In Defense of the Darkside of the Arts.

by Muhammad Hilmi


It’s so easy to be (or at least to look) intimidating, just grab a black t-shirt with some cranial graphics and your fearsome level almost immediately rises – it is as simple as that. Skulls, often associated as a symbol of darkness, will always be associated with eeriness, fright, and terror.

What is wrong with that association is that it is often demeaning and certainly stereotyping both the person who wears the graphics as well as the artist who drew the art. A similar stereotype to people with tattoos, often considered sinister. The fact is this assumption is, of course, false. Human nature is a complex matter, and a shallow perspective is one that bases judgement from a first impression.

Freud had an interesting theory regarding this juxtaposition, the triad concept of id (instincive impulse), ego (rational control), and superego (social control) might be the perfect approach to this perspective. Simply put, this theory symbolizes the human thinking process, where the id is the source of uncoordinated desires that later is reduced by the ego based on reality, then again by the superego. Although the initial impression is amended, it didn’t necessarily go away – it is repressed, detained, and stockpiled inside.

This is when expression takes over. Personal desires that are repressed in the system wil be issued openly through artistic expression. Something wholly by the artist, desires that were repressed are freely and beautifully expressed.

Pena Hitam is a Batu Malang-based webzine focused on documenting “dark arts.” This fanzine has grown to become on the most respected art fanzine in Indonesia. Its beginnings was as an exhibition that aimed to mediate dark art into a more respectable position, and it turns out that there are many artists that share their goal. When Pena Hitam decided to create a Facebook group, the enthusiasm for this field of art skyrocketed, gaining more than 8000 members from all over Indonesia.The facebook group is filled with artist submissions. The group became a place for artists to showcase and have their artwork appreciated as well as criticized by group members, which includes some of Indonesia’s best known artists such as Arian 13, Indra Morgan, and Riyandi Karuniawan.

Seeing how t the Facebook group has cultivated a productive atmosphere, Didi Painsugar and Rio Krisma, the initiators, decided to take “Pena Hitam” further. That’s when the Pena Hitam fanzine was born. Like many first issues, there are a few blemishes here and there, but it also showed the potential of Penahitam as a fanzine. Now, Penahitam has already published its fourth issue, and is being distributed in 8 big cities in Indonesia.

When Whiteboard Journal set foot in Penahitam’s studio, it proved once again that stereotypes are hollow. Behind what many say are dark and even creepy drawings were friendly artists were the complete opposite of what the stereotype. We were greeted by Rio Krisma in Penahitam’s headquarters in Cygnus Hill, Batu – Malang. With a great view to Batu’s green hillside, and at times paragliders flying in the sky. A perfect place to contemplate and, of course, make art.

Inside the studio, framed art by fellow artists fill their walls. “Penahitam started with the aspiration to create, share, have fun, and make new friends. Even if people discriminate the type of art we do, we don’t really care. What matters to me is the artists continuing to do art” Painsugar explains. This kind of attitude is shared among the group, with them choosing themes for each edition based on Facebook group discussions.

The Penahitam studio is open for visits, where the two usually invite people to enjoy tea surrounded by the beautiful scenery. Their daily routine consists of creating artwork for bands such as Efek Rumah Kaca and Seringai.

With only two persons drawing, layouting, writing to printing, a DIY spirit is also a major characteristic of the zine as it is truly a passion-driven project. The Penahitam website also has a page listing DIY local events. “Malang’s art scene is quite similar to other cities in Indonesia, sometimes it’s skittish but sometimes it’s sluggish. Penahitam aims to make the scene become livelier, and we did that purely based on our devotion and commitment.” They have also released merchandise such as shirts, screen-printed posters and calendars, as well as notebooks to help fund the zine.

Even with their efforts, they are still facing the problems typical to the DIY scene. “Some people have said our zine is too polished, too fancy and stuff. We don’t really care about those comments, we look forward to sharing with our critics the reason behind the ‘polished’ look of the zine.”

Penahitam are also involved in many activities. They have held drawing workshops, participated in zine fest, offline group meetings, as well as holding drawing sessions with kids from the neighborhood around their studio – a complete opposite of an artist of their kind are thought to do. They transform their garage into a studio workshop where neighboring kids can play and draw. “That’s just our spontaneous program, we thought to ourselves why don’t we have a session with local kids? It would be a fun thing to do. It sometimes conflict with our schedule, though, and it has been on hold for sometime. We are currently making new plans which will hopefully help us create better programs as well as improve on our zine,” Painsugar ends.whiteboardjournal, logo