Flores Wraps Show Intricacy Behind Jakarta Exhibition


Wraps from Flores (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The traditional cloth draped on the triangle boasts patterns as intricate as any woven by human hands. Known as Hinggi Kihil, the rectangular wrap from the eastern part of Sumba island is made up of a melange of materials including commercial thread, chemical dyes, warp ikat and plain weave as well as kabakil terminals.

The result of the design features a gradation of colors from dark and red to sky blue and white that are as seamless as they are harmonious. The age old motifs are also a study in contrasts, as their patterns prove to be as vigorous and lively on the cloths, made relatively recently in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Hinggi and others like it are among the dozen of cloths featured in the “Weavings of Southeastern Indonesia: From Bali to Timor” exhibition, which is currently being held at the Bentara Budaya cultural center in Jakarta.

Stylized horses on the lighter blue side combine well with the coat of arms with lions rampant. The latter design, inspired by the coat of arms from coins brought by the Dutch in the 19th century, highlights the artisans’ eye for detail and their sensitive observations of the world around them.

“The weavings of the southeastern quarter of Indonesia are noted for their diversity, attractive character and continuing production. Not only do their immense variety representative of Indonesia’s national diversity, they are eye catching and still of excellent quality” curator Judi Achjadi said in the exhibition’s catalogue.

“Thanks to continuing ritual and ceremonial needs and the demands of the tourist and art market, [the woven cloth of the region] are among the lively traditional arts and crafts still practiced today.”

The region’s socioeconomic structure is also touched on in a Hanggi rectangular wrap from West Sumba. The 2.79 by 1.15 meter work, whose exquisite make entails an organic process of handspun cotton, organic dye and treebark twine, portrays a horse.

While the seemingly naive depiction of the horse makes it seem like a rocking or toy horse, it belies its importance in the island’s society as a token of wealth. The symbolism is added by a figure of one of its two riders, which is shown carrying a gold rod symbolizing the family’s wealth. The horse’s importance extends to the spiritual sphere, as its shown to have both male and female organs.

“The symbolism [of the horse] is powerful but unknown at this stage, aside from prosperity and fertility” Judi said. Regardless of its meaning, the work’s motif is a powerful affirmation of the area’s cultural identity.

The tubular wraps from Flores’ Manggarai district is a study in contrasts inside and out. Every corner of the wrap comes as a surprise.

The ornate left side contrasts with a more sparsely decorated, but no less intricate, right half. The triangles that make up the bottom and upper halves reflect the differing ways to make the cloth, namely the supplementary weft and tapestry weaving.

On the other hand, the lawo butu woman’s tubular from the Ngada district used brightly colored beads to make exquisite decorations of human figures, birds, and geometric motifs. The patterns strikingly stood out from the dark cloth, as does the warp ikat figures of horses, diamonds and various geometric figures.

On its part, the Beti rectangular wrap of North Central Timor district of Miomafo features geometric patterns similar to Middle Eastern carpets and ponchos from Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

The Tais Feto tubular wrap from Timor’s Malaka district also explored the motif. Using the three paneled motif renowned from the area, the cloth saw the removal of its supplementary weave, done without damaging its basic weave. The process is testament to the quality of the craftmanship and skill of the weavers.

Bali also did its take on the weft ikat technique which was known as Endek in the Balinese language, as well as its wastra songket brocade.

However, the pattern’s more structured use of tirtanadi or zigzag rows have much in common with batik and other Javanese cloths. The similarity highlights Bali’s standing as a island serving as a transition between western and eastern Indonesia.

At first glance, the wastra songket looks like it has much in common with Javanese batik due to its use of gold cloth to make geometric, regulated patterns. But a closer look indicates that the wastra songket have more in common with their more abstract counterparts from Eastern Indonesia.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 15, 2013

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Discovering the Art of Giving and Taking


Sekartadji Supanto in front of his painting “Combination of Stupa” (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The angles of Borobudur rising out of the mist seem to leave them suspended in “The Balance of Stupa,” a painting brought out the monument’s circular dimensions.

“[‘The Balance of Stupa’] is my effort to reintroduce Borobudur to the world at large. This is particularly important as there was a period when it was taken off the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World,” said the artwork’s creator, Sekartadji “Tadji” Supanto, who exhibited the painting as part of a group exhibition held by the Jakarta chapter of L’Association Pour les Enfants de la Rue (The Association for Street Children), or PER, a foundation run by the French community in Jakarta.

“I also want to show foreign art buffs that there’s much more to Indonesia than Bali. As an individual of Javanese descent, I wish to highlight its place as a Javanese cultural icon, as well as its role in molding my cultural perspective and identity,” Tadji said.

The 36-year-old is one of 50 artists who showcased their art during a group exhibition hosted by Koi Restaurant and Gallery in the South Jakarta area of Kemang, and revisited the theme with paintings like “Combination of Stupa” and “Buddha in Color.”

Painted in acrylic on canvas, the works managed to capture Borobudur’s timelessness through elements like the multicolored backgrounds of late American Pop Art great Andy Warhol’s 1962 work “The Marilyn Diptych,” and the ethereal yet striking lines of ancient Japanese and Chinese scroll paintings.

“Borobudur can be viewed in many ways. I chose to view it from a historical, cultural and religious perspective and its standing as one of the world’s most iconic artistic monuments,” Tadji said. “The infinite number of ways that one can explore Borobudur is perhaps a fitting metaphor for Indonesia’s diversity. The multiple ways that one can approach Borobudur would also do it wonders, as it does wonders to remind the public about its place in forming the Indonesian identity.”

Tadji’s artistic vision of Borobudur could have run the risk of debasing the monument’s spiritual meaning and merely addressed its popular appeal, as he took on the Pop Art approach of the “Marilyn Diptych.”

However, he still managed to convey his reverence for the place through the deft and seamless transition from realist, abstract and decorative elements which held together well with a surrealist touch.

