Artists take part in a mural-painting competition at the Budi Mulia Dua elementary school in Yogya. (JP/Claudia Seise)
It was a big, exciting event: The Budi Mulia Dua elementary school in north Yogyakarta decided to organize a mural competition to decorate the 250-meter wall surrounding the school’s compound.
Compared to other schools in Yogyakarta and Indonesia, the school sits within an imposing building complex that is more like a college or university than an ordinary school.
Considering the school is a private institution supported by Amien Rais, a former presidential candidate and leading figure during the 1990s Reformation era, the possibilities offered to Yogyakarta’s artists to help decorate the school are not that surprising.
The theme for the competition was, “Save the World, Save the Ocean, Save our Forests!” — themes closely connected to current media issues and topics for international conferences, meetings and World Environment Day.
The school could not have chosen a better topic to be discussed by hundreds of creative people from around Yogyakarta.
Appeals to stop illegal logging in the country, to find a solution to the waste problem in many parts of Yogyakarta — where garbage is still thrown into waterways or burned, affecting air quality in the city — as well as a general call to stop trashing our planet, polluting our oceans and begin preserving our forests — all were present in the mural.
One could see not so much a concern about global warming, often used to drum up fear in the international arena, but for one’s very environment and the future of generations to come.
“Try to create cleaner air, so that life becomes more enjoyable!”, “Try to plant more trees, so that people have more recreation!” and “Keep waterways clean, so that people and animals do not fall ill!” were slogans — maybe one could call them wishes — used in the piece.
The completed wall expressed a more local, collective cry for a cleaner and healthier environment. And one could see artists’ awareness that everybody has to do his or her little part for a healthier life, such as cleaning up after themselves.
In a way, the only thing missing was the idea of reducing the use of cars to decrease air pollution.
The idea of “bicycle days” that close down city centers to vehicle traffic, found in some major European cities, might be a good idea for vehicle-free days in Yogya.
Nevertheless, to see hundreds of mostly young people thinking about this issue and coming up with ideas for a painting is already a step toward raising awareness about individual responsibility for our environment.
On another level, environmental education continues with the students of Budi Mulia Dua elementary school themselves, who will enjoy the murals every day.
Hopefully, such a competition, and its ensuing permanent exhibition, will be part of an ongoing process to use creative approaches to address issues that affect everyone in the community.
In the end, challenging people’s creativity is probably more effective than a long speech delivered in front of an audience on the verge of sleep.
Interested readers who want to see the mural can visit the Budi Mulia Dua elementary school on Jl. Saturan in Sleman, Yogyakarta.