Identifying the Origins of Lumbung in ruangrupa’s Early Practice and Methodologies, by Eve Goulden

Tuesday 6th December, 2022

In partnership with CSMdocumenta, a collective of students from Central Saint Martins' MA Culture, Criticism and Curation and MRes Exhibition Studies, Project Credit features articles, projects and documentary photographs to discuss concepts that ruangrupa, the Indonesian curatorial collective, explored during this year’s edition of the 100-day international quinquennial.

Lumbung was first formally identified by ruangrupa as the methodological focus for their curation of documenta fifteen (2022). This agrarian term, which translates to “rice barn,”[1] is rooted in traditional Indonesian culture, connoting communal processes of cultivation, harvest, and division of labour taking place within local communities for the purpose of food production. The collective has described Lumbung as ‘deeply imbued in [our] everyday practice and [a] summary of our methods and values thus far.’ [2] From their formation in the late-1990s, the group has demonstrated their Lumbung methodology through adopting a non-hierarchical organisational structure and community-embedded approach to art praxis.

A surge in the formation of artist collectives in Indonesia, as well as an embrace of alternative subcultures, emerged out of Indonesia’s reformasi period. This was an era of political turmoil in South-East Asia that resulted in the resignation of Indonesia’s then-president, Suharto, in 1998. Students and young people, who had endured decades of nationwide educational repression and financial crisis, [3] were largely responsible for inciting a national campaign for political and intellectual freedom through engaging in protests and activism that at times ended in bloodshed. The young activists who participated in these uprisings came to be known as Indonesia’s 1998 Generation.

ruangrupa working at their ruruhaus in 2001, “ruagnrupa in 2001,” from Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva,“be that person everyone wants to hang out with,” Curtain Magazine, interview with ruangrupa. image: ruangrupa.

The cause that Indonesia’s youth fought for achieved a political transition that gained them greater access and freedom to collectively assemble, a practice that had been heavily suppressed during President Suharto’s reign. [4] The possibilities that these new freedoms created for young Indonesians became a catalyst for the formation and popularisation of several artist collectives, as well as burgeoning alternative scenes within Indonesia’s cities. [5] The self-organised spirit of reformasi resistance networks had additionally strengthened Indonesia’s existing culture of communal care, which would begin to infiltrate into the archipelago’s contemporary cultural production.

​​Operating within the same space that the collective lived, ruangrupa’s set-up of their ruruhaus (Jakarta, 2001) was a starting point for their ongoing cultural engagement with local publics. Initiating exhibitions and interventions that merged social and cultural experiences, such self-organised spaces in Indonesia became sites where new creative networks were formed. Encapsulated in David Teh's text "Obstacles to Exhibition History," which overviews the institutional terrain of South-East Asia, there was a stark lack of contemporary art institutions in Indonesia. Contesting the colonial, bureaucratic, and officialised institutions that did exist within the country, collectives like ruangrupa began to form self-organised, re-purposed spaces known as majelis for the purposes of developing their community-centred art practices.

left: sketches for El Warcha stacking chairs workshop, documenta fifteen Fridericianum, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu. right: skateboarders are hanging out in front of Britto Arts Trust’s Chayachobi, 2022. A large on-site mural in documenta Halle, Kassel, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu.

Self-positioned as a group of ‘fixers’ [9] who actively responded to the cultural needs of their community, ruangrupa also instigated several site-specific projects within Jakarta’s urban environment during their early years. These actions were seen by group member Ade Darmawan as ‘contextual responses... [that worked] to improve the local system in the absence of a pragmatic art infrastructure.’ [10] One such project was Jakarta Habitus Publik (2001), a ruangrupa collaboration with other local collectives who together produced posters and murals that responded to Jakartan’s lived experiences, and were displayed around the city. [11] Established in 2004, ruangrupa’s biennial public festival Jakarta 32C incorporated participatory workshops, exhibitions, and presentations that were open and accessible to all. [12]

The possibilities that ruangrupa created for participation and collaboration in these early cultural interventions are analogous to the operations of a Lumbung, producing cultural resources for local publics through processes of collaboration. [13] Coming of age in the time of reformasi, ruangrupa’s curatorship has a history of being oppositional to formalised institutions, curatorial authorship, and capitalist production values. The first curatorial collective to curate Documenta, ruangrupa’s application of Lumbung in the international art arena continues to make the case to instigate change in the art system. In the context of an international art event, the Lumbung methodology has initiated processes of problematising, dismantling, and decolonising Western arts organisation frameworks.