The contemplative tones of “Buddha in Color” managed to capture Borobudur’s spiritual and religious meaning, while the sight of stupas seeming to rise up out of nowhere against its two dimensional backdrop seemed to convey its timelessness for people in Indonesia and around the world.



Children at the PER workshop

Starting out with PER and working with disadvantaged children

During the exhibition, which was held by PER to raise money for their charitable activities, Tadji and other artists participated in a workshop for children from the five centers supported by PER in the Greater Jakarta Area, such as Kampus Diakonia Modern, the Nusantara Foundation, Yayasan Emmanuel orphanage and Citra Indonesia Foundation and Mizan Amanah.

“I started working at PER’s artistic workshops for orphans and street kids in 2006, six years after the charity association’s founding in 2000. There aren’t too many programs of this kind in Indonesia, so I’m glad that I can make a difference for the kids and participate in a worthwhile cause,” said Tadji, a self-taught artist who discovered his talent for art when he worked at a gallery in his youth.

“Another advantage of working with PER is that we get to see where our efforts go to, because of its transparent structure and clear aims,” he explained. “Furthermore, foreign agencies or individuals are more sincere in their efforts, unlike their Indonesian counterparts who often hold these sort of programs to bolster their own image or for ulterior motives.”

It didn’t take long to see that the workshop’s efforts paid off. The children’s art managed to hold its own against their veteran counterparts, as attested by “Super Art,” a portrayal of Superman done by street kids from the KDM organization.

The vibrantly colored tribute to the Man of Steel, which is marked by a rough vigorous finish characteristic of graffiti and other street art, contrasts with the more subdued, structured and more refined portraits done by youthful artists from Yayasan Emmanuel.

PER Jakarta spokesperson Afia Ali-Blasco expects the works of the novice artists and their more experienced counterparts to raise an approximately similar amount to the Rp 50 million ($4,204) that was raised at last year’s exhibition. But word of the activities has yet to spread, as they are mostly held in mainstays of Jakarta’s French community that include Koi, Duta Fine Arts Gallery and Galeri 678, as well as a number of private homes.

Tadji stated that the kids’ work are but part of the gratifying experience of participating in PER’S exhibitions and workshops.

“Art can provide the children with a voice, due to its universal nature. It can also give them a purpose in life, give them hope and prove to society at large that they are not merely street kids with no future,” he said. “Their circumstances enable them to be more versatile and creative, as they can make art from scrap materials and recycled goods.”

For Tadji, the experience of participating in the workshop was equally enlightening.

“Aside from teaching the kids some of my skills, the workshop also allows me to work side by side with artists from Indonesian art centers like Bali, Bandung, and Jakarta,” he said. “The creative giving and taking that I get from them is just as useful for me as working with the street kids.”

Expanding horizons

Tadji’s work with PER also enabled him to broaden his own horizons, along with those of his fellow artists.

“The works at PER’s exhibitions managed to raise interest from donors who hail from European countries like Spain and the Netherlands, though the majority of its donors are still French,” he explained. “Since then, PER also helped raise the profile of my work and that of my fellow artists, as well as the art of some street kids since I participated in their exhibitions.”

Since then, Tadji has exhibited his works at French cities like Paris and Marseilles and is set to reprise his success at the City of Lights.

“I’m set to return to Paris next January, where my work will be exhibited at the offices of the Total oil company. I’ll also be set to hold a joint exhibition in Yogyakarta, which is much closer to my hometown Wonogiri in Central Java,” he said.

Sculptor Nita Nursita said that Tadji’s success overseas is due to more than his talent as an artist.

“Unlike most artists, Tadji is wholly dedicated not just to his work, but to the success of the exhibition as well,” she said. “He’s thorough in providing the background behind his work and is selfless in helping out with the exhibition.”

“He’s not as erratic as some artists are known to be, and he doesn’t require much prodding to get his work done,” Nita added. “If anything, he’s earned his place to exhibit his art, unlike too many artists who seem to be merely freeloading in an exhibition.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 13, 2013

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Nilko Andreas Guarin’s Soulful Strumming Mesmerises Jakarta


Nile Andreas Guarin on guitar (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The strumming of the classical Spanish guitar by Colombian guitarist Nilko Andreas Guarin sounded intricate yet soulful. The relatively sparse guitar, which belied its depth, introduced the “Capricho Arabe,” a showpiece tune by 19th-century Spanish classic guitar master Francisco Tarrega. Combining the emotions of his era’s Romanticist music and the stately style of Spain’s Andalusia region, the piece served to introduce Guarin to his Indonesian audience at Jakarta’s Usmar Ismail Hall during a recital sponsored by the Colombian Embassy last Wednesday.

The veteran musician, whose deft touch with the guitar hit a chord with music buffs in 15 countries, reached out to his audience during the show.

“The “Capricho Arabe” is the epitome of Spanish classical guitar. As such, I’m certain that it will go far to establish common ground [between us],” said Guarin, who has performed at venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City and Wildthurn Castle in Germany.

The taciturn Guarin, whose mastery of classic guitar made him a regular at the annual gala performances held by Spain’s Queen Sofia, preferred to let his hands do the talking as he did his take on Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Five Preludes.” Guarin managed to capture the mood of the compositions, starting with the first prelude in E minor. Composed as vignettes of Brazilian life, the pieces started off with restrained passion, before picking up pace and breaking into a graceful flourish.

The deft strings of the second prelude in E minor stayed true to form, designed to ask a lady to dance.

As a homage to Johann Sebastian Bach, the third movement in A minor is more structured. However, the fourth movement in E minor and fifth movement in D major featured a more flowing sound. Made as a tribute to Latin America’s native peoples, the former was highlighted by traditional music and rhythms, giving it a natural, organic feel. The fifth prelude rounded out the series due to its inclusive, welcoming tone.

