Indonesian Graffiti Art Group Turns Bandung FAB-ulous
Imagine a city without artistic urban visuals, such as graffiti. Just rows and rows of clean and blank walls. After walking through such a bland environment, some might wonder, “Doesn’t anyone have the creative chops to perk up the streets around here?”
In Bandung, West Java’s capital, there is plenty of expression on tap. Meet a group of young people who tiptoe around and paint the streets with lively colors while the rest of the City of Flowers is fast asleep. The group has been labeled as Bandung’s very own Flagrant Act of Bombing, or the FAB Family.
The FAB Family was established in 2005, when some Bandung youths with a penchant for graffiti came together to exchange and execute ideas. The family now consists of nine people: Cheztwo (who coined the group’s name), 60, Astronautboys, Olderplus, Pope, Racht4, Shake, Skeed and Stereoflow.
They make graffiti and other street and urban artworks, with members employing different styles that reveal personal tastes. Like many other street artists, they started the movement to pass the time. Today, they see it as an artistic expression — walls are their canvases and the city is their exhibition space.
“We’re interested in street art because it’s a lot of fun,” Stereoflow said. “Our passion is to constantly create fun artwork on the streets; but we don’t try to bring up what is happening in politics or whatever. Just aesthetics matter.”
FAB’s works cover buildings and roads with graffiti of varying techniques. Their favorite spots are the Dago (beneath the Pasupati overpass) and Braga areas, as well as along Jalan Tamblong. They also collaborate at Terrordoom, an old warehouse that has been turned into a sports hall on Jalan Sukabumi.
“Our usual spot for making graffiti is located in Dago,” Shake said. “It’s become quite boring to paint on it over and over again, so now we are looking for abandoned buildings anywhere, even in desolate places. We paint them, document the results and then upload the photos onto our website.”
“The law on the streets allows us to ‘go over’ existing graffiti, which simply means to paint on top of it. We go over other pieces and then put the FAB tag on our works,” Shake added. “Some [former] members thought it was disrespectful and destructive. That’s a bit too far. We’re just having a good time, and now we are made up of cheerful members who do fun stuff all the time. Those who disagreed finally walked out.”
Starting with the mission of fun, FAB slowly morphed into a phenomenon, and has become a culture in its own respect.
With their ideas, aesthetic abilities and the yearning for freedom of expression, FAB’s results blend and interact with both the people and objects of the street. Road signs, street lamps, post boxes, traffic lights, electrical substations and otherwise dull objects have been turned into brightly colored and attractive items. Pedestrians have become an audience. Nearly seven years on, people have begun to notice of how serious their “fun” really is.
“As time goes by, they have evolved, and I see that the hobby has become a habit,” said Isrol Triono, a researcher for Indonesian Street Art Database. “So I would say that they approach street art seriously. They have also inspired other young people to become graffiti artists — they have a lot of fans out there.”
In 2010, FAB held an exhibition, titled “Family Matters,” at Bandung’s Kita Art Gallery, focusing (of course) on the evolution of street art. That same year, together with other local artists, FAB developed The Urban Space Project, which focused on the interaction between the public and their urban surroundings by means of visuals.
For one square of graffiti, the family usually need four cans of paint, and sometimes eight sheets of a special paper that’s bound to walls with wheat-paste, a graffiti technique that gives a poster-like result.
One FAB member usually makes a three-by-three-meter-sized graffiti each time. Asked if street art can make someone rich, FAB members gave a short laugh. “It won’t make you rich, but it can make you happy all the time,” Shake said.
According to a local regulation on city orderliness, anyone caught defacing public property — graffiti included, no matter how much the transgressor is aspiring for art — can be punished by a maximum confinement of three months and/or a maximum fine of Rp 50 million ($5,500). One FAB member was arrested once for painting graffiti and spent two nights in jail.
But the law has not deterred the FAB Family. Their objective, according to Astronautboys, is to realize the concept of street art no matter what. Passion, again, is their fundamental drive.
But the FAB Family and the law recently enjoyed a strange but fruitful union, when Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization, commissioned the artists to make a series of graffiti works titled “Lapor Dong” (“Please Report”) in a campaign against corruption, terrorism and drugs. They also took part in “Watch Out! Violence Around You,” a mural competition organized by the National Police and 99ers Radio, a radio station in Bandung. The competition encouraged the public to report violence happening around them to authorities.
The paradox does not stop there. Having accepted that their art will never make them rich (or even a legitimate living), the group has suddenly found a niche for graffiti in advertising and other commercial forms. Some members also sell their canvases and wooden sculptures. In 2010, they made the graffiti for a noodle brand commercial. The following year, they collaborated with a Bandung denim company. At Blitzmegaplex Cyber Park Bekasi, their works decorate the theater’s various corners.
“Whatever society calls our works — graffiti, street art, vandalism — let them,” Stereoflow said. “We run Bandung!”