Ban on graffiti art questioned

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Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The latest regulation on public space from the populist Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has raised some eyebrows, especially those of mural and graffiti artists.

In a gubernatorial decree issued on April 18, the government will punish individuals or firms that write, draw, paste pamphlets or posters on walls in public places to with a maximum of 60 days in prison and a 20 million rupiah (US$2,054) fine.

The decree is the operating regulation of Article 21 of Bylaw No. 8/2007 on public order.

Panji Purnama Putra, the coordinator of mural and graffiti community Garis Keras feat Spik Lala, said the walls belonged to the public, therefore they had the right to use them.

"Why should there be a decree on that? We don't write or draw on the walls for nothing. We have messages we need to deliver," he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

University of Indonesia sociologist Johannes Frederik Warouw said the governor should have first studied the phenomenon of writing and drawing on walls in public spaces before issuing such a decree.

Johannes said most graffiti was a form of expression of young people.

"Besides marking their territory, these youths also express their political views and social criticism [through the graffiti]," he said.

Johannes said he suggested the city administration tend to the talents of these young people by holding mural or graffiti competitions, instead of punishing them.

"It's like parents whose children love to write on the walls at home. Instead of punishing the kids, why don't they just give them papers to write and draw?" he said.

"I agree people should be punished if they glue commercial posters on walls, as they are misusing public spaces for commercial purposes," he said.

Johannes said judging from the decree, he considered that Jokowi, who loves heavy metal music, had started to shift his leadership style from serving the citizens to authoritarianism.

While the city administration is sending a strong message against street art, many institutions see the potential of the artists and cooperate with them to beautify the city with social messages.

Jokowi also previously ordered the Jakarta Public Works Agency, toll road operators and road construction companies to paint all the walls in order to make the city look cleaner and more beautiful.

Panji said his community had cooperated with a number of governmental institutions like the Jakarta Police and the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN) to make murals about save driving and the importance of family planning.

"I question the governor's intention to severely punish us while other institutions could cooperate with us," he said.

According to Panji, the jail and fine punishment is over the top and he suggested the administration create a forum for both parties to find a better solution other than issuing the decree.

Public Order Agency head Kukuh Hadi Santoso said the city administration would willingly cooperate with artists who asked for the agency's permission to use the walls.

"But not all artists have that courtesy," he said, adding that the agency's 6,120 officers were not sufficient for patrolling the city around the clock.

Kukuh said his men were only tasked to catch those in act and hand them to the police. "We only enforce the bylaw," he said, adding that so far no one had been caught graffiting.

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