Guarin also hit notes closer to home with compatriot Adolfo Mejia’s piece “Bambuco” in E minor. Named after a dance in Colombia’s Andes Mountains region, the composition again features subdued passions, which were brought to the forefront by the striking flourish at its end. Other compositions celebrating his homeland include Gentil Montana’s “Suite Colombiana No. 2.” Made in four sections, the Suite ranged in sound from the intricate “Pasillo,” which derived its inspiration from traditional Colombian songs as well as the country’s mountains, to the brief, passionate and minuet-like “Guabina Viajera.”

The piece descended into another “Bambuco.” Inspired by the chant of vendors in traditional markets, the piece was designed to interact with the audience by having them imitate the chants. The piece uniquely has guitars take over the percussion usually reserved by drums, before breaking into the porro . The song, from Cartagena and other coastal towns, featured a vibrant, well paced tune to reflect the port town’s vibrant life.

Guarin then slowed the tempo by playing Spanish early 20th-century guitar master Isaac Albeniz’s iconic tune “Asturias” from “Suite Espanola,” as well as the equally contemplative but less well known “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tarrega. He then brought the show to a close with the tango strains of Roland Dyens’s “Tango In Ski.”

In a nod to the Indonesian public, students from the Colombian Embassy school in Jakarta enlivened the intermission with their take on Aceh’s traditional Saman dance. They stacked up well to the original capturing the dance’s vigorous, rapid movements and deft handling of plates that made the dance the most iconic of its kind.

Guarin piqued the interest of his audience in his premiere show in Jakarta.

“I was initially unfamiliar with classical guitar in both its Spanish or Latin American strains, as I’m more familiar with the symphonic or operatic aspects of classical music,” said Rennie, a music lover in the audience.

“It did take a while to follow along with the music, particularly the first half. However, the high quality of his guitar technique more than made up for it, especially in the more upbeat second half. All in all, [Guarin’s] performance was an eye-opener when it comes to both classical music as well as guitar performances in general.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 9, 2013

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Eddi Prabandono: Inspired By Transportation and Change


Eddi Prabandono with “After Party #3: Living the High Life” (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The sight of a Vespa motor scooter towering overhead seems improbable, even when witnessed firsthand. The bike’s running board, elongated into a series of loops running from the handlebar and front wheel to the scooter’s trademark rear-based engine and seat, are a surrealist flight of fancy worthy of Salvador Dali and the melted clocks of the Surrealist great’s masterpiece “The Persistence of Memory.”

Titled “After Party #3: Living the High Life,” the installation piece is the brainchild of Indonesian artist Eddi Prabandono, one of the country’s leading practitioners of this art genre.

“‘Living the High Life’ is inspired by motion and the sense of drive behind it. While this goes specifically to the scooter as a vehicle, it also particularly describes the perennial sense of movement that comes with life,” Eddi said of the piece, which is currently on display at the South East Asia Plus (SEA+) Triennale exhibition at Jakarta’s National Gallery.

“When we live life, we constantly have to be on the move, as things can change day by day, hour after hour, and even every second. If we just stop and stay still, life will overrun us.”

The work’s dynamism is best suggested by its wide interpretation.

“Some viewers have come up to me and suggested that the loops indicate the ups and downs of youthful love, while others pointed out that the swirls of ‘Living In the High Life’ allude to the fluctuations of the European economy today,” said the 49-year-old, referring to Vespa’s homeland of Italy, and the effect the European Union’s economic doldrums have had on the country.

“Perhaps the twisting, seemingly never-ending loops could also symbolize Jakarta’s traffic and the way vehicles weave around it, as well as the increasing dependence that many people here have on it. Maybe it’s some or all of those things simultaneously.”

Using art to let the self go

“After Party #3: Living the High Life” and its whimsical, twisting lines reflect the simple, yet unique philosophy behind Eddi’s work.

“I want my art to be a spectacle for the viewer. It should be funny, entertaining and even stupid to those who see it. Those elements are much more effective in today’s day and age,” he said.

“Like every other artist during the Suharto era, my art then was highlighted by elements of terror, violence and militarism. But we lived under those pressures and circumstances for over 30 years, so it’s time to leave all that in the past and start afresh on a positive note.”

Eddi practiced what he preached to start off his artistic career, a path that saw him make a name for himself in Indonesia, Japan and other countries.

“I enrolled at the Indonesian Arts Institute in Yogyakarta with a major in print-making in 1992. It’s not too much to say that I was determined to follow a career in the arts,” said Eddi, who graduated from the 17 August 1945 University in his hometown of Semarang with a degree in architecture.

“I took a chance to start all over again instead of going into the family business of architecture. My family does have a creative tradition, but none of us ever went into the arts, so it was a kind of like a shot in the dark,” he added.

Since then, he has specialized in installation art, a quirky medium that proved to be versatile artistically and logistically.

“After Party #3: Living the High Life” is made of plates that were adjusted to the Vespa’s contours and dimensions.

“It took about a month to assemble and is well put together, despite some parts that needed extra adjustments,” Eddi said of the 6.4-by-3.4-meter piece.

“Most importantly, it can be disassembled and put together like a good piece of installation art should. It is these elements that made it possible for me to show it at the Art Stage in Singapore last January.”

While Eddi’s Vespa special might seem to be the highlight of his craft, it is by no means the only thing up his sleeve. His art often highlights extremes and contradictions, two elements that he brought up in such works as “Revolocean.” The work, which was displayed at a previous exhibition in Jakarta in 2011, featured an upside-down Volkswagen Beetle with the outboard motor from a speedboat.

“[Revolocean] highlights Indonesia’s slowness in developing its merchant marine or naval fleets. Other nations, like Japan and the Netherlands, have bigger fleets than Indonesia’s,” he said.

