A Day at the Docks


HMS Victory

HMS Victory

The ship’s three decks bristled with 12, 24 and 32-pound cannons, just as it did during the vessel’s heyday in the 18thand early 19thcenturies. The artillery pieces’ loading and cleaning kit was placed overhead, ready to pack gunpowder and cannonball for a shot or clean out the barrel before reloading. A sailor’s hammock hung nearby, showing how the ship’s spaces doubled as the crew’s living quarters and action stations. The ship was none other than the HMS Victory, the world’s oldest commissioned warship.

Today it is one of the highlights of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, a part of the Royal Navy base in Portsmouth, England that is open to the public. As a naval facility that dated back to the end of the 15thcentury, the area is replete with the historical buildings and ships that made up the Royal Navy’s illustrious history. They include the aforementioned HMS Victory, the HMS Mary Rose, and the HMS Warrior. Prepare to step back in time as we board these ships and other highlights of the Dockyard.

HMS Victory Cannons

Cannons on the HMS Victory

  • HMS Victory

The HMS Victory was still able to awe and inspire more than 250 years since it was launched in 1765, not least because of its history and 104 cannons. While the vessel served in various conflicts over a 50-year period, its finest hour came during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, when it served as Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s flagship when he saved Britain from a French invasion at the decisive battle of Trafalgar. His triumph was tinged with tragedy, as he was killed on board the ship. The great admiral’s presence filled the Victory, among them in his room or the Great Cabin, the Captain’s cabin, as well as the dining room where he dined with his officers. The ship’s refinements are balanced by its grim mementos like the surgeon’s ward and the dark, dank lower decks. The Victory’s muskets and swords stood ready to arm the ship’s sailors and marines. Now its oak decks echoed with the steps of tourists instead of crewmen preparing for battle.

The Victory’s revered place in British history enabled it to evade the scrap yard in the years following Trafalgar. “HMS Victory has been sitting in a dry dock in Portsmouth since 1922 supported by 22 steel cradles positioned six metres apart. [The ship] has welcomed over 30 million visitors since it opened in 1928” said the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in its website http://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/hms-victory-support. But the Victory is no mere museum ship. “[The] Victoryis possibly the most famous ship in the world. She remains a commissioned ship and the flagship of the [Royal Navy’s] First Sea Lord” added National Museum of the Royal Navy Director General Professor Dominic Tweddle.

While the Victory has survived French cannonballs, German bombs in World War Two, and other challenges, time proved to be its most implacable enemy. To prevent this, the Royal Navy and BAE Systems have spent over £3 million in technology to conserve the vessel since 2011. These include a new support system designed to simulate the ship in water, removing the Victory’s masts, and repainting the ship’s hull. The work didn’t stop the Victoryfrom receiving visitors, making a tour of its decks a trip for the ages.

HMS Mary Rose Model

A model of HMS Mary Rose

  • The Mary Rose

Like the Titanic, the Mary Rose earned its fame for sinking to the bottom of the ocean. A centerpiece of the 16thcentury Royal Navy, the Mary Rosewent down off Portsmouth as it sailed out to fight in the Battle of the Solent in 1545. King Henry VIII witnessed the tragedy first-hand. A team led by British diver Alexander McKee salvaged the ship in 1982, over a decade after they detected the wreck in 1971. The http://www.maryrose.orgwebsite cited four possible causes, among them human error, bad weather, sunk in action by the French, and overloading.

Nearly 500 years after its sinking, the Mary Rose resurfaced in 1984 within a museum built around the ship. Run by the Mary Rose Trust, the museum boasted over 19 thousand artefacts.  They include dozens of coins strewn in as historical objects, instead of currency to pay the crew. Other exhibitions provided glimpses of life on board the 16th century navy. These include suits of armor, uniforms of the period, and a couple of longbows similar to those which equipped archers on the ship. The latter particularly drew visitors’ attention, as they can try their luck in drawing back the bow.

While the artefacts drew passer-by, the whole museum was still dominated by the ship’s hull. Bathed in an unearthly ultra-violet light that permeated the whole museum, the rays helped preserve the structure from further decay by carefully controlling the temperature and humidity. The light also gave the place a contemplative air that helped one feel for their plight and added understanding of their era.

HMS Warrior.jpg

  • HMS Warrior 1860

Visitors who arrived in Portsmouth by bus or train would find HMS Warriora familiar sight, as it was often the first thing they see on arriving in the city. While the ship might not have the HMS Victory’s fame, dramatic history or iconic stature, it was nevertheless renowned for its innovativeness as Britain’s first ironclad or iron hulled, armored battleship. “Launched in 1860, at a time of empire and Britain’s dominance in trade and industry, the Warrior was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet” said the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. “Powered by steam and sail, she was the largest, fastest and most powerful warship of her day and had a lasting influence on naval architecture and design”.

“Built to counter the latest French battleship, Warrior was, in her time, the ultimate deterrent” added the Dockyard. It didn’t take long to see why. Boasting 40 cannons ranging in caliber from 40 to 110 pounds, the guns jut menacingly from its black decks. A number were rifled breech-loaders loaded from the back, making them more advanced than the cannons of HMS Victorya century before. Yet the guns’ looks and layout clearly show the similarity between the two ships, as does the network of ropes from its masts and the figurehead on its prow.

HMS Warrior Pistols

Pistols on the HMS Warrior

The Warriornearly fell victim to the Industrial Revolution of the time, as the Navy decommissioned the vessel in 1883 after deeming it obsolete. From then until the 1960’s, the ship was alternatively a depot, floating school and an oil jetty. However, the Warrior was built to last. The Navy donated the ship to the Manifold Trust, which then funded a £9 million project to restore the Warrior.The work started in the city of Hartlepool in 1979 and lasted until 1987. The 9000 ton warshipwas towed to Portsmouth and was opened as a museum ship on July 27 the same year.

Aside from stepping back in time, a walk around the Warrior spoke volumes about the ship’s crew. “Work and life on board [the Warrior] reflected both the changes the Royal Navy experienced as it evolved into a professional service as well as shifts in Victorian society”. Nowhere is this seen than in the differences between the crews’ quarters and that of the officers in the gun deck, the ship’s main area. While the latter’s quarters are as ornate and elegant as those of the Victory, the former was a far cry from the older vessel, as seen in the more orderly bunks as well as the bathrooms and washing machines on the lower decks. Powered by a twin-cylinder steam engine fuelled by ten coal fired boilers, the Warrior’s propulsion system was a quantum leap from the sail powered Victory, driving the ship at a speed of 17 knots compared to the older vessel’s 11 knots. Yet the class distinctions were still tangible, as seen in the weapons locker in the Royal Marines’ quarters on the lower deck. The brass circular lockers for the pistols made an impression, as does the multiple steering wheels needed to control the ship.

HMS Alliance Submarine

HMS Alliance

Aside from the historic ships, the Dockyard also has much to offer outside its confines. These include the Royal Navy Submarine Museum highlighting the submarine HMS Allianceacross the harbor in the Gosport area, as well as the Explosions! Museum featuring shells, rockets and missiles nearby. But regardless where one wanted to start off their tour, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard would be a great place to start for history buffs keen to know more about the Royal Navy’s heritage as the