I am holidaying in Yogyakarta — planned well before the dismaying Indonesian refusals of clemency, which resulted in this week’s executions on April 29. It is unsettling to be in Jogja just after being in London — from one of the wealthiest centres of culture and finance into a place half a world away from affluence. A luxury item like a taxi has a flagfall of 70 cents.

The friendly locals who have spoken to us — hotel and restaurant staff, cabbies, shopkeepers, street hustlers — have blandly asked where we are from. Australia? How long are you here for? Do you speak Bahasa? Have you been to Borobudur? The outrage of Australians has nothing to do with daily life here.

On the day of the executions all of six local papers (in Bahasa) ran the executions on their front pages. As a Dutch expat remarked to us, “It’s been covered like a football match” — in a football-mad country.

The only name to make a couple of headlines was Mary Jane Veloso, who was granted a last-minute reprieve. The eight killed were merely named in a list. The consensus feeling here, said the Dutchman sadly, was that drug traffickers deserve death. (A poll at the start of the year reports that 52% of Australians support capital punishment too.)

Sukumaran’s emotive art

It strikes me that what has made the calls for mercy so vivid to us are Myuran Sukumaran’s paintings. They have been a whole campaign of their own.

If he and Andrew Chan were stone-faced and fatally unremorseful in court, and if much later in videos Sukumaran proved an appealing personality but less than verbally eloquent on his own behalf, his art has spoken for him.

What can be seen online of Sukumaran’s paintings (he started painting in 2010) has been fascinating as illustrations of his statement “People can change”. The work has progressed from earnest stiffness, admirable in its attempt but not so interesting as art, to something compelling: a gestural freedom with seemingly unfettered access to his emotions.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review

Peter Fray

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