“So I figured, since we’re not going to go into the sea, might as well wait for the sea to come to us. Who knows, maybe [Revolocean] will come in handy once the floods come and inundate Jakarta again during the rainy season at the end of the year,” he added with a laugh.

Vehicles, which are so integral to Eddi’s notion of movement in art, are also used to address ecological issues. Eddi took on this theme with “Green, Green, Green, GoAhead, Tree,” an installation featuring a bonsai tree on a construction cart. The structure takes a naive and playful swipe at the marketing claims of so-called eco-friendly cars.

Finding inspiration

While Eddi has often shown his knack for reconciling extremes and contradictions, the heart and soul of his art is very much human, in contrast to the mechanical contraptions and vehicles that form much of his work.

“My family remains my biggest artistic inspiration. They always encouraged me to excel in my work and kept me going through their motivation and wisdom,” Eddi said of his Japanese-born wife Nana Miyagi Prabandono and daughter Luz.

“This is particularly hard, as we have to spend much of our time apart. They have to remain at our home in Okinawa while I had to make my art and go on the exhibition circuit in Indonesia and other countries. ”

Eight-year-old Luz is his particular muse, immortalized in a sequence of sculptures called “Luz Series” 1 through 6, designed to be displayed outdoors. Made in a variety of materials ranging from clay to aluminum, the sculptures comprise giant four-by-four-meter studies of her head as a sleeping baby.

“The ‘Luz Series’ is particularly dear to me, as they portray her when she was a baby. Sometimes when I see the sculptures they make me sad in a sentimental way, as I realize she isn’t a baby any more,” Eddi said of the works, which made an immediate impact when first displayed at the 2011 Jog Art exhibition in Yogyakarta. “The effect is enhanced by the statues’ weather-beaten look, which symbolizes how experienced we get as we get older. The heads are also laid on the ground to symbolize the old proverb of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Eddi said that the “Luz Series” also symbolizes the burdens that we leave to succeeding generations, such as conflict, global warming and other disasters of the man-made kind.

Currently, Eddi is out to dazzle art buffs around the world, with displays of his work in New York, Milan and other cities beginning March 2014. Art lovers in Jakarta also have much to look forward to, as he’s set to hold a solo exhibition at the capital’s Rachel Gallery at an undetermined time next year. Regardless of where you opt to see Eddi’s work, you are guaranteed to be in for a thrilling ride.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 9, 2013

Artists Are Putting A New Twist On Some Old Things


“Hello” by Bagus Pandega, and “Hit It” by Stolen Wood (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The set of old-fashioned chairs around the small round table, which seemed to be transplanted from a 19th century cottage, epitomized controlled chaos. Suspended in midair, the chairs seemed to defy gravity as well as time and space. Titled “Hit It,” the installation piece by the German artistic duo of Kai Linke and Leslie “Lee” Hildebrandt — or Stolen Wood — fits the bill for its emphasis on adding a new twist to old things.

“Hit It” is part of “New Olds: Design Between Tradition and Innovation,” an exhibition of 60 works at Jakarta’s Art One Gallery featuring the works of designers from Germany and other European countries, as well as Indonesia and the United States. Held by the Goethe-Institut and Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen or IFA, the exhibit set out to turn notions of designs around its head. “[New Olds: Design Between Tradition and Innovation] set out to explore the relationship between tradition and innovation in contemporary design,” the exhibition’s catalogue announced. “The variety of the many approaches are bundled around the theme’s material, construction, configuration, production, and traditional use.”

The exhibition’s curator, professor Volker Albus, reiterated the statement.

“The exhibition sought to see which old elements can be used to make contemporary designs. The question is, what [old designs] can we take and how can we take it, and how can we transform them into new, contemporary and local items,” he said. “We also encourage local artists to look [for inspiration] at their culture instead of foreign, particularly Western models.”

One Indonesian artist, Bagus Pandega, got the message through his work “Hello.” At first glance, the Bandung Institute of Technology Fine Arts alumnus seemed to pay homage to the turntable. But as his choice of materials indicates, there is much more than meets the eye. “Hello” uses acrylic for the turntable instead of vinyl, as the former has a more futuristic look. The turntable itself is a running text playing the Beatles classic song “Hello Goodbye,” as in “hello to the new, goodbye to the old,” Bagus said.

Fellow Indonesian artist Patricia Untario also touched on the same issue with her work “Rangka”or “Frame.”

“I found this Art Nouveau lamp at the Astana Anyar flea market in Bandung. When I found it, the lamp was so rusty and dirty it didn’t take long to realize that there’s a history behind it,” she said. “When one thinks of chandeliers, they think ornate lamps, so people have no idea I got the lamp in a rundown condition once they see its restored state. I guess ‘Rangka’ is a good metaphor for the wonders that we tend to overlook in daily life, until we stop to take a closer look at it.”

On the other hand, Dila and Otong’s piece “The Javanese Queen” pays tribute to their cultural heritage.

“Javanese traditions are very robust. We are also rooted in Java and it is difficult to separate us from her,” they said of the bust, whose refined wayang features are counterpointed by the ornate, carnival like decoration. “If we had to describe Java as a queen, we would see her mysterious side and the elegance of traditions in the place where we grew up.”

Other collections in the exhibition, such as Studio Nils and Sven’s “1000 Chairs,” also approach the theme with a knack for the unexpected and a quirky eye. Designed by Niels Kerkkamp and Sven Lamme from five strips of plywood measuring five centimeters, the chair seemed more geared for decoration. But the chair was surprisingly ergonomic, as it featured good weight distribution and balance.

Others, such as Soner Ozenc’s “El Sajjadah” and Wendy Plomp’s “Message in a Box” series touched on the place of faith, in this sense Islam, in the modern world. The stark white, computerized design of a prayer mat seem to touch on religion’s relevance in the modern world, making it contemporary yet timeless. But Plomp’s “Message in a Box” is no less poignant. Made of cardboard with the decorations typical of a prayer rug, the work’s sparse, no-nonsense simplicity seems to take faith to its simplest, most elemental characters.

