MoCA of the Month

KUNCI Cultural Studies Center inhabits a precarious position of belonging to neither this nor that within existing disciplinary boundaries while aiming at expanding them. Since its founding in 1999 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, KUNCI has been deeply preoccupied with critical knowledge production and sharing through means of media publication, cross-disciplinary encounter, research-action, artistic intervention and vernacular education within and across community spaces.

Members of KUNCI Cultural Studies Center

At the time of its formation in September 1999, KUNCI came into being through a regular publication of newsletter. The group was in fact founded by the activists of Bulaksumur, one of the main student press of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. This media was an important tool to shape cultural projects in post-Reformasi (also known as post-Suharto) Indonesia. Reformasi marked a sociopolitical change in Indonesia, prompted also by a deep financial crisis in the region. The hitherto President Suharto and his New Order era—marked by rampant corruption, collusion, and staged violence—had reached its 33th years of power. The student protests in many Indonesian cities and the escalation of violence that culminated with the riot in Jakarta in May 1998 had forced the regime to resign, opening a whole different political landscape in the country, especially freedom of speech and assembly.
Indonesian Reformasi in 1998 saw the rise of new mass media. They served as channels for news and knowledge that were formerly censored, banned, or forbidden. Reformasi also saw the emergence of alternative spaces founded by a group of artists or individuals. To trace the origin of the phrase ‘alternative space’ is not easy. The phrase is particularly well known within the environment of art and cultural organizations in Jakarta, Bandung, and Yogyakarta. Such spaces have been playing key roles in different cultural practices. Nowadays, different typologies of citizen initiatives in the cultural field are also flourishing in other locations, promoting social change.

For KUNCI’s 11th anniversary a copy machine was provided to visitors to reproduce books and zine collections.

KUNCI may be categorized as an alternative space as it takes on different roles in promoting production and sharing of critical knowledge. It publishes printed and online media that facilitate discursive practices and intellectual exercises, regionally as well as nationally. In parallel, the collective provides a space for interdisciplinary exchanges and engagement with the society through vernacular approaches and artistic experiments. The group also actively investigates contemporary issues in society using more speculative and creative methods in comparison with existing academic tradition.

Jamaluddin Latif in his performance in KUNCI’s Space/Scape, 2009

As a Cultural Studies Center, KUNCI refers to the tradition of The Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies In Birmingham, UK. In the early stage, its main preoccupation was exposing minor studies such as youth, feminist studies, consumerism, Internet culture, gender and queer issues to public scrutiny. However these activities also showed the limits of imposing theory to the understanding of local issues and commonplaces. Over the course of time the group has worked towards contextual appropriation shaping an idiosyncratic and locally-grounded version of Cultural Studies. Furthermore during KUNCI’s early years, in order to open spaces for multiple subjectivities (a key goal in post-1998 cultural projects) it initiated a series of media literacy and family history projects. The group’s chameleonic nature allows many definitions: cultural producers, community activists, a think-tank. KUNCI enjoys being in a position that is harder to pin-down in a regime of disciplinary division as it continues to extensively collaborate with artists, students, community members, activists and academics alike; touching on diverse issues such as space and urbanity, media and technology convergence, history from below and memory, diasporic studies, open knowledge, critical art history and experimental education.
Finally in the past two years the group has been hosting those who are doing explorative research in the city. The program called “Exchange Room” is designed to bypass “introductory” tension so commonly found in field research by providing direct access to local relevant resources, in order to nurture a more hands-on engagement with the many communities being addressed.

Cultural Center

Kunci Cultural Studies Centre

Kunci Cultural Studies Centre

KUNCI Cultural Studies Center
Jalan Ngadinegaran MJ III/100, Mantrijeron
Yogyakarta 55143 Indonesia
Tel.: + 62 274 7456680
Email: editor@kunci.or.id

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Opening: 1998
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History