Indonesia showcased the work of some of its best designers at Milan Design Week 2017 with IDentities: Handmade Contemporary Indonesian Design showcase – the nation’s debut exhibition in Milan.
19 April, 2017
This year will go down in the history of the Indonesian furniture design industry as its official debut year in Milan. Located in Interspazio at Tortona during Milan Design Week, IDentities: Handmade Contemporary Indonesian Design Pavilion showcased, borrowing the words from the exhibition’s catalogue, the “form and shapes of the new Indonesian product design through empowering diversity”.
It is high time for Indonesia to have its own showcase in Milan. The world might know the country by its overwhelming statistics: over 250 million people, over 17,000 islands, over 300 ethnic groups and languages, and so on. But too little has been known (and heard) of Indonesia’s design scene, despite its wealth in traditional craftsmanship and natural resources.
It is not exactly a secret that many international furniture brands own productions facilities in Indonesia. This is also thanks to its government’s policy of forbidding the export of untreated raw materials, thus requiring foreign furniture brands to manufacture their products locally. Go to the coastal towns like Jepara, Semarang or Cirebon and you will see an abundance of furniture factories with varying capabilities.
There is no question about Indonesia’s manufacturing prowess. Its furniture design scene however, is akin to guerrilla warfare. Not only do designers need to compete with international brands, they also need to constantly defend their intellectual property in an ecosystem that hasn’t fully closed its loop to be working and protecting them properly – take it from someone who completed her design education in the country.
Things were looking up in 2015 when Indonesian President Joko Widodo (a furniture businessman before he became a politician) formed a government body to oversee the country’s creative resources. The Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy (Bekraf) is tasked with developing the country’s creative economy by creating a climate conducive for the creative industries. The agency reports directly to the President and oversees 16 creative sectors, among them architecture, interior design, product design and craft.
In the case of the furniture industry (which falls under the product design sector) Bekraf aims to help local furniture manufacturers shift from manufacturing for foreign brands to their own legitimate brands with original design. IDentities is the agency’s latest initiative. The exhibition presented the contemporary face of Indonesian furniture design to the world stage with products curated from 28 Indonesian brands.
“People keep asking, ‘What is Indonesian design?’ and we always thought that we had to identify something that can be called Indonesian design,” says Joshua Simandjuntak, Deputy Chairman for Marketing at Bekraf and initiator of the showcase (himself a trained furniture designer with his own brand and studio). He continues, “But I think we need to realise that’s not the case. Diversity is our strength and our identity. That’s what we celebrate here, the diverse ID entities.”
Rattan both natural and synthetic, wood and stoneware dominated the material palette, but there were also products made with stainless steel, hemp and gold – each drawing from the country’s vast natural and cultural offerings. These diverse design entities are united by their production method: handcraft.
“It’s still a work in progress,” says exhibition designer Alvin Tjitrowirjo, founder of furniture brand and design studio AlvinT (lookout for a profile feature of Tjitrowirjo in Cubes 86), commenting on how the collection represents the country’s multifaceted design industry. “But there’s a sense of honesty there, in the familiar material and in the handcraft process,” he adds. Infused with a contemporary sensibility, this process, Tjitrowirjo says, has resulted in fresh offerings.
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