Art critique

Documenta 15: Exposed anti-Semitism or misjudged criticism of anti-communism? – Academia

Rainer Werning (Jakarta Post)

Frechen-Königsdorf, Germany ●
Sat 16 July 2022

Soeharto, Sukarno, China, PKI, Indonesia, artist, Germany, anti-Semitism, anti-Communist, mossad

On June 24, Indonesian artist group Taring Padi, whose incriminated giant banner titled “People’s Justice” was retracted, rolled up and removed, released a statement saying, among other things:

“As a collective of artists who condemn racism in all its forms, we are shocked and saddened by the media coverage that labels us as anti-Semites. We would like to emphasize our respect for all people, regardless of their ethnic origin. , their race, religion, gender or sexuality. For a better understanding of our imagery, we would like to elaborate on the contextual reference to Indonesian history and the origin of our works.

“The eight-by-twelve meter People’s Justice banner was created in collaboration by many members of our collective in 2002 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The image was created against the backdrop of the harsh living conditions we had experienced under a military dictatorship in which violence, exploitation and censorship were commonplace. Like many of our artworks, the banner seeks to expose the complex power relations behind these injustices. In particular, it deals with the mass murder of over 500,000 people in Indonesia in 1965, which has not been addressed to this day.”

A real storm of protest was triggered in particular by two figures represented on the banner – one bears the inscription “Mossad” in the form of a pig’s head on a helmet, and the other is presented with a costume, ragged jagged teeth, a cigar in the corner of his mouth, and SS runes on the brim of a black hat. In front of the latter is placed an oversized and formidable mythical creature which, in the sense of the group of artists, perhaps symbolizes the architect of the massacre of the mid-1960s, namely Soeharto.

As the leader of Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country, Soeharto was the pronounced darling of the “Western community of values”. As his predecessor and founder of the state, Sukarno, was suspected by this same “community of values” of leaning too strongly towards the People’s Republic of China, he was considered an uncertain cantonist.

Particularly during the Cold War era, the concentrated “West” – led by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel – was politically, economically and militarily on the side by Soeharto. This was particularly true of the intelligence support provided by these countries. Which corresponds, from Taring Padi’s point of view and in their crude dressing, to a “pig system”, where the appropriate “pigs” are represented, without ostentation, as such.

As for the Mossad, it managed Israel’s relations with Indonesia after Soeharto came to power. Knowledge of the massacres and their perpetrators did not prevent the intelligence services from establishing economic and security ties with the military regime in Jakarta under a secret initiative called “House and Garden”. Indonesia was given a code name for security reasons; sometimes the name “South Korea” was used.

According to research by Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack, the Mossad has established contacts with the Indonesian military regime to launch joint business projects and organize bilateral exchanges and visits of officials and military, which are certainly carried out in the strictest secrecy.

The document prepared by the Mossad on April 6, 1967, before the visit of an Indonesian delegation, declared: “We know little about their character, their way of thinking or their real relations with us. Nevertheless, we should not treat as Africans, but rather as if they were Europeans.

Mack then asks today, “Israeli Foreign Ministry and Mossad have a moral obligation to release all of their documents about Indonesia from those years to help uncover the truth, just as Israel expects other countries release Holocaust documents in their possession.”

Referring to the incriminated Taring Padi banner, Israeli architect and architecture critic Eyal Weizman says: “The presence of this image at Documenta 15 illustrates a kind of ‘boomerang effect’, in which a paradigm developed in Europe circulates in a European colony then The metaphor of the boomerang also recalls the work of Hannah Arendt and Aimé Césaire, who sought to describe how Nazi violence itself represented a return to racist worldviews and forms of violence that Europeans had developed in the colonies or had previously exported there.”

And it was Rudolf Oebsger-Röder, of all, an ardent ex-Nazi and SS-Obersturmbannführer, who was responsible for cultivating Soeharto’s image at home and abroad as an “ever-smiling general”. After the war, Röder worked full-time for the Gehlen organization, the forerunner of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND), among others. Later he worked in Jakarta under the name OG Roeder both as an employee of the BND and as a correspondent for the Suddeutsche Zeitung and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. In the Indonesian metropolis, he managed to gain access to Soeharto and act as his adviser and biographer, as it were, as the idealistic Nazi of the whole archipelago.

Roeder’s boss, the former National Socialist and first president of the BND until 1968, Reinhard Gehlen, had welcomed Soeharto’s coming to power in a report broadcast in mid-October 1996 by the television magazine ARD Monitor with the words: “The success of the Indonesian army, which […] pursued the elimination of the entire Communist Party with steadfastness and severity, cannot, in my opinion, be overestimated in its importance.”

Could it be that in Kassel a deliberately one-dimensional “interpretation” of images — at whose initiative and with what benefit?! — was prosecuted? If in Germany “anti-Semitic images” by Indonesian artists are stirring up a storm of outrage, German support for the so-called “New Order” under Suharto and its unleashed anti-communist bloodlust should at least no longer be hidden.

In this regard, and even more in view of the current development of society, politics and art on both sides of Kassel, there is plenty to talk about, discuss and argue rationally. If it is at all still wanted.


The author is a political scientist and journalist specializing in Southeast and East Asia. The original article in German appeared on NachDenkSeiten (NDS) portal.