Albus’ own work “Pixelperser” also has the same take. The carpet drew attention to the similarities between the pixels of modern computers and the  intricate weaving process of Persian carpets, proving that the newest innovations have much in common with age old, hand made items than was previously thought.


“Moose, Roeder, Deer” by Big Game

Other works, like Big Game’s “Moose, Roeder, Deer” updated the age-old tradition of hanging hunting trophy heads on the wall for their wooden substitutes. Made with more ecological concerns in mind as well as an aversion to taking life, the work gave the tradition a new lease on life by its distinct aesthetic. Nina Kappenstein did the same with porcelain on her “dTales” pieces. Superficially resembling 18th-century scenes of pastoral life portrayed by Meissen porcelain from Germany, Kappenstein subtly slipped in symbols of consumer products such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola as well as planes flying overhead, to show how the world has changed since.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 4, 2013

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In Reliving Past, Victims Defy Sense of Impunity


Former First Lady Sinta Nuriah Wahid accepts a gift from victims of human rights violations and KKPK members (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

For millions of East Timorese, Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of their country seemed an interminable nightmare.

“My husband, a school principal, was killed by Indonesian soldiers a month after they invaded in November 1975,” says a woman identified only as M.F.

“I then fled into the jungles with the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor [Fretilin] until I was caught by the Indonesian military in 1979.” From that point on, her nightmare truly began.

“I was then held and tortured at the Hotel Flamboyan in Baucau, which was then used as a military headquarters by the Indonesian forces. They made me give away the whereabouts of my brother, a Fretilin fighter,” she recalls.

“I was tortured and raped by servicemen at the Hotel Flamboyan and gave birth to four daughters out of wedlock. Even now I have no idea who their fathers are.”

However, M.F. managed to find solace through her family’s love and the support of a priest willing to baptize her children, despite their unknown paternity.

Another anonymous compatriot of M.F.’s, who underwent the same ordeal, was not so fortunate.

“My husband refused to take me back because I had been ‘defiled.’ But I managed to get back on my feet by raising my children and running a cocoa plantation, due to my children’s love and support,” she says.

“My daughters first learned about their paternity when they saw a documentary about children born out of wedlock during the Indonesian occupation. But fortunately, this only strengthened their love and support for me as well as sympathy.”

Striving for justice

The two East Timorese women are among thousands of victims of atrocities committed by the Indonesian military between 1965 and 2005.

The duo, along with 30 other victims of human rights violations by the Indonesian military in places like Aceh and Papua, are stepping forward to share their experiences with the Indonesian public.

The hearings, titled “Speaking the Truth, Breaking the Circle of Violence,” are being held at Jakarta’s National Library by the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK), a group of 47 NGOs and government institutions whose members include the Citizens’ Council, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, the National Commission on Human Rights and the Witness and Victim Protection Agency.

“We held the hearings this year because we designated 2013 as the ‘Year of Truth.’ The year particularly resonates, as it marks the 10th anniversary of the assassination of the human rights activist Munir,” KKPK spokesman Dodi Yuniar said. “The hearings are the second major event of its kind since a similar hearing was held in 2005 to mark the 40th anniversary of the purge of suspected communists [in 1965].”

KKPK coordinator Kamala Chandrakirana said the victims’ testimonies were divided into different categories. The themes include violence against women, atrocities committed during the military insurgencies, sectarian violence, forcible displacement of people to exploit natural resources, and violence against human rights activists.

“We urge the government to admit that human rights violations did occur, and to apologize for them. Doing so will help the country start over, with a clean slate. “The People’s Consultative Assembly said truth and justice should be used as legal foundations, but they have yet to live up to their promise,” Kamala said.


Artifacts from the 1965 purge of suspected Communists


Revisiting the dark past

As with the conflict in East Timor, the 1965 anti-communist purge also hit women hard, among them a Yogyakartan who wished to remain anonymous.

“I was arrested by military authorities in Yogyakarta when I was studying for a degree at a teacher’s college during the purge,” she said.

“They accused me of having affiliations with the Indonesian Communist Party [PKI], even though the organizations I was a member of, like the Indonesian Students Association and the Indonesian Catholic Students Union, were not affiliated with the party.

“A priest freed my sister and me, after which I managed to get my degree and teach. However, the military authorities rearrested me in 1968 and coerced me to confess to another identity.

“I was physically and sexually abused after I refused to do so. They moved me to a number of prisons until I was eventually released in 1978.”

The woman, now in her 70s, said she bore two children during her ordeal, and continues to face stigmatization and discrimination because of her status as a former political prisoner.

The fallout from the military conflicts in Papua and Aceh also affected people like Christian Padua and Murtala.

“I was taken into custody by Indonesian authorities without charge between November 1967 and April 1968. They accused me of being a Free Papua Organization [OPM] insurgent and subjected me to psychological and physical torture,” said Padua, 71, who was fired without compensation or explanation from his job as a supervisor in charge of four Papuan districts at state-run electricity company PLN.

“Even now, I won’t disclose the full extent of what I’ve been through to avoid reprisals against my family.”

Murtala was a survivor of the Simpang KKA incident, a massacre in North Aceh in May 1999 that left 46 people dead, 10 missing, and more than 156 others wounded.

“I was covered by the victims’ bodies and blood during the massacre, which killed my older brother. I only survived because I was presumed dead,” the 43-year-old said of the incident, which occurred when a mob converged on a military base to demand justice, following an incident involving a member of the Indonesian military.

Murtala insisted that the government stop covering up, and called on all sides to forgive but not forget the incident.

The Citizen’s Council has noted that the culture of impunity remains a legacy of the past. It also praised the victims for having the strength and courage to face their dark past.

