It was never an environment of self-expression to begin with.
I guess I am known as the Indonesian female artist who plays with private symbols and hidden messages in her artwork, possibly but inevitably.
Indonesian female artists like myself are forced to create works with allegorical and symbol-laden styles to carry our personal or social messages, to satisfy the restrictions of our culture which does not approve of straightforward critical opinions.
I would say it was culture, history and past experiences which shaped our Indonesian arts scene. From the times where under Suharto’s New Order regime, there was an attempt to get rid of opposition forces and political dissidents in order to ensure political stability within his rule, hence cultural expression was banned or heavily censored, and art which had political and social connotations was discouraged. Artists could no longer express themselves freely through their works and many artists went on to concentrate on the aesthetic and decorative elements of art.
Being constantly oppressed under the New Order regime, the importance of taking charge to define oneself and one’s own rights to expression and emotion is amplified in the Post-Suharto period. It became of great significance to liberate oneself and question issues that one could not discuss in the past. Hence, there was an urgent need to constantly remind and resist against social paradigms.
And thus, even after the New Arts Movement (post-Suharto) took place- which promoted the freedom of expression- many artists were still trapped in societal norms and restrictions, forced to succumb by adopting symbols instead.
I wouldn't say that every single Indonesian artist use symbols and hidden messages to express themselves like I do, but I truly believe that culture, be it the discriminatory stance the society has on females or be it on cultivating the habit for indirect expression has made a certain significant change in the Indonesian arts scene.