An Intimate Snapshot of the Enigmatic Dayak Culture

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New Zealand photographer David Metcalf was successful in capturing the organic essence of Dayak culture in his striking collection of photos. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The Dayak dancers from North Kalimantan’s Malinau district awed their audience with a dazzling display of sights and sounds. The group managed to recreate the ambiance of their homeland’s rain forest as they imitated the mating ritual of a pair of birds of paradise.

Titled “Darung Tingkar,” or “Tree of Life,” the riot of colors from the costumes of both male and female dancers was highlighted by their headdresses of bird feathers. The men eerily echoed the birds’ mating cries, giving the performance an organic feel and authenticity that contrasts with the more ritualized dances of Java and Bali.

In a following performance, the dancers recreated a hunt in the Kalimantan rainforest. Accompanied by the sounds of drums and whoops that aimed to mimic the sounds of jungle animals, a male dancer crouched with a blowpipe in hand, showing the careful moves and stealthy manners that make the Dayak renowned jungle trackers. The hunter then used his blowpipe to take down his target with pinpoint accuracy, astounding the audience.

“Many of the dancers, including myself, are essentially autodidactic, as we have to feel the moves and react to the music and chants. Its not an easy thing to acquire, no matter how long one might have danced,” says 25-year-old lead dancer Siti Habibah, a lifelong performer and teacher of Dayak dances.

The performers opened “Photographic Exhibition of David Metcalf: A Celebration of Indonesian Cultures,” which highlighted 35 photos of traditional Indonesian cultures taken by the New Zealander between 2012 to 2014. Held at Jakarta’s Tugu Kunstkring Paleis exhibition hall, the images captures glimpses of ancient Javanese, Balinese rituals and the vigorous, martial traditions of East and West Nusa Tenggara. Essentially, the exhibition reflects Metcalf’s intimate relationship with the Dayak people of Kalimantan, a connection that earned him the nickname Dayak Dave.

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New Zealand photographer David Metcalf was successful in capturing the organic essence of Dayak culture in his striking collection of photos. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda

One photo called “Dayak Dancer” captured the performing art’s integral role in Dayak traditions. The image not only captured the vibrant spectacle of a dance at the annual Isen Mulang Festival in the city of Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, it also revealed the freedom felt by the dancers as they moved. Metcalf also portrayed the Isen Mulang festival with a mass of feathers and hands in an image reminiscent of Mardi Gras.

Other images, such as “Connecting With the Spirits,” “Proud Dayak Man” and “Ngaju Dayak,” are less colorful but no less profound.

Metcalf photos are available for purchase for Rp 2 million to Rp 9 million ($170 to $770). The proceeds, along with sales of his coffee-table book “Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage: Cultural Journeys of Discovery,” will fund the production of documentary on the expedition of six Kenyah Dayak tribesmen from North Kalimantan to their ancestral lands in the Long Saan area. The a portion of the earnings will also be used to educate Dayak children.

New Zealand’s ambassador to Indonesia, David Taylor, hailed Metcalf’s efforts to capture and celebrate the vast archipelago’s hidden cultures.

“[Metcalf’s photos] highlight Indonesia’s tremendous tourist potential, particularly its cultural and natural diversity. This will bode well for Indonesia’s future, as tourists are always on the lookout for something new,” he says. “Kalimantan is no less the case, as its biodiversity give it plenty of ecotourist potential.

“Efforts to tackle deforestation in Kalimantan will also go a long way. They will not make changes overnight, but small, short term sacrifices we make to that end will have long term gains” he says.

“Conservation will empower indigenous [communities] and will go a long way in conserving their culture.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 18, 2014

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Of Childhood Memories and Life Lessons

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Pak Raden, played by Suyadi, at a live performance of his Unyil show at the National Monument in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The old man grabs his visitors’ attention with his iconic broad mustache, outsized cane and Javanese outfit — all attributes that befit his name, Pak Raden.

His bearing as an authority figure still gets through to his viewers, particularly those who grew up watching him put up with Unyil and his friends Usro and Ucrit, as well as the slothful Pak Ogah on “Si Unyil,” a children’s puppet show on state broadcaster TVRI from the 1980s through to the early 2000’s. Like the rest of the Unyil cast, Pak Raden is a relatively rare sight nowadays. But the character — as played in live-action form by Suyadi — and the rest of Unyil’s cast can still draw crowds, as seen during a recent storytelling session at Jakarta’s National Monument, or Monas, called “Cerita Lagi Bareng Pak Raden” or “More Stories With Pak Raden.”

Held by Coca-Cola and Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising company, as part of their “Semangat Berbagi” (“Spirit of Giving”) campaign, the session was also a tribute to Pak Raden for his role in bringing up millions of Indonesian children.

“Growing up as an Unyil fan, Pak Raden was like a surrogate father figure who alternately delighted and motivated you with his stories,” said Wondo, an advertising manager at Ogilvy and Mather.

“Despite his gruff exterior, he set the standard that we should go by in treating children, namely treating them well and with respect. But most of all, he symbolizes an era when life was simpler.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola and Ogilvy & Mather say their campaign “alludes to the sense of togetherness in which families would get together over a good story. However, this tradition is fast eroding as children are diverted by television programs and computer games, while their parents are often preoccupied with their jobs, gadgets, and applications.