Aside from the harrowing testimonies, the event also featured playwright Putu Oka Sukanta, who recited his latest work of verse called “Catatan Kecil Dalam Sejarah Indonesia” or “A Little Note In Indonesian History.”

The poem affirmed his humanity and identity as a writer, and his identification with the more marginalized segments of society. Other highlights include speeches by former Indonesian first lady Sinta Nuriah Wahid, the widow of late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, and G.K.R. Hemas, the wife of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X of Yogyakarta.

The KKPK has vowed to pursue its cause of bringing the truth to light until the circle of violence breaks. The national rights commission says it will publish a report on the testimonies and other findings in March next year.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on December 3, 2013

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Interpreting Asian Identity


Mahendra Yasa, “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #1” and “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #2” (Photos courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The looming figure inexorably commanded one’s attention, not least because of the shiny metallic head capping it off. Titled “Archeomoto,” this aluminum and fiber glass resin sculpture by Indonesian sculptor Nus Salomo portraying a cuttlefish or giant squid making its way out of the deep would fill fishermen and sightseers with dread.

The effect is enhanced by the grotesque ends of a pair of tentacles, which seem poised to catch and crush anyone unfortunate enough to get too close. But their humanoid, larger than life and alien appearance might also come from the depths of the College Art Center of Design alumnus’ subconscious, in which case they have much in common with the nightmare creatures of horror and fantasy master HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos series.

On the other hand, Eldwin Pradipta’s “Portray Jelekong” turned the notion of landscape painting on its head. Featuring a classic Indonesian landscape of paddy fields with a volcano in the distance, “Portray Jelekong” gave viewers more than they bargained for.

Not too many paintings show smoke and lava on the volcano, while cascades of water swept over the landscape and surged down the walls off the canvas. The effect was only made possible by the video artist’s use of video projection on a white frame.

Nus’ unwieldy, static yet striking structure as well as Eldwin’s video painting are among the number of avant garde artworks exhibited in the first ever Southeast Asian Triennale.

Held at Jakarta’s National Gallery, the event showcased the works of 69 artists from Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.

They are by no means the only countries represented in the Triennale, as contemporary art from China, Pakistan. Japan and Australia is also exhibited. The exhibition’s curators, among them Jim Supangkat, Suwarno Wisetrotomo and Asikin Hasan, said the event chronicles the influence of globalization on contemporary art.

The theme of conflict as an integral part of the human experience is an element examined at the exhibition, a striking example being Pakistani contemporary artist Jamil Baloch’s stark “Mega Project II.”

The shadow of a fighter plane on the tile is a powerful reminder of the constant armed conflicts which shaped his country’s history, as well as the preeminent role of the military there. But the most telling element in the mixed media piece are its cracked tiles reflecting Pakistan’s tenuous unity which is perennially threatened by sectarian and civil conflicts.

Indonesian artist Arief Hidayat also explored this theme in his sketch series “Last Men (Forced Disappearance Tragedy).”

The work, which can be seen as a modern day retelling of “The Miseries of War,” a series of etchings by 17th century French draughtsman Jacques Callot depicting the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, shows the suffering of victims of the 1965 purge of suspected communists.

It is similar to its predecessor through its use of black and white lines to convey a sense of desperation and terror. The imagery of forced disappearance, interrogations and mass executions is by no means confined to the conflict, it also be interpreted as the suffering wreaked by insurgencies in parts of Indonesia like Aceh and Papua, as well as the Iraq war and Syrian civil war.

The pull of age old art forms is by no means confined to conflicts, as Chinese artist Bu Hua used the medium of stained glass painting to see his hometown Beijing in a new light through his works “Water Is Deep Here in Beijing IX” and “Water Is Deep Here in Beijing II.” Painted in a style reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s album covers, Bu’s use of the LED box to portray bright images of playgrounds, brights skies and Art Nouveau houses in the Chinese capital hint at the subconscious and psychedelic.

But the skeleton in “Water Is Deep Here in Beijing II” seemed to indicate tensions that’s never far from around the corner, despite the sunny outlook brought about by China’s surging economy that’s seen all around.

The hordes of motorcycles that take up Jakarta’s roads and give their share of traffic griefs for one another and other motorists is an apt metaphor for social mobility in the capital.

Their sheer number and diverse backgrounds literally and figuratively reflect the dynamic social changes in Jakarta and the rest of Indonesia, a fact explored by Indonesian artist MG Pringgotono in his work “Little World Dialogue.”

The State University of Jakarta Visual Arts alumnus used ten seemingly random helmets with a name and a locale in the Greater Jakarta areas like Cikini, Tanjung Priok and Condet to give an identity to the frequently anonymous motorcyclists.

However, painter Mahendra Yasa’s “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #1” and “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #2” attempted to convey the Indonesian psyche as only a painting can.

Juxtaposing artists like Diego Velazquez or Paul Cezanne in his canvas, along with events like the Dutch arrival in Indonesia, “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #2” seem to convey the package in bright colors to make it more inclusive and accessible, in line with the ideals of globalization.

In contrast, “7 Magnificent Masterpieces #1” is painted in a more subdued, muted traditional Javanese style, as if to convey the deep seated roots that the country’s traditions and culture has on its people.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on November 24, 2013

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Setting Out to Cheer and Uplift


Red Nose Circus Show (photo courtesy of Red Nose Circus)

The grinding poverty that marks North Jakarta’s coastal subdistrict of Cilincing is palpable. The sight of creaking fishing boat masts at the nearby harbor, as well as the sight of women shucking mussels amid a sea of rubble and rundown houses, is one image of the area’s plight. But once a year, a touch of cheer uplifts this community of more than 371,000 people, as the circus comes to town.

Held by the non profit Red Nose Foundation last Sunday, the annual spectacle attracted thousands of locals keen to avoid the weekend tedium and cheer on the performers — who were none other than children from the neighborhood.

