In celebration of Human Rights Day, we are sharing an exhibition on a silenced history The Omitted Narrative, The Gathered Memory by Syaura Qotrunadha and Agni Saraswati at the Jogja Biennale XIII in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which closes officially today.

From 1965 to 1966, during a time of brutal repression and even massacres, which led the Old Order of the Soekarno era to the New Order, the human rights of the people of Indonesia were immensely violated.  Some women activists were arrested and without due process thrown into the labor camp in Pantungan, Central Java, for many years. Until now, this event has not been fully accepted as a part of Indonesian history. It is an unaccounted injustice done to the founding members of the Dialita Choir.

The Dialita Choir was formerly called Gembira, formed by the arrested young female activists in 1965 while incarcerated. The women came together to sing for hope and express their zest for life regardless of their situation at the time. They were young active women who worked together to eradicate illiteracy, fought for true independence, and voiced their opinion against oppression and discrimination. At first Dialita members were part of the “Family in History 65 (KDS65)”, survivors of the massacres of 1965. Later, also others joined in sympathy of the struggle. Until today, the group comes together to perform patriotic songs that convey the message of friendship, peace, and reconciliation. Dialita is an acronym for Di Atas 50 Tahun (above 50 years old).


Founding Members of Dialita Choir

Syaura Qotrunadha, Agni Saraswati and Venti Wijayanti

Syaura Qotrunadha, Agni Saraswati and Venti Wijayanti

Syaura Qotrunadha and Agni Saraswati are of a young generation of artists, who believed in the struggle of these women. They worked together to create a memory for this silenced occurrence in their history at the Biennale. “We created this project to bring attention to the movement in the past and today so other young people like us will know about them”, says Syaura.  They collected items from the archives of the survivors who are now very old. Some of them started live from zero again after their release from prison in the democratic era.


Women of Dialita Choir

At the opening event of Jogja Biennale XIII, the Dialita Choir came together again to perform on stage to an emotional crowd applauding vigorously and screaming “we want more”. They also sang in the exhibition room of Qotrunadha and Saraswati, causing nostalgic feelings with the older generation of visitors at the Biennale’s opening. One of the three songs performed reflects on Asia’s and Africa’s struggles for independence.  The song, Asia Afrika Bersatu was composed by Sudharnoto. Quoting one of the women in the choir, 63 year old Ucikowati: “The songs we sing on the stage of Biennale Jogja are dedicated to hope and our passion for life. We gather, carry out philanthropic work and sing. Justice, truth, and peace are the values we fight for”.