“By bringing Pak Raden to recount his tales, we hope to revive this storytelling tradition, as its a good way to open up and be honest to one another.”

Pak Raden lived up to his billing, delighting his audiences with his gruff manner and bluff bonhomie, as epitomized by his cry “Encokku kumat!” (“My gout is acting up!”). The 80-year-old Suyadi brought to life a number of Unyil characters, among them Ucrit and Melani, in a puppet show that saw the characters solve their problems with childlike innocence and a healthy dose of positivity, including respecting their elders and one another.

The story, like much of Unyil as a series, paid tribute to the guileless ingenuity of kids and their spirit of making do. A second story, told in a sketching format, recounted the fulfilling aspects of giving to others.

“The second story is one that I cherish, as it’s a creed that I live by,” said Suyadi, whose work on Unyil has won him accolades from Unicef.

“The use of sketches to tell stories is also widespread, as it practiced as far afield as Japan. I disagree with the notion that the stories I tell are outdated, since good stories, like the universal values they highlight, are timeless.”

Like the first story, the sketch showed Suyadi’s proficiency in puppetry, ventriloquism and musical skits. His techniques resonated with many in the crowd. “I happened to be passing by and saw this session, and it instantly brought back memories of getting up on weekends to watch Unyil,” said Dedy, a bus driver. “It took a while to get my child to see the wonders of Unyil, as he didn’t grow up with the show like I did.”

To what extent Pak Raden can continue to hold audiences in thrall is uncertain, but as the session shows, his appeal won’t go out of taste anytime soon.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 14, 2014

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By A South Jakarta Reservoir, A Celebration of Betawi Pride

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T-shirts of Betawi icon Benjamin Sueb. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The performers entertained the audience, delighting them with their repertoire. Carried out in the traditional Betawi, or native Jakarta, dialect, their interaction describes the traditional courtship of men and women during the capital’s colonial period — the coquettish flirtation by the woman, and the ardent advances by the man, both in their traditional garb.

This was a performance of Gambang Kromong, a traditional Betawi art form popularized by the late Benjamin Sueb, who brought Betawi performance arts to prominence in the 1970s and ’80s.

Like Benjamin, the performing duo highlighted the characteristics that made Gambang Kromong renowned, namely the natural feel from its improvised dialogue and the amusing slapstick acting, which was at once amplified and emphasized through the fiddle, tanjidor drum and flute, as well as the other instruments that make up a Betawi orchestra.

The performance also satisfied the audience’s yearning and nostalgia for Gambang Kromong, an increasingly rare spectacle only seen during festivals, weddings and other major occasions, amid the tide of cultural globalization swamping Jakarta.

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A Gambang Kromong performance (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Highlighting local identity

The Gambang Kromong performance was one of the highlights of the inaugural edition of the Setu Babakan Festival, an event set to be held every year in the Jagakarsa area of South Jakarta. Held in the traditional Betawi village and reservoir of the same name since the start of the month, the festival imparted on visitors an energy, vibe and sense of communal pride that promised to make it a major highlight in Jakarta’s tourism calendar.

“The Setu Babakan Festival stems from last June, when it was one of a number of events to mark Jakarta’s 487th anniversary,” says Ukar Saputra, the head of the South Jakarta Tourism Office.

“The public enthusiasm was so great that we decided to give the full festival its test run this August, ahead of Independence Day on August 17. We were concerned that turnout for the festival would be low because of the Idul Fitri holidays. But on the contrary, the number of visitors has been higher than we expected.”

Opening to the pomp of a traditional Betawi wedding, followed by the palang pintu or door-stop ceremony, marawis or religious music, and lenong plays, the sense of something new is obvious to all who saw the spectacle.

“Like Setu Babakan itself, the festival seeks to preserve Betawi culture and affirm the identity of the Betawi people. The event also has the added benefit of drawing tourism revenue, ideally to keep it self-sustaining,” Ukar says.

“The Setu Babakan festival also shows Jakarta’s awareness of its roots, even as it constantly changes with the times.”

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A vendor cooks kerak telor, a traditional Betawi food. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Rediscovering identity through art

For Andi, one of the brains behind the Gambang Kromong and other cultural highlights at the festival, the event is a valuable opportunity to enlighten the public about Jakarta’s rich cultural heritage.

“Keeping traditional arts like Gambang Kromong alive in the face of globalization is challenging but necessary, because it’s quickly losing ground, particularly among young people, who seek out other cultural media such as foreign movies, pop music and video games,” he says.

“To make an impact, one has to be multitalented and know more than one facet of traditional arts, which is exactly what I’m trying to do with Gambang Kromong,” he adds, noting that he has performed it for the past five years, having first studied it in 2002.

“I also teach Tari Topeng [Masked Dance] and Gambang Kromong here at Setu Babakan twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays. I’m happy to say that many of my pupils have managed to teach these art forms to their own students in institutions like Jakarta State University and the Jakarta Arts Institute,” he says.

“I took a while to get the hang of Gambang Kromong because my art founding lies in Tari Topeng Betawi, which I’ve been performing since 1974,” adds Andi, a third-generation Tari Topeng dancer whose grandparents began performing the dance in 1918.