Top left: Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi lumbung values on the Fridericianum’s façade, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu. right: documenta fifteen guiding equipment, installation view, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu. Bottom left: Chinese artists Cao Minghao & Chen Jianjun, Water System Project, 2019, audience view, a black tent for interaction on site, documenta fifteen, Karlswiese, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu. right: visitors chalk drawing underneath Hungarian artist Tamás Péli’s Birth, 1983, documenta fifteen Fridericianum, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu.


  1. ruangrupa,”What Indonesian Curators ruangrupa Learned from an Agrarian Tradition,” Frieze, 19th August 2019. tradition.
  2. ruangrupa, “The lumbung concept for documenta fifteen,” Universes in Universe, 18th June 2020.
  3. ‘The Asian financial crisis... triggered instability in a regime that was rife with corruption, and it was the final element to tip the protest movement of Reformasi over the edge into revolution.’ Susan Ingham, “Reformasi and Art,” Indonesian Contemporary Art, 27th October 2019.
  4. During the Suharto era in Indonesia, these were regarded as “subversive” acts, no doubt due to their synonymity with political resistance.
  5. These cultural and political contexts comprised formative experiences for ruangrupa as emergent artists, as former member Farah Wardini has explained: ‘The arts scene definitely [benefitted from reformasi] because it [had been] very much repressed, very much pushed to the side-lines in the Suharto years. ... There was this idea about wanting to know about contemporary art. It was seen as unattainable and something to discover.’ Farah Wardini, interview with Jurnal Karbon editors by UAL CSM MA CCC and MRes Art: Exhibition Studies Students, 18th May 2022, audio, 00:59:00,
  6. “ruruhaus,” documenta fifteen, accessed 15th May 2022,
  7. ‘We saw the living room of a domestic home as a lumbung—a space where various skills and networks that come, circulate, and shift are hosted. It is built on the initiative of people who have the same needs, who try to organise themselves to share resources and have space to grow together along with the surrounding community.’ ruangrupa, “Living Lumbung: The Shared Spaces of Art and Life,” interview by Nikos Papastergiadis, e-flux 118 (May 2021). https://www.e- 17 Ibid., 3.
  8. David Teh, “Obstacles to Exhibition History: Institutions, Curatorship and the Undead Nation State” in The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice? ed. Paul O’Neill et. al (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016), 31-33.
  9. Ade Darmawan, “Ruangrupa: A Conversation on Horizontal Organisation,” interview with Nuraini Juliastuti, 7th June 2012, Afterall 30 (Summer 2012), conversation-on-horizontal-organisation.
  10. Ibid.
  11. ruangrupa. “Jakarta Habitus Publik – A Public Art Project,” ruangrupa 2001 archive, accessed 20th April 2022,
  12. ruangrupa, “Jakarta 32C 2004,” ruangrupa 2004 archive, accessed 20th April 2022,
  13. ruangrupa, “The Lumbung concept for documenta fifteen.”

Cover image: Sebastián Díaz Morales, video installation Smashing Monuments, 2022, installation view, 2022. Image: Amanda Mu.

Special Thanks
The author would like to thank MRes Exhibition Studies Course co-leader and Afterall editor David Morris for his constructive input to the text. The author is grateful to Amanda Jy. Mu, Lilia Jackson, for their inputs on text editing and editorial design.

All images copyright and courtesy of the artists and ©documenta 15