“The circus is the sixth of its kind to be held since Red Nose Foundation started off in 2008,” said executive director Dan Roberts, who established the foundation with his wife Renny and friend Dedi Purwadi.

“I’m happy to say that the show is getting bigger year after year. It has gone a long way, from a small group of 17 kids to 220 kids in our branches at Cilincing and Bintaro Lama,” Roberts said.

A graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University Dan, in circus clown mode, enlivened the show, engaging the audience with a deft mix of humor, fluent Indonesian, and spectacle.

Following musical opening acts from schools in the capital such as Global High School and Jakarta International School, Roberts ushered in the 110 performers that make up the students of Red Nose’s Cilincing branch. The show occurred a day after their counterparts at Bintaro Lama, South Jakarta, hit the stage.

Divided into five skill levels, with five being the lowest rung and one the highest, the performers made the audience forget their troubles for over two hours with a skillful display of acrobatic stylings.

Backed by an energetic mix of Western music and local tunes, including songs such as “Kopi Dangdut,” the youthful performers delighted the spectators for hours.

But it wasn’t all about the circus for the children, who ranged in age from toddlers as young as five to 17-year-old high school kids. Traditional acts also took center stage, among them a Lenong Bocah-style performance of hilarious skits highlighted by improvised, witty dialogue.

“I’ve had the idea to do shows and lessons for impoverished kids since I was in Chicago, so I started looking around as to where I can do so in Jakarta,” Roberts said.

“Initially I taught over 3000 kids throughout the Greater Jakarta area before I decided to settle on Cilincing and Bintaro Lama. I was struck by the terrible circumstances that the kids in Cilincing were living in, and yet I was inspired by their joy and excitement,” added the 29-year-old, who graduated from the Jakarta International School in 2002.

Roberts pointed out that the laughs did much to uplift his pupils from their squalid surroundings, and urged them to use the stage to release their inhibitions. However, the former Clowns Without Borders member has no illusions about the challenges his charges face.

“Cilincing is a glaring example of poverty [in Jakarta]. The public schools are typical of those in slums, with underpaid, under-educated teachers, while the kids have no or little support from their families. Crime is also a problem here, particularly drug use and pressure to participate in gangs, particularly for the boys,” Roberts said.

Renny agreed. “Cilincing and South Bintaro pose different challenges. The former is marked by their tough environment, while the latter, which consists of a community of scavengers, is marked by the conservatism of their families,” she said. “In Bintaro Lama, we have to be more tactful and patient to win the families over.”

The challenges posed by the cycle of poverty and conservative traditions is a factor that Roberts knows all too well.

“One of my students in Cilincing had things looking up for her, particularly after I sent her to a circus summer camp in the United States. After she came back, she graduated from her junior high school on top of her class,” he said. “But she missed out on high school and was forced to work by her family. Now she’s married with a child along the way.”

But the daunting challenges don’t faze Red Nose’s kids, among them Eka Novia “Beby” Wulan, who was one of Roberts’ first students.

“I started off by juggling with rings and balls, and then moved on to acrobatics. When I did so, I was always on top of the pyramid,” the diminutive Beby said with a laugh.

“My time in Red Nose really opened my eyes. When I was in the ninth grade, I got to go to a circus summer camp in the US state of Vermont to sharpen my skills. I hope to pass on my skills to my younger siblings, one of whom also performed in the show.”

The State High School No. 52 senior, one of Red Nose’s success stories, pointed out that her time performing at Red Nose Circus gave her many valuable insights.

“We have to practice juggling all the time to get it right. If we can do so, and in accordance with certain guidelines, we can master it in a month. I guess life is like that, in the sense that if we work hard and apply ourselves we’ll get far,” Beby said.

Red Nose has an emphasis on education, and offers classes in English, math, photography and guitar lessons aside from juggling. Roberts explained that he’s out to further this goal.

Beby, for example, hopes to study accounting or management at the University of Indonesia.

“Unfortunately, Indonesia doesn’t really have an accessible student loan program for kids who want to go to college but can’t afford it,” Roberts said, adding that “Companies are usually eager to be donors for scholarships, while awareness of Red Nose in the government is spreading, so we have reason to be upbeat.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on November 15, 2013

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Interpreting Society Through Sculpture


“Rekonstruksi” by Hari Susanto (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The likeness of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo still makes an indelible impression, even when set in stone, or to be more exact, fiberglass and electroplating.

Even perched on a pedestal, one can almost expect Joko to set off on one of his popular visits around the capital. The lines on his forehead seem to hint at his thoughts, while his expression portrays his readiness to utter yet another sardonic remark.

Such is the figure of Joko, as captured by sculptor Beby Charles in his work “Wi&Wikojo,” an anagram of Joko’s nickname “Jokowi.”

Joko’s disproportionately large head is a medium made all too familiar through the satirical cartoons featured in Indonesian newspapers such as Kompas and Suara Pembaruan.

While Beby’s take on Joko can be viewed as jaded satire, its just as feasible to see it as a metaphor for his larger-than-life stature for millions of Indonesians. The effect is reinforced by the laurel wreath on Joko’s head. The golden snail on wheels seems to convey the public’s hopes for better times in the future under him, while the heavy metal salute in his left hand symbolizes his love of the music genre as well as his populist appeal.

However, the small size of his angel wings might be a warning against putting too much hope on him. But for the Indonesian Institute of the Arts alumni, the work reflects his artistic vision.

“[Wi&Wikojo] reflects how contemporary sculpture transcends cultural differences between East and West,” Beby said.

“The symbols of East and West are universal, as they touch on values and feelings like longing, sadness, or gratitude. I try to be as consistent as possible to convey dynamism, illusions and tragedy in the work.”

Beby is one of 40 sculptors from the Bandung, Jakarta and Yogyakarta branches of the Indonesian Association of Sculptors, or API, to show their art in “Trax 13,” an exhibition at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center.