“The music for Tari Topeng and for Gambang Kromong is slightly different in how we use it. The former is filled with improvised dance moves to the music, while in the latter we improvise the lyrics. But regardless of which medium one opts for, it’s important that we retain arts like Gambang Kromong and Tari Topeng for their artistic merits as well as the sense of identity they bring.”

And true to his claim of being multitalented, Andi also practices silat, or traditional Indonesian martial arts, in its ritualized dance incarnation as well as its more practical form.

A pleasant aftertaste

No cultural festival would be complete without a culinary offering, and the Setu Babakan fest didn’t disappoint, presenting a rich variety of Betawi foods, including daily staples such as gado-gado and ketoprak (vegetables smothered in peanut sauce), mie ayam (chicken noodles), bakso (meatball soup) and chicken satay.

But there were also special treats that are becoming increasingly difficult to find, such as bir pletok es, an iced herbal drink; es selendang mayang, an iced dessert with all kinds of sweet treats; and the perennial favorite — kerak telor, a Betawi omelette made with shallots, shrimps and burnt rice.

“I’ve been making kerak telor on weekends for the past decade,” says Maman, a Setu Babakan resident.

“The festival’s a good way to expand my market and make more money than usual, though business is fairly brisk because more and more people are visiting Setu Babakan these days.”

He says he sells each omelette for Rp 13,000, or $1.10, if it’s made with a chicken egg ,or Rp 15,000 with a duck egg.

“But selling kerak telor is challenging, because it’s not as well known to consumers as mie ayam, bakso or gado-gado,” Maman says.

While kerak telor’s popularity has been on the wane in recent years, it still pops up at annual events like the Jakarta Fair or the Java Jazz Festival, and appeals to visitors out to have a good time.

“One of the reasons I go to festivals like the Setu Babakan Festival is because they’re an emporium for rare, inexpensive delicacies like kerak telor and bir pletok,” says Emma, a visitor from Depok, south of Jakarta.

“As for the traditional entertainment, I like to see lenong plays, as their spontaneity and improvised banter never get old. The Setu Babakan Festival and others of its kind are also a cheaper, more authentic alternative to malls or places like the Ancol amusement park, which is far and costs a lot to get in.”

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 13, 2014

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Contemporary Artist Aditya Novali Highlights Aesthetics of Tools Used to Create Art

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Aditya Novali’s “Painting Sense” exhibition in Jakarta. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The brushes seemed to melt into the wall, seemingly striving to overcome its limitations. One brush followed the wall’s bends and contours, giving it a striking similarity to the melting clocks in Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” Other brushes melded into one another through their handles or brushes at different angles and into different shapes. The brushes are among the five pieces that make up the work “Canvas Logic,” an installation art by Indonesian contemporary artist Aditya Novali. But looks can be deceiving.

“Aditya might be out to shape shift the brushes. But [‘Canvas Logic’] is actually more about form and function, instead of going into the subconscious like Surrealism would,” says Edo, the assistant curator of Aditya’s work. “Despite their looks, the items still work.”

“Canvas Logic” is one of 23 works by Aditya that’s highlighted in his work “Painting Sense.” Held at Jakarta’s ROH Projects Gallery, the exhibits sought to highlight often overlooked elements of the artist’s tools and their end products.

“Aditya presents new works that engage with the concept of painting by experimenting with essential things in the painter’s practice. In deconstructing what it means to be a painter, [Aditya] raises issues of identity and emphasizes those parts of the of the [creative] process often left marginalized and unappreciated by the observer,” says “Canvas Logic” curator Junior Tirtadji in his summary of the 
exhibition. “Behind simple white canvases, brushes and other tools lies a complexity of ideas and responses.”

Edo agrees with Junior.

“Aditya wants to let viewers in on his creative process and even try to make them see the art through the perspective of the brushes and other tools. He sought to reach this aim by showing the versatility of brushes and other tools in the artist’s inventory, and their important role in his work,” Edo says. “By making them into various contorted shapes, he also sought to highlight the brushes’ ability to make shapes by shape shifting it. He also explored make various shapes by interlocking the brushes.”

Aditya further explored this latter premise with “Brush Series #9” and “Brush Series #10.” Made of brushes in a triangular and crescent cut, the works show the interchangeable, almost symbiotic relations between brushes, or the brush and canvas. On the other hand, the 36-year-old sought to show viewers a piece of his mind with “Brush Logic #2.”

Seeing this imposing, oversized work leaning against a wall, it didn’t take long to see that the brush has a looming place in his psyche. On the other hand, it also shows the total devotion, and even obsession, that an artist puts into his art.

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‘Behind simple white canvases, brushes and other tools lies a complexity of ideas and responses’. “Tools Alphabet — Pencil Series #1-3” (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Made into crosses, octagons, circles, letters and other shapes, Aditya showed in his works “Tools Alphabet — Pencil Series #1-3” and “Tools Alphabet — Paint Roller Series #1-8” that the tools not only create precision on canvas and other mediums; they can also be made artworks in their own right by turning them into three-dimensional shapes.

While the brushes in “Painting Sense” reflect Aditya’s ability to break new ground by highlighting the aesthetics of utilitarian items, they still ring true to his long-held precepts.

“[Aditya’s] works are often playful, as they have a way of combining designs in his artworks. He combines not only an exploration of paintings in his technique but also the functionality of the works,” his website adityanovali.com notes.

