of London, pg. 562

FX Harsono,“Kebudayaan Massa yang Menghibur” inConcept Magazine, 19th edition, year 2009.

3 Based on the memory and media records. Please be understanding if the range of time and few names that has mentioned are not suitable enough with what has happened or maybe there will also happen in incorrect writing.

 4 Obed Bima Wicandra, “Street Art Menyapa Kota” on Jawa Pos, February 5th 2006.

5 M. Horkheimer and T. W Adorno in Chris Barker’s, Cultural Studies; Teori dan Praktek. Translated by Nurhadi (Yogyakarta, 2005), pg. 47.

6 Abdullah Sumrihadi, “Diam dan Mari Nikmati: Industri Budaya sebagai Arsitek Selera Massa”Jurnal Global, Faculty of Social Science and Politics, University of Indonesia, 2007, pg. 3.

Adorno in Abdullah Sumrihadi, ibid., pg. 4.

8 Adorno in Keith Tester, Immor(t)alitas Media, translated by Abdullah Sumrahadi, (Yogyakarta, 2009), pg. 48.

5 M. Horkheimer and T. W Adorno in Chris Barker’s, Cultural Studies; Teori dan Praktek. Translated by Nurhadi (Yogyakarta, 2005), pg. 47.

6 Abdullah Sumrihadi, “Diam dan Mari Nikmati: Industri Budaya sebagai Arsitek Selera Massa”Jurnal Global, Faculty of Social Science and Politics, University of Indonesia, 2007, pg. 3.

Adorno in Abdullah Sumrihadi, ibid., pg. 4.

8 Adorno in Keith Tester, Immor(t)alitas Media, translated by Abdullah Sumrahadi, (Yogyakarta, 2009), pg. 48.

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