The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar in Jakarta

23 November – 14 December 2012


Sugar Town, Inc

Sugar Town, Inc. is a collaborative art project by ruangrupa with a number of young Jakarta-based artists, which is part of the photography project entitled The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar. ruangrupa reworked the archives and photographs of the history of sugar industries and its four centuries commodification in four different countries, emphasized with typical local approach, intimate and personal.

The photo archives about the dynamics of the sugar industry in the colonial era and the present are presented in a grocery store (kiosk) and coffee shop. They are displayed as products at the store, mixed with series of illustrations inspired by the photo archives and applied to a variety of everyday products, such as cups, mugs, plates, shirts, bags, and postcards. Most products are sold, but some are distributed for free to visitors of the exhibition.

The photos selected by ruangrupa are focused on archives that represent the issues close to the problems happening in Indonesia until now; namely land and natural resources, science and technology, human resources, industrial and transportation in commerce, mobilization of human labour and its relation to global migration, cultural heritage, and patterns of people's consumption.

In addition, the research team of ruangrupa collects data on the sugar industry and all things associated with the commodification of sugar, also the stories of sugar from the homeland. These data were obtained from a variety of archival sources, including newspaper clippings, songs, movies, videos, poems, blogs, and a variety of products that contain elements of sugar in it. The photo archives with the data set found by the research team of ruangrupa are additional information and the inspiration grounds for the artists involved in this art project.

By presenting the exhibition in the form of daily experiences, like shopping at the store and hanging out at the coffee shop, our collective memory of how sugar has been produced and consumed - both in local and in global contexts - can be subtly recapitulated. In an easy, familiar, and warm way, all the narrations as well as the information and knowledge captured in these documentary-styled photography works are distributed to the public like a melody of a song that rings in your head or words being whispered in the ear, they will not be easily forgotten.

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  • Kunstkring Gallery
  • Jl Teuku Umar No.1
  • Central Jakarta, Indonesia 
  • T: +62 21 3900899 
  • Monday - Friday (10 AM - 5 PM); Saturday - Sunday (11 AM - 5 PM)


A. Discussion programme: Sugar Stories in Indonesia

2 December 2012, 2 PM
A discussion and public lecture programme with inter-disciplinairy participants such as historians, researchesr, and artists. They will share their knowledge and experience about the Indonesian sugar production, from colonial times to today. 


Leonhard Bartolomeus: graduated from the Faculty of Art and Design, Ceramics Program, Jakarta Art Institute. Interested in the political studies of arts education in Indonesia. Writes about art in various media, both online and print.


Andi Achdian: writer and historian who has been focusing on nationalism issues in Indonesia.

Jompet Kuswidananto: artist who uses history as an important element. Made Java’s Machine: Phantasmagoria, an installation work about the early operation of machines and factories on Java.

Martin Suryajaya: writer and editor of His work on contemporary political thought and its relation to labour movement, Alan Badiou dan Masa Depan Marxisme (Alan Badiou and The Future of Marxism) was published early this year.

Free admission

B. Video Workshop: Sugar Fiction

The "Sugar Fiction" video workshop is a part of  "The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar”. This workshop tries to interpret or to transcode the form of photography archive into moving images. How the issues of social-politics, colonial, post-colonial, modernization, and technology; which are closely related with the photos of sugar factories; have been "manipulated", "reduced", or even "expunged" from its true meaning to become this new definition from the standpoint of the young generation of women, in seeing the 'moving' historical accounts.

Mahardika Yudha, coordinator of Video Art Development Division in ruangrupa, invited six young artists to elevate the colonial photo archives into works of videos and films. The resulting videos are part of the exhibition Sugar Town, Inc.

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