Taman Ismail Marzuki director Bambang Subekti said the exhibition, which is the second of its kind, touches on the sculptors’ intent to affirm their artistic stance, consistency and determination to rise to any challenges.

Sculptor Agus Widodo got the message with his work “Balada Setompret KPK.” The fiber sculpture is, in Agus’ words, his attempt “to respond to sociopolitical trends in society, to find a balance in life.”

Like Beby’s take on Joko Widodo, the wings on the figure might indicate how the public pin their hopes and dreams on the KPK, while the flute signifies its efforts to disseminate its anti-corruption agenda.

The ball and chain on the sculpture’s leg symbolizes the political constraints faced by the KPK, the menacing dinosaur figures reflects the threat the commission faces and the rolls of rupiah and US dollar bills indicate the temptations that KPK investigators face.

Fellow sculptor Hari Susanto took on a different angle with his installation art “Rekonstruksi.” The work is as much about rebirth as it is reconstruction, seen in the alternating circle between normal faces and those of skeletons.

Jakarta Arts Institute Sculpture alumni Yani M. Sastranegara also tackles the subject of rebirth and growth in her work “Bertumbuh Dalam Berkah” (“Graceful Growth”). Featuring a tree that outgrew the frame its placed in, the sculpture reflects Yani’s notion of “growth and expansion as a gift and a blessing.”

The piece is an apt metaphor for individuals who continue to expand beyond their comfort zone and get past the limitations that society might impose on them.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on November 11, 2013

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Erasmus’ Documentary Festival Aims to Open Eyes to Social Issues


Scene from “Orang Gila Juga Manusia”. Photo courtesy of Erasmusindo Film Festival

Few film genres rival documentaries for their frank, first-hand view of the world around them. Unencumbered by scripts or contrived plots, documentaries are also renowned for their warts and all portrayal of the human condition. However, public awareness of documentaries still pales compared to feature films, a situation that the Erasmus Huis Cultural Center set out to change through the Erasmusindocs Film Festival, which was previously known as the Golden Lens Film Festival.

“The Erasmusindocs Film Festival will feature 28 Indonesian and 29 foreign films. The Indonesian entries will be classified in three categories: the university category for university student filmmakers, high-school category for filmmakers still in high school, and the open category for professional filmmakers and the general public” Erasmusindocs Film Festival director Patar Simatupangsaid.

“The documentaries come from all parts of Indonesia and reflect the country’s diversity accordingly,” Patar added. The films, he said, cover aspects of Indonesian life, which feature films or news reels do not cover.

These include films like “Ksatria Sembrani” (Steel Knight) by high-school student Hestin Febriani, “Orang Gila Juga Manusia” (The Mentally Ill Are People Too) by Budiyanto, and “Aku Ingin Berhijab” (I Want to Wear The Hijab) by Wahyudi.

The films highlight the changes that Indonesia is undergoing. “Ksatria Sembrani” chronicles a group of children’s efforts to keep in touch with their roots through a traditional pastime, while “Orang Gila Juga Manusia” raises an important health care issue, seen through the eyes of two mentally ill people. On the other hand, “Aku Ingin Berhijab” takes on the choice between one’s religious beliefs and their secular allegiance to the state. Foreign entrants like “Trashed” and “Chasing Ice” cover global warming, while “The Doors: When You’re Strange” takes a new look at band The Doors and their legendary frontman, the late Jim Morrison.

Patar added that “Trashed,” narrated by acclaimed British actor Jeremy Irons, will open the festival on Tuesday. Another foreign entrant, a behind-the-scenes look at showbiz called “20 Feet From Stardom” will wrap up the festival on Nov. 16.

For Erasmus Huis director Ton van Zeeland, the films convey Erasmusindocs’s message: the important role that documentaries play in Indonesia.

“Documentaries are now more important than ever to Indonesia, as the country is a budding democracy. This form of filmmaking opens the eyes of the [Indonesian] elite and public about conditions in various parts of the country in a critical, accessible medium” he said.

“The festival reflects our commitment to support Indonesian filmmakers. This includes developmental training in five Indonesian cities, among them Yogyakarta, Ambon and Jayapura, and discussions on the films at various universities in Jakarta,” van Zeeland said, adding that Indonesia has long been a subject of films, as film inventors Auguste and Louis Lumieres were among the first to shoot documentaries in the country.

Indonesian filmmaker Hafiz Rancakale agreed. “Dutch filmmakers, among them Johan van de Kooken and his documentary ‘Beras Ambon’ [Ambon Rice], were among the first to shed light on life in colonial Indonesia or the then Dutch East Indies. Indonesian filmmakers owe a debt of gratitude to them in technical aspects, as well as starting off a chronicle of Indonesian history through film,” he explained. “Since then, documentaries have portrayed shifts in Indonesian history, starting off with government propaganda films from the 1950s to the 1970s, to being used by NGOs to highlight the plight of marginalized people throughout Indonesia from the 1980s until today.”

Hafiz highlighted the sorry state of documentaries in Indonesia. “Documentaries in Indonesia are only seen in art film or documentary festivals [like Erasmusindocs] and the Yogyakarta Film Festival, as they are deemed less profitable than feature films due to their ‘heavy’ content,” he said. “This is a sad contrast with Indonesia’s role in the history of documentaries. I hope that Erasmusindocs will play a major role in turning this around.”

On his part, van Zeeland hopes that Erasmusindocs will be a turning point for Indonesian documentaries, as well as the country’s filmmaking sector as a whole. “I’m happy to say that the quality of Indonesian films at Erasmusindocs continues to improve, though they still have a long way to go in catching up to their foreign counterparts,” he said.

“I’m certain that the festival, and the resulting public demand for documentaries they bring, will bolster the founding of an independent Indonesian film house. I hope that the film house will be independent of foreign institutions like the Goethe Institut, Institut Francais d’Indonesie and even Erasmus itself.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on November 10, 2013

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