Yogyakarta, considered one of Indonesia’s centers for artistic expression, is often referred to as a “City of Tolerance”. But, as throughout the rest of Indonesia, intolerant extremist organizations in Yogyakarta are increasingly being tolerated by the police when they try to shut down events they don’t agree with (or just don’t understand).
The latest such incident took place on Monday at the Independent Art-Space & Management gallery on Jalan Jl. Nagan Lor. It was the final day of the gallery’s exhibition titled “Idola Remaja Nyeni” (Artsy Teen Idol) which included different artists’ takes on pop art.
However, an organization calling themselves Laskar Kalimosodo (another self-appointed group of moral policemen similar to the Islamic Defenders Front) somehow confused the gallery with an organization, PLU Satu Hati, that had once been registered to the same building as the gallery. PLU Satu Hati that was holding an LGBT workshop celebrating International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) that Laskar Kalimosodo claimed to have received information about on social media.
Although the event was not even taking place in their building, late on Monday night Laskar Kalimosodo reported the gallery to the police and questioned the owners about their relationship to the LGBT workshop. Even after it was made clear that they were not connected to the LGBT workshop, Laskar Kalimosodo members went on to accuse them of hosting pornographic works at the exhibition and pressured them into removing frescoes created by two of the artists.
“It’s strange, what parts are showing porn? We were forced to remove them because of their insistence,” Devie Triasari, one of the exhibit’s organizers, told Tempo.
Not only that, early Tuesday morning police arrived at the gallery and confiscated nine paintings, supposedly in order to prevent further unrest.
In a Facebook post, the management of the gallery explained the chronology of events leading up to the removal and confiscation of their artworks. They also said that police had been informed about the exhibition beforehand and that they had not given them any documentation guarantee that the artwork would be returned.
Fortunately the Legal Aid Institute of Yogyakarta is working with the gallery to make sure the paintings are returned. They are also considering the possibility of taking legal action against the police for misconduct.
Whatever the outcome, the actions of the Yogyakarta Police clearly show that they are more interested in protecting the outrage of extremists than freedom of expression. It is just another part of an increasinly worrying trend throughout Indonesia.