Discovering the Yogyakarta Street Art

Yogyakarta street art

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Recently I had an amazing experience.

I probably say that a lot! This travelling life does throw them up often.

This particular experience in Yogyakarta was truly unique: a street art tour organised for me by Backstreet Academy. I’ve been on street art tours before but never with the actual street artist themselves! Anagard’s colourful art can be found from Poland to Australia and, of course, his hometown of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Yogyakarta street art

The city of Yogyakarta as a whole is a fantastic place for street art. You’ll find it in the most random of places as you wander around. As I learnt from Anagard, a good way to protect street art is to hide it away.

Who is Anagard?

Anagard is an artist who moved to Yogyakarta to study at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts. This is one of the country’s most famous creative universities so is an obvious place for young Indonesian artists. While studying there, he became bored of traditional art and veered towards the vibrant urban murals he’s since become known for.

Dragon street art Yogyakarta

Once you’ve seen a few of Anagard’s works, you might recognise them in the future. The people in his designs tend to have animal faces or be wearing masks. Many of his works carry an anti-extremism theme, especially in relation to people protecting their land and livelihoods from the government.

Since becoming famous, Anagard has been flown all over the world to create new pieces of art. I told him what a cool job I think he has. He pointed out mine is pretty cool, too – something I can’t disagree with!

Arriving in his village

Yogyakarta street art in Anagards village

I’d already read that the Yogyakarta’s region of Sewon is a great place to see street art. Just around the corner, the small village Anagard calls home is debatably even better! As soon as I arrived and met Anagard, I knew I was in for a treat.

I could already see colourful art just moments from our meeting place. I was also excited to learn about this man: how had this sleepy local village taken him to street art stardom?

Hidden works

Swoon street art Yogyakarta

As we began touring the village, I realised it wasn’t just Anagard’s work that could be found. He told me he often invites other street artists to complete work in his home village. One of my favourite guest pieces was this one above by Swoon.

Unlike many of the pieces with specific meanings, it’s an abstract design featuring a young Haitian girl. It was painted following the earthquake but doesn’t have a specific meaning otherwise. I marvelled at the expression of the subject and the detailed, colourful pattern around her.

Anagard told me that, due to the status of the street artist, this piece is of some value. Rather than putting it in central Yogyakarta where it could be damaged, it’s far safer on a local’s home. It poses an interesting question: would you rather have everyone seeing your work, only briefly, or have it last longer without so much notoriety?

Finding meaning

Yellow Yogyakarta street art by Anagard

Most of Anagard’s work relates to a clear theme. He told me that his favourite topic is the relationship between the locals in the countryside and the government, who often encroach onto their land and threaten their traditional ways of life.

The yellow piece above is about the battle of protecting our lands and oceans. The bit below shows a stand-off between villagers and the authorities.

Anagard street art Yogyakarta

Another theme present in the Yogyakarta street art is that of the environment. You’ll notice the piece above (by street artist Jaune) shows a man on stilts asea a pile of burning plastic. Sadly, this is one of the main forms of ‘recycling’ in Indonesia and can be toxic for people and the environment.

Farmer street art Yogyakarta

A peek inside his future plans

A very cool and random end to the morning was visiting Anagard’s studio at his home where he plans his future designs in sketchbooks. I’ve never looked inside the sketchbook of a famous street artist before. I likely never will again!

My tour of the Yogyakarta street art was definitely a unique experience. With Georgetown, Malaysia as my next stop, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Anagard’s work which I know resides there. If you come to Yogyakarta, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for his work, or better yet, meet him in person and do this very same tour.

2022 note – sadly Backstreet Academy have shut down but you can take a tour with ViaViaJogja.

Thanks for reading!

Although I was a guest of Backstreet Academy, all opinions are my own.

Read my other Yogyakarta blogs:

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Yogyakarta street art

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