“Thinking as a trained designer — due to his educational background [as a Parahyangan University architecture major] — his approach to his works create a realm of playfulness, sociopolitical criticism as well as an invitation to engage the audience.”

Many of the works in “Painting Sense” share this trait along with his previous works such as “Unscale Reality” and “The End Is The Beginning,” his critique of the consumerism and materialism of urban life, or “Identifying Indonesia: The Chaos, The Process, The Contemporary,” his epic interpretation of the archipelago’s shaping in natural and sociopolitical terms. However, his canvases “Paintless Painting #1”and “Paintless Painting #2” took on a more introverted tone.

“[‘Paintless Painting #1’ and ‘Paintless Painting #2’] saw Aditya experiment with various items. These include canvas, silicone, rubber and even Betadine antibiotic salve,” Edo says. “The works are Aditya’s way to show how a painting appears in his head or subconscious, which is a far cry from the symmetry and patterns that we are accustomed to see. Its tempting to see them as similar to Rorschach tests, but they are more spontaneous and have none of the patterns that define Rorschach’s.”

The effect was striking. The broad yellowish swathes of Betadine in “Paintless Painting #1” created an effect similar to those of British Romantic J.M.W. Turner. But while the early 19th century master focused his paintings on the effect of light on nature, a trait that made him the forerunner of the Impressionist movement, Aditya seems to turn this premise inward, making him illuminate his creative process to the audience.

On the other hand, his triptych “Perfect Painting” aptly alludes to its blank state of the canvas.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 11, 2014

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A Glimpse Into the Larger Than Life World of Heri Dono

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“Comedy of Indonesia’s Court Mafia’ and other works reflect Indonesian artist Heri Dono’s views of Indonesia’s troubled social and political landscapes. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Jakarta. The rows of winged creatures looked out impassively at passersby, much like the ancient statues of the Assyrian lamassu deity that inspired them.

Though they are much smaller in scale than their 1,000-year-old counterparts, the structures’ imposing demeanor capture viewers’ attention with their sheer power of intimidation, an element enhanced by LED lights, electronic, mechanical devices, as well as sound.

Titled “Riding the Tigeresh Goat,” the five fiberglass sculptures by Indonesian artist Heri Dono silently allude to the 32-year period of military rule under late strongman Suharto or concerns of a military comeback under losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. A pair of AK47 assault rifles on each statue — to give the impression that the winged creatures are poised to mow down the opposition — emphasize the point.

This heavy shadow cast by military rule is also emphasized in one of his latest work, “The Palace Guards.” Featuring three men in military uniform, the pieces perhaps address certain conservative elements’ determination to hold on to power. The statues seem hell bent on retaining control, even as their grip on the situation looks to be slipping, as symbolized by the wheels they sport instead of legs — as if the soldier-like figures are attached to wheelchairs.

“Riding the Tigeresh Goat” is one of 84 sculptures, installation art, as well as paintings and drawings that make up “The World And I: Heri Dono’s Art Odyssey.” Currently being shown at Jakarta’s Art1 Gallery, the exhibition is a retrospective of Heri’s art from 1984 to 2014.

“[The exhibition] is Heri’s effort to reveal his artistic journey from the early days of his career until today. By reading his works and his multifaceted creative process, the exhibition tries to reveal perceptions of contemporary art that continues to grow since the 1990’s until today” says curator Jim Supangkat in the exhibition’s catalogue. “Heri is one of a few Indonesian artists with extensive experience in international exhibitions. Over the years, Heri has accumulated experience in interacting with diverse cultural phenomena and forms — an experience that impacts his future [artistic] development.”

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“Flying Angels”. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Heri reflects this premise best with his work “The Spiritual Guards” and “Flying Angels.” While the former resembles “Riding the Tigeresh Goat” in its imposing stance, the lamassu-like figures have little of the forceful connotations that mark the wheeled sculptures. Instead, the black-and-gold installation made out of fiberglass and wood looks more like Heri’s fanciful take on palace lions that stand guard over Chinese temples.

The structure also looks like the Buraq, a mythical being mentioned in the Koran that took the Prophet Muhammad on his journey to heaven.

On the other hand, “Flying Angels” highlighted a more ascetic, spiritual side to Heri’s art. At first glance, the composite fiberglass, fabric, bamboo and electronic installation art hovers both literally and figuratively over viewers like their spiritual counterparts are believed to do. But a touch of a button triggers the flapping of their wings, bringing the sculptures spectacularly to life.

“Heri’s work leaves viewers with an awareness to understand the diversity of world cultures, as well as the ability to enrich our human dimensions,” Jim adds.

“They also live up to Heri’s premise that [artistic] collisions [in styles] will lead to an opportunity to understand something new.”

“The Golden S**t” sculpture similarly takes on this premise, but is markedly different because of its satirical bent. The golden feces left by dogs might be a reference to the golden egg laid by geese.

However, the foul way in which the dogs’ “gold” is created perhaps reflects the no-holds-barred approach taken by many people to gain wealth, such as corruption, embezzlement, and other unscrupulous financial practices.

His paintings, including his 2008 piece “Komedi Mafia Peradilan Indonesia” (“Comedy of the Indonesian Court Mafia”) and “The Indonesian Gift,” exude a similar theme. The works feature a style of painting that mark the medium in Javanese tradition. However, their critique of Indonesian life is palpable in the grotesque figures they bear.

