Who are ruangrupa, the Indonesian artist collective tasked with curating the renowned Documenta 15 in 2022?

Who are ruangrupa, the Indonesian artist collective tasked with curating the renowned Documenta 15 in 2022?

Power in numbers

Text: Aravin Sandran

Image: Gudskul Jin Panji

On 22 February 2019, documenta announced that the artistic direction of its 15th edition will lie in the hands of ruangrupa, a collective of artists and creatives based in Jakarta. Arguably the largest and most important exhibition of contemporary art in the world, the 100-day event  which is held once every five years — will bring the international art community to the central German city of Kassel from 18 June to 25 September in 2020. The seminal appointment is a watershed moment in the exhibition's 60-year long history for two significant reasons: it will be organised for the first time by an artist collective and led for the first time by an Asian artistic director, giving new prophetic meaning to writer Jens Hoffman's influential 2004 publication The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By An Artist.

The eight-member Finding Commitee explained their decision in the official press release, saying: "We have appointed ruangrupa because they have demonstrated the ability to appeal to various communities, including groups that go beyond pure art audiences, and to promote local commitment and participation. Their curatorial approach is based on an international network of local community-based art organizations. We are eager to see how ruangrupa will develop a concrete project for and from Kassel. At a time when innovative strength particularly stems from independent organizations active on the community level, it seems only logical to offer this collective approach a platform with documenta."

So, who are ruangrupa? For starters, their Bahasa Indonesian name loosely translates as "a space for art" or "space form". The exact number of members in the collective seems to fluctuate with each project, but for documenta 15, a core team of at least nine (as pictured in the official release) have been engaged with director Ade Darmawan at its helm. Established in 2000, the not-for-profit organisation run an art space in South Jakarta and operate contemporary art gallery RURU Gallery, online journal Karbon, biannual presentation of the best students' works Jakarta 32°C, eccentric merch store RURU Shop, biannual media art festival OK.Video, art criticism workshop, popular culture radio station RURUradio, and a few other festivals, research and educational programmes. On top of that long list of locally produced activities, the collective has participated in regional and international biennales and triennales in Gwangju, Istanbul and Singapore among others.

Their most notable curatorial work to date that would be suggestive of their approach for documenta 15 would be their involvement in the Dutch city-wide exhibition SONSBEEK '16: transACTION. Built around community engagement, the collective opened 'ruru house' in the centre of Arnhem where visitors could participate in lectures and cooking workshops. Curiously, they launched an open call that invited visitors to use the artworks in imaginative ways, for their birthdays and site-specific performances.


The collective laid out their community-centred, participatory ambitions for documenta 15 in 2022, saying that they want to establish a platform that will "have an impact beyond the 100 days" of the event. "If documenta was launched in 1955 to heal war wounds, why shouldn't we focus documenta 15 on today's injuries, especially ones rooted in colonialism, capitalism, or patriarchal structures, and contrast them with partnership-based models that enable people to have a different view of the world." Following documenta 14's highly public budgetary woes in 2017 because of its two-city macro approach, local cultural production and a people-first mindset seem truly anarchic. In three short years, the collective has to assemble, organise and kickstart its ground-up initiatives in a completely foreign space. It might seem like an uphill task for a sole curator, but it is exactly what the multi-headed ruangrupa thrives on though.

documenta 15 is set to take place from 18 June to 25 September 2019 in Kassel, Germany.

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