He gained respect by mixing craftsmanship, loud guitar and activism. Bayak is one of today’s most distinctive Bali young artists. While his band, Geekssmile, should be used as the role model for other Indonesian bands: quit singing cheesy love songs, stop crying, start helping this in-a-state-of-emergency country.
Are you a guitarist or a visual artist?
I prefer to call myself as an artist (as recorded on my KTP/Indonesian ID card). You know, I grew up in a village where being artistic is a normal part of daily life. So since I was a kid I’ve been into drawing. Since the age of seven I’ve been drawing figures from wayang stories. Not only drawing on paper, I sometimes draw outlines on coconut skins and then etch into the coconut manually.
My interest in (rock) music began after I was “ambushed” by my cousin (and his friends) who are older than me. He liked cranking up the volume of metal records that he owned like Metallica and Helloween, from his self-modified speakers, at whatever time he/they wished. That was the era when I was introduced to guitar. After graduating from middle school I continued to a senior high school that specialised in visual arts. That’s when I became really inspired to mix music and visual art. My finest moment was when my bandmates in Geekssmile decided to let me interpret each song in our album Upeti Untuk Macan Asia into visual art, which became the concept for the whole artwork of the album.
You just got back from exhibiting in Singapore. How was it? That wasn’t your first overseas exhibition right?
True, my exhibition in Singapore wasn’t my first overseas exhibition. In 2010 I was included in the Pozan Biennale in Poland, and the year after in Hanover, Germany, and this year also in Germany (Frankfurt, to be precise). But, yeah, it was just my art work, without me included! For this Singapore exhibition, I sent my artwork into their competition. I was chosen as one of 20 young finalists from South East Asia. My artwork was exhibited at Espace Louis Vuitton Singapore. A few colleagues of mine were kind enough to sponsor me to attend the opening night of the exhibition.
Even though I wasn’t there for long, I noticed that the art scene over there seems to run well. There are so many established galleries and public spaces filled with art pieces. Public appreciation seems great as well—you see school kids come to the museum for art studies, for instance. At their museum (which is owned by the government), they collect works not only from veteran, established artists, but also young artists. You even find young Indonesian artists as part of the collections. You can really tell that the Singapore government is actively involved in supporting the art scene.
Any big plans for your upcoming visual art activities? Another mural project, perhaps?
I just did a 5 days workshop at BaliSpirit Festival. In the very near future I plan to hold a solo exhibition at Arys Warung, Ubud, and join a group exhibition with the collective Ten Fine Arts – Sanur at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta. I will also continue to apply to join biennales overseas.
At the moment I’m focusing on my own “Plasticology” theme, where I transform plastic trash into works of art. The idea is quite straightforward: to respond to big issues with simple actions. Regarding murals, I still do one every once in a while—I can’t quit doing it, I think it’s in my blood already hehe… I’m a big supporter of mural activities as they’re soaked with street cred. When you create a mural, you do it on the street, exposed to the community, the outside world, the smog, reality. Plus here, in this mural world, art doesn’t feel arrogant, or separated from mainstream life, cause it’s so easily accessible for everyone. You get direct appreciation or criticism right from “the critics”/the public. They either protest to you on the spot or by vandalising your artwork. I like this sense of egalitarianism.
And your band, Geekssmile, what’s the latest news?
We are in the process of recording a few new songs while finishing up other songs that are already half ready. Aside from that, we are in the early stages of making our second video clip. We also keep producing propaganda tools, and are building our own website.
I really respect your band. I think, like you, that bands in Indonesia should be more socially conscious rather than just singing cheesy love songs. This country is in critical condition. Musicians should participate in inspiring the youth to be the agent of change.
True what you said, the situation in Indonesia is critical. It would be better if us young people in bands tried to contribute something to this country by doing things that we are good at: singing or even screaming, while making a constructive contribution to society. We can’t just act as if everything is alright so let’s sing love songs. People can do whatever they want, but I just think this country is in an emergency situation and we should recognise it as such. As a band, we participate in almost every social cause; or rally—especially in the context of environmental and human rights issues. We work a lot with WALHI (an environmental NGO) and Frontier (the student activists collective) especially. We sing at their events and sometimes join rallies on the streets with them.
Name 3 of you all-time favourite musicians-cum-activists and why.
Just so you know, Geekssmile was founded after being massively inspired by Rage Against The Machine. That’s why I am naming two of their personnel here: Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello. Zack, the vocalist, screams protest in every lyric he spits out. The more I listen to him the more I want to know about him. His reference, his words, he’s a living (activism) library. While Tom, as well has being a brilliant guitar innovator, is also a real activist. He’s seriously pro minorities, and built a foundation for advocation for minorities, fighting for justice.
My other idol is Herry Sutresna—better known as Ucok Homicide. A true visionary, wicked lyricist, and rhyme terrorist. He uses lots of strange yet sophisticated Indonesian words, mixes them all together, and when he shouts them out, those words become deadly weapons, with super strong venom. He’s a punk poet, a lavish linguist, and a revolutionary rapper. Oh, plus he’s not only singing/rapping on stage but also down on the streets, a true activist.
Any last nagging words?
Every person is born with their own weaponry. Sharpen it and use it to to fix problems, not to stab and spill blood.
• Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the 27th edition, was firstly published—a slightly different version—on The Beat (Bali) #335, April 12-25, 2013
• Check out also Bayak’s video with his band Geekssmile, “Yeah Yeah Indonesia”