Jim Allen Abel was born in 1975 in Ujung Pandang, formerly Makassar, on Sulawesi Island. In 2002 he and a group of fellow students from the Indonesian Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta founded the Mes 56 collective, named after the former air force barracks they had moved into. The members’ aim is to subvert the conventions which, in Indonesia, reduce the photographer to a tukang portret – a “portrait coolie” – who exists just to fulfil commissions. Since graduating in 2005 Jim has been revitalising the classical portrait in the course of his travels with rock groups touring in Indonesia. Now well known locally and abroad, he is also the coordinator of the online photo magazine kantorberita.mes56.com.
The series Indonesian Uniform takes the Mes 56 project a step further by moving into the political field. In a series of self-portraits in which his face is masked, Jim looks at the issue of power as embodied by the uniforms you see everywhere in Indonesia. The mask highlights the way uniforms eliminate identity. “When we see a cop,” he says, “even though we see his name on the uniform, we tend to call him Pak Polisi [Mr. Policeman], as though the person no longer exists.” He makes the masks himself, and in Taekwondo makes fun of the martial arts
cult by wrapping his face in belts of different colours.
This is not the first time he has used self-portraiture. The series Fuck You, I’m from Makassar (2003) showed him adopting satirically provocative poses: when he moved to Yogyakarta in 1996 he found that some Javanese saw his native Makassar as a dangerous city, so he decided to produce a work on the lack of understanding among different peoples living in the same country. The result is an exploration of popular culture that exactly reflects the Mes 56 stance.
Gilles Massot, Wubin Zhuang, curators
Text from the catalogue-book “Photoquai”, co-edited by Musée du Quai Branly- Actes-Sud