The twisted subjects in “Komedi Mafia Peradilan” — an apt visual representation of disgraced public figures such as former Constitutional Court judge Akil Mochtar — are shown celebrating excessively with the their ill-begotten power. In the “Indonesian Gift,” Heri depicts the inside of a volcano as it is on the verge of erupting to reflect the shady back-room deals that have lead to political unrest in Indonesia.

But the proverbial icing on the cake for “The World And I” is Heri’s monumental “The Odyssey of Heridonology.” The 10-paneled triptych mural traces the 54-year-old’s artistic development and vision and how it allowed him to excel in events such as the Taipei Biennale and the Asia Pacific Triennale.

Heri says the work is guided by his premise of finding inspiration within himself, even if it means neglecting the more tangible, main themes of his art.

The sheer size of the installation dwarves visitors, reflecting the breadth of his artistic feats and vision.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 8, 2014

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Star Studded “Nut Job” Falls Short of Title’s Nutty Promise

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‘The Nut Job’ follows the misadventures of a squirrel and his best friend as they scramble to collect food for the winter. (Photo courtesy of Gulfstream Pictures ‘The Nut Job’)

As far as movies go, the heist genre — as typified by “The Italian Job,” “Ocean’s Eleven” or “The Score” — is a bit hard to imagine being translated into a children’s cartoon, due largely to the moral ambiguity of the protagonist or his actions. But this tall order didn’t stop Canadian director Peter Lepiniotis from boldly making the attempt in his debut computer animated film “The Nut Job.”

Set in the fictional town of Oakton in 1959, the joint US, Canadian and South Korean production follows the efforts of two urban animals living in the town’s Liberty Park: Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett) and his best friend, a silent, acquiescing rat named Buddy, as they tried to stockpile food stuffs ahead of the winter.

Renowned for his smarts and resourcefulness in finding food, Surly is ostracized by his fellow rodents, particularly their patriarchal, self righteous leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson), for his selfish, scheming ways. The two are set on a collision course, after Raccoon’s subordinate mole (Jeff Dunham) informed him of a food shortage in the park.

The trigger for the conflict came when Surly and Buddy’s attempted heist of a peanut cart owned by two humans went awry due to our unlikely protagonists’ refusal to cooperate with Andie (Katherine Heigl) and the seemingly heroic Grayson (Brendan Fraser), two fellow squirrels sent by Raccoon to procure the cache for winter.

The characters’ shenanigans ultimately destroys their food stockpile, prompting Raccoon to banish Surly from the park.

Forced to fend for himself on the streets, Surly stumbled upon his chance for redemption after discovering the peanut shop that had supplied the ill-fated nut cart.

But the ambitious squirrel got far more than he bargained for, as the shop merely acted as a front for mob boss Percy “King” Dimplewade’s (Stephen Lang) attempt at a bank heist.

Luckily, this handicap along with Raccoon’s dictatorial tendencies became a boon for Surly, as it forced him to tap into his hidden values, including selflessness and the bonds of friendship.

With a long list of impressive credits to his name that include “Toy Story 2,” Lepeniotis based “The Nut Job” on his 2005 cartoon short “Surly Squirrel.”

Given a complex premise and an ensemble cast led by Arnett, Heigl and Neeson, the Greek Canadian could have made the most of the talent at his disposal. Instead, the cartoon suffered from a plodding pace and tired, time-tested gags, while Buddy’s muteness deprived the feature of a worthy foil if he had instead been presented as a witty, wisecracking sidekick.

The elements of betrayal and treachery that are characteristic of heist movies could have worked in “The Nut Job” if only the protagonist possessed a redeeming factor and the tangible sense of morality that has turned into a requirement for animated film characters.

While his better nature eventually shone through, the emphasis on Surly’s unpleasant traits throughout much of the movie — namely his treacherous, antisocial and selfish tendencies — only alienated viewers, making it hard for anyone to root for him.

Heigl’s take on Andie could have provided a worthwhile moral counterpoint. Unfortunately, her voice seemed drowned out by the manic tone of the movie and its characters.

However, Neeson and Fraser helped redeem “The Nut Job” with their respective turns as Raccoon and Grayson. The former’s authoritative voice and manner in portraying Raccoon’s disingenuous, megalomaniac ways are compelling, while Fraser’s take as the bumbling Grayson salvaged some laughs.

But though their efforts might have gotten “The Nut Job” a sequel, they still couldn’t save the film from being consigned to cartoon limbo.

‘The Nut Job’

86 minutes

Directing and screenplay by Peter Lepeniotis

Produced by Graham Moloy and WK Jung

Starring Will Arnett, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl

2014 Gulfstream Pictures, Red Rover International and ToonBox Entertainment

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 6, 2014

Click here to read the original article

Fred Perry Decks Jakarta in UK Underground Fashion

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Fred Perry Outlet in Plaza Senayan (JG Photos/ Tunggul Wirajuda)

The polo shirts adorned with the familiar laurel wreaths of the Fred Perry brand fill the racks of the boutique. Long known for iconic features like the wreaths, cuff and collar tipping that define the brand, their understated yet distinctive cut made them the garment of choice for British bands like Oasis and Blur, as well as youth movements inspired by British music like the Mods, suedeheads, and rude boys.

