According to the documenta, the Indonesian curatorial collective Ruangrupa underestimated the importance of the Kassel art show for the German public. “In Indonesia nobody cares much about us. The documenta, on the other hand, is almost an affair of state. This magnitude should have been clear to us earlier," Ruangrupa members Reza Afisina and Farid Rakun told the Berlin "Tagesspiegel" (Monday).
“For us, the first allegations of anti-Semitism came unexpectedly in January. We never thought it would escalate like this," the two explained in the interview. When politics and the media got involved, "a new dynamic" emerged. "We learned from this that we have to explain better what we're doing." Several works were criticized as anti-Jewish.
There are also cultural misunderstandings, Afisina and Rakun said. In Indonesia, there has long been a lack of access to information from outside. "Some call us naive, ignorant or insensitive, but we have to work through our own trauma," said Afisina. One is constantly learning that this should be the "quality" of documenta fifteen, "that it is not a closed exhibition, but that something can still change everywhere".
Works by the artist group Taring Padi were among the exhibits rated as anti-Semitic at the documenta.
"When the allegations came up, we didn't understand why no one spoke to us directly, why there was no dialogue," Afisina said. "In Indonesia, unlike in Germany, there is still no proper vocabulary for articulating what an anti-Semitic motive is." And: "It was only through the debate that we understood how sensitive the topic of anti-Semitism is in Germany."
Afisina explained why the collective only commented on the allegations of anti-Semitism quite late: "After the first incident with Taring Padi, we initially had talks. We just don't understand that it's not enough here if we publicly admit this mistake and especially apologize to the people in Kassel with whom we feel connected. With us, a mistake is named, you classify it and then continue. Nobody really listens here, although we're talking about dialogue – that's the theme of documenta fifteen. There is no desire at all to understand each other.”
Regarding the anti-Israel boycott movement BDS, Farid Rakun said that Ruangrupa had "various attitudes towards BDS as well as towards Indonesian politics". “I myself would only boycott if there were no other way. I'm not a fan of this strategy, but I understand that BDS is a possible method of protesting peacefully but audibly."
The collective is "not a uniform monolith," Rakun emphasized. "That's why we, as artistic directors, don't ask the invited artists about their political, religious or other affiliations beforehand. Participation in the documenta is based on shared values such as independence, transparency, frugality, sustainability.
When asked whether the collective would curate another major exhibition, Afisina said they missed not being able to participate artistically themselves in Kassel, since they are actually all artists themselves. "Nevertheless, we have a good time." Afisina also said - according to the "Tagesspiegel" with a laugh: "We would like to take part in the next documenta."