Grafis Nusantara shines a light on a forgotten part of Indonesian graphic culture
With the new release of the Grafis Nusantara Zine and an online digital archive, this collection of stickers and labels from the 1970s through to the 1990s is set to bring Indonesian graphic history to the wider world.
- Elfie Thomas
- 31 March 2022
There are a few who can deny the childlike glee one feels when gazing through an archive of stickers. Maybe it’s their jewel-like quality, the chance to see perfectly-formed works of graphic art in miniature. Maybe it’s the surprise at seeing “low-brow and kitschy” graphics within an academic or research-based setting. Whatever it is, we like it, and Grafis Nusantara’s collection of Indonesian labels and stickers from the 1970s-90s is the latest archive to really catch our fancy.
The South Borneo-based graphic designer and illustrator Rakhmat Jaka began collecting vintage Indonesian ephemera back in 2014. With his magpie-like eye for their candy colours and kitschy aesthetics, Jaka would go on scavenger hunts around thrift shops to amass his growing collection. Later he went on to found Grafis Nusantara and digitally archive the collection so he could share this valuable insight into Indonesia’s vivid graphic history with the world. Along the way, he began gathering a team to help him. Hiring writer and researcher Claudia Novreica and web designer Hendri Siman, Grafis Nusantara now has its own website and recently published its own zine.
“We think that despite the abundance of Indonesian vernacular graphics in our surroundings, they are often overlooked, forgotten, and even underestimated because of the assumptions of them being low-brow and kitschy,” says Jaka. “Grafis Nusantara caters as a space to give Indonesian vernacular chances to be appreciated.”
The team are fascinated by the references to many different cultures and styles that can be found within their collection. “Indonesia is a melting pot of many cultures”, says Jaka. Tracing these threads of visual influences helps to shine a light on the complex social and cultural history of Indonesia. The team strongly believes in the potential of their research to create new perspectives on this history: “We believe that these materials can be seen as a window to the culture's past – results from social dynamics, technology, behaviour, and values that exist in society over a certain period of time.”
With their now fully established online archive, they have begun the tricky task of allotting each sticker to its own category. As it stands, there are five categories of labels (food and beverage, health, textile, cigarette, tea) and five for stickers (cartoon, eroticism, religion, picture text, classic text). But with the collection growing quickly, particularly with submissions from the public through social media, the team aim to hone their categorising scheme in the future.
Another exciting development for the archive is the recent release of the Grafis Nusanatara Zine. The zine comes in the form of a folder, showcasing a range of the archive’s collection and accompanied by a bonus selection of stickers, posters and postcards. Teaming up with Indonesia-based graphic designer Evan Wijaya and design studio Kamengski to create the zine, Grafis Nusantara has created a new publication which matches the irresistibly colourful and poppy aesthetics of the vintage material in their archive.
While the effect of traipsing through this collection’s hilarious characters, juicy typefaces and gorgeous colours is invariably one of light-heartedness, the Grafis Nusantara team take their role very seriously. “We understand the obsolescence of these materials, thus urging us to preserve them,” says Jaka. With the archive’s growing creative output and increasingly informed research set to bring Indonesian graphic history to the wider world, we’re so glad that Grafis Nusantara has taken on this duty.
GalleryAll images copyright © Grafis Nusantara, 2022
Copyright © Grafis Nusantara, 2022
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.