The place is none other than Fred Perry’s all-new Authentic Shop at Jakarta’s Plaza Senayan mall.

“This Fred Perry outlet pays tribute to the underground British music scene and independent album stores,” says Fred Perry spokeswoman Cecilia Salim.

“It’s also a nod to the music halls in cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, where bands like the Beatles, Oasis and Coldplay first cut their teeth. This musical emphasis makes this Fred Perry outlet different from the other stores in the Plaza Indonesia and Kota Kasablanka malls, which take as their themes British subculture and sports legends, respectively.”

The allusion to music can be seen immediately. The customized speakers, overhead lights resembling microphones, and merchandise boxes evoke the looks of music halls and album stores, which are further emphasized by the exposed concrete walls and blackened steel finishings. The store, laid out over nearly 1,400 square meters, maximizes its frontage, allowing passersby to have a good look inside.

The theme is furthered by the homage to late British soul diva Amy Winehouse.

“The outfits of [Fred Perry’s] Amy Winehouse collection are designed by her designer, Amy Molyneux. The proceeds will go toward the Amy Winehouse Foundation” says Helen Tencate, another spokeswoman for the brand.

But the music-oriented collection is not the only thing that Fred Perry has up its sleeve.

In its press release, the company says the Plaza Senayan shop will also feature the autumn/winter line from Fred Perry’s Japan Collection, as well as its authentic men’s, women’s and children’s collections. The men’s line continues its use of Murray, Black Watch and Stewart tartan, a nod to British tennis star Andy Murray’s run to the Wimbledon championship in 2013 — the first time a Briton had won the prestigious tournament since Perry himself lifted the trophy back in 1937.

The expansion of the motif, which is coupled with its trademark twin tipping dimensions and heritage colors, includes its use in button-down Oxford shirts and jacket linings as well as polo shirts. The men’s line also incorporates British Army DPM camouflage patterns, particularly in its fishtail parkas and button-down gingham shirts.

The women’s collection features a retro ’60s and tomboyish style, as well as a distinctive style on the Fred Perry shirt, which comes in a range of seasonal shades, including tawny port, cerise, rich rust and dark carbon with magenta tipping. The shirt’s ubiquitous laurel wreath motif is also turned on its head, overlapping to form new floral prints that bring out a hard-edged graphic element to the women’s collection.

Fred Perry points out that the design is meant to bring a new element to the existing range of black, white and gray. Subtle off-kilter touches include polka dots in contrasting scales or tonal quilting, as well as a modern take on Aran knitwear with color pop and oversized twin tipping.

The collection has a distinctive take on tartan, subverting and twisting the classic motif to update it. The pattern is digitally printed and contrasted on shirts and shirt dresses to give them a tougher attitude. The tartan is also blown up and oversized to make for bold polo shirts and knitwear.

The outlet also offers a range of accessories like tote bags, knapsacks and canvas duffel bags in tartan, DPM camouflage and other patterns. The choices are nearly endless.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on August 1, 2014

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Reading Into Aesthetics of Faith Inspired Calligraphy

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An exhibition of Islamic calligraphy shows a wide range of works with the central theme of faith. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

The acrylic sailing boat on the canvas carves a path through the dark seas. The prospect of going astray seems to be a very real possibility for this vessel, though the crew deftly navigates the nearly pitch-black waters.

Yet the vessel seems to find its way back not through any compass or feat of seamanship, but by the talismanic properties of the Arabic calligraphy adorning its sail. The notion of using faith to get on the right path — divine intervention to get back on track — are skillfully alluded to by the creator of the work, artist Kurnia Agung Robiansyah, who titled the painting “Dia Ciptakan Bintang Sebagai Petunjuk Arah” (“He Created the Stars as Beacons”).

The painting is one of 36 works currently being exhibited at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center’s annual calligraphy exhibition, held during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.

Taking on the theme “Kaligrafi: Hikmah Ramadan” (“Calligraphy: The Blessing of Ramadan”), the exhibition seeks to explore Koranic calligraphy and contemplate on the meaning of Islamic faith through various artistic mediums.

“This exhibition tries to raise public awareness and appeal of calligraphy through contemporary aesthetic and artistic means,” says Bambang Subekti, the director of the event that is now in its third year.

“We also hope that the medium will encourage the artists by stimulating a sense of spiritual and artistic give and take that will spread from them to the wider public.

“I also hope that the artists will make the most of calligraphy’s creative potential, as the medium has tremendous metaphorical meanings.”

Curator and artist Dick Syahrir agrees. “Many of the works are inspired by life and spiritual experiences, particularly if the latter is touched by the divine,” he says.

Artist Hardiman Radjab gets this across with his work, “Number Five,” the name a likely allusion to the five pillars of Islam. A mixed-media piece, it features a turntable with a miniature version of the Ka’bah (the black cuboid at the center of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site), the circular motion emulating the path of the pilgrims as they circumambulate the Ka’bah during the hajj.

On the other hand, Agus Salim’s “Bulan Penuh Berkah” (“Month Full of Blessings”) draws its inspiration from medieval Islamic art. It features an ornate brass globe resembling a giant incense holder, adorned with prayers welcoming Ramadan. Agus’s other piece, “Syahadat” (“Witness”), derives its spiritual and artistic character from its simplicity. Looking almost like a fragile twig, the calligraphy of the statement affirming the faith seems to mystify as it hangs in the air.

Munadianur Husni, a student at the Jakarta Fine Arts Institute (IKJ), takes on a similar but less austere path, with his mixed-media piece “Belajar Menulis” (“Learning to Write”). The 23-year-old superimposed a neon inscription of the word “Allah” onto a prayer, underlining his message that the ultimate written word is the word of God. Munadianur, who already has a number of exhibitions under his belt, also seems to see writing as a metaphor for greater spiritual awareness.

While most of the works allude to faith, other pieces like Yana W.S.’s “Second God” are a scathing indictment of contemporary life. Yana presents the Golden Calf, parts of it ripped away to reveal smartphones and other consumer devices.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on July 24, 2014

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A&E Rolls Out TV Shows With Southeast Asia in Mind

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‘Mom’s Time Out,’ above, and ‘Photo Face-Off’ are among the shows on A&E channels geared toward a Southeast Asian television audience. (Photos courtesy of A&E)

The trio of men found their kids a handful. Hailing from the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, the three had to take care of their kids while their wives went on an all-expenses-paid vacation.

For Manila resident Kenneth, tasks that his wife Emerald made look mundane, like taking their 2-year-old daughter Briley to the dentist, proved a nightmare, while her 24-hour crying fits took a toll on him. His Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts, Christopher and Jason, fared no better. Christopher faced the daunting task of taking his three kids to business meetings and fine-dining restaurants, while Jason had to go through unfamiliar territory, namely a children’s playground.

The three are among the contestants on the Lifetime Channel’s new reality show, “Mom’s Time Out.” Set to premiere on Aug. 28, the show is nothing less than a social experiment that sets out to turn the Asian notion of nuclear families on its head.

“The show takes on a certain structure. The Singaporean contestant Christopher has three kids, Jason from Malaysia has two, while Kenneth has one child,” says Hazel Yap, the marketing and communications director for the Asia Pacific office of the Arts and Entertainment Networks, the parent company of the Lifetime Channel as well as other channels like History, Bio and Crime and Investigation.

“We also try to highlight their diversity by showing them to be from different walks of life. But overall, the show reflects the family values that remained at the core of our programs,” Yap says.

“Mom’s Time Out” is one of a number of new shows that A&E has rolled out for cable viewers throughout Southeast Asia. The History Channel is set to offer up a second season of “Ride and Seek,” an adventure reality show that sees American biker Jaime Dempsey explore Sarawak, the Malaysian side of Borneo, on her bike. Set to premiere on Aug. 18, the show sees Dempsey explore caves used by the Japanese Army in World War II, spar with Malaysian MMA fighter Ann “Athena” Osman, and pay homage to the dead at an Iban tribe longhouse.

“The show is in line with the History Channel’s vision of raising public awareness of their world through entertaining programs,” says A&E Asia Networks marketing and communications manager Geraldine Kong.

“There is a possibility that the show could extend to Indonesia, but we don’t know when just yet,” she adds.

“We will still reach out to Indonesian viewers through our Twitter account, @History_IDN. But for the most part, we are still sounding out the Indonesian market, trying out to find what appeals to the local market and understanding the local countries’ content. This is imperative as Indonesia is our biggest market in the region, as well as its most diverse and complex.”

One upcoming show that does cater specifically to the Indonesian audience is “Photo Face-Off.” Set to premiere on Sept. 23, the show features aspiring Indonesian photographer Willy Lesmana among a field of contestants from around Southeast Asia trying to land a lucrative job to photo celebrities in New York.

“‘Photo Face-Off’ is the biggest local production yet made by the History Channel,” Kong says.

“The photographers will have to face three challenges — speed, theme and extreme — before they can land the contract. They will be pushed to the limits of their resourcefulness and skills by their judge, photographer Justin Mott, just to see if they have what it takes to win.”

Other Southeast Asian-geared shows include “My Mosque,” which centers on a mosque in a Malaysian town and highlights local beliefs, culture and food.

A&E will also feature the original miniseries “Houdini” on the History Channel. Starring Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, the show takes on the legendary magician’s life and times. Lifetime will also have a film adaptation of the V.C. Andrews classic “Flowers in the Attic” and “Petals in the Wind,” which will premiere on Aug. 12 and Aug. 19 respectively. But regardless of whichever show you opt to watch, it’s not too much to say that you will be spoilt for choice.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on July 22, 2014

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Modern Art Takes Center Stage in New Exhibition

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An exhibition at the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta hopes to emphasize to collectors and the public that there is so much more to Indonesian contemporary art than paintings and sculptures. (JG Photos/Tunggul Wirajuda)

As images of Sukarno hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries or celebrities go, this one was nothing out of the ordinary, considering his iconic status as Indonesia’s founding father and a leading figure in the Non-Aligned Movement.

He was also something of a ladies’ man, so it made sense that he appeared at ease in the company of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, seemingly holding them in thrall with his wit and charm.

But the photo has more up its sleeve than meets the eye.

“The work depicting Sukarno and the celebrities isn’t really a photograph, its actually a photomontage,” says art collector Wiyu Wahono of the work “Sejarah X 6” by Indonesian contemporary artist Agan Harahap, which is part of his collection.

“While Sukarno was known to have been acquainted with Kennedy, Monroe and Taylor, he never actually met all of them at the same time. ‘Sejarah X 6’ is Agan’s way of touching on our collective memory and challenging our notions of reality, as well as the idea that photographs can’t lie. The work shows how this perception still persists, despite advances in technology that saw the development of Photoshop and other photo editing applications.”

Wiyu notes that Agan’s challenges of perceptions don’t end there. “At first glance, Agan’s ‘Deus Ex Machina’ series is not art, it’s nothing more than a set of X-rays. But take a closer look, and you will see that he will put in cogs in the skeleton’s heart, a gun among their brains, and other mechanical contraptions,” he says of the work, which is in the collection of fellow aficionado Indra Leonardi. “The X-rays are maybe Agan’s apt commentary on the increased dependence of people on items like cars and smartphones today, a development made possible by strides in technology.”

Curator Carla Bianpoen agrees as she highlights the juxtaposition between the fineness of the human body and the roughness of the workman’s tools, in what is perhaps also an allusion to industrialization.

Agan is one of 13 contemporary Indonesian artists whose works are featured in the exhibition “No Painting Today,” which is on show from July 14-20 at the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta. The 21 works come from the collection of Wiyu, Indra and other collectors like Arif Suhirman, Nicholas Tan and Tom Tandio.

“The exhibition title ‘No Painting’ is a form of protest against the excessively major standing of painting among Indonesian art collectors, and how a fixation on the artform, as well as sculptures, has kept the true message of contemporary art from being disseminated,” Wiyu says.

“Though I’m not averse to painting, provided it has a strong context, contemporary art is more than just painting and sculpture, as it’s not specific to any medium, in line with the artists’ efforts to attain more artistic freedom and make works that are more in the round.”

This determination not to be pigeonholed and to find something new in art can be seen in the anonymous gallery, that is only identified as “Pacific Place Level 1 Unit 67.”

Getting a start in art collecting

“I started collecting art in 1999, a year after I got back to Indonesia after living for 20 years in Berlin. When I started out, I collected paintings like any other art aficionado,” says Wiyu, a mechanical engineer specializing in plastic ware who previously lectured at the Technical University of Berlin.

“I only started collecting contemporary art seven or eight years ago, though I was familiar with the genre after seeing it in Berlin’s New National Gallery. I also refined my taste over time and by reading art books to get a better perspective of contemporary art,” he says.

“I started off by collecting the works of contemporary artists from Yogyakarta, though in recent years I expanded to collecting the works of contemporary artists from Bandung as well. As home to Indonesia’s two art centers, the Bandung Institute of Technology [ITB] and the Yogyakarta Indonesian Fine Arts Institute, they’ve really brought out the elements that make the contemporary artworks distinctive.”

Wiyu adds that as an institution founded by the Dutch, ITB is noted for its by-the-book, analytical approach, while the Fine Arts Institute is more spontaneous, as Sukarno charged it to establish art without formal foundations or art theory.

“Though the former seems colorless compared to the latter, the context behind their art carries it through, while the latter’s sporadic outbursts of creativity are erratic and make them one of a kind,” Wiyu says.

Wiyu and his fellow collectors continue to explore the potential of the artists. He says that doing so will maintain their livelihood and keep their visions alive.

A microcosm of diversity

Wiyu says that much of Indonesia’s contemporary art derives its strength and character from the nation’s diversity, a trend that art critic Jim Supangkat calls pluralist modernity.

“Many great artists make masterpieces when they move from their homeland and get transplanted to another culture, like Willem de Koening from the Netherlands to New York City, or Paul Gauguin from France to Tahiti,” he says.

“Artists in Indonesia don’t need to go such long distances to get inspired. For instance, an aspiring artist from Bali can make great art if he moves to Bandung, as Sundanese culture might add another perspective to his craft that can complete it. An artist from Bandung can move to Jakarta and make great work after getting inspired by its hustle and bustle. Even foreign artists aren’t oblivious to this, as they keep coming to Indonesia to be inspired.”

But Wiyu says challenges still remain.

“The narrow perceptions of what constitute art held by many Indonesian collectors keeps them from seeing this potential wealth and hampering many Indonesian contemporary artists from realizing their full potential, as they only emphasize decorative arts and form over function, which makes them seek the works of past masters like Raden Saleh or Affandi. On the other hand, much of contemporary art is all about context, especially with the times or zeitgeist, which runs counter to their notion of using aesthetics in art to move emotions,” he says.

However, Wiyu says these challenges have not stopped artists like Angki Purbandono, whose work “The Secrets of Honor” is in his collection.

“It’s is a scan of a pendant on a square of butter. The texture of the butter gradually melting is captured in detail that’s rare to catch” Wiyu says of the work, which perhaps alludes to how nothing lasts. “His other work, ‘Sunflower Snack,’ which is in Nicholas Tan’s collection might just be a generic scan. But it’s a poignant reminder of the time he did behind bars for drug use, as he noted that the other inmates were also snacking on it.”

Wiyu is optimistic that contemporary art will thrive and evolve in Indonesia.

“Perhaps contemporary art will turn into what I call post-contemporary art, which is deep in context, aesthetics and mass appeal. This might just happen due to the pluralism of Indonesian society and the growing interest the Indonesian people take in the arts,” he says.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on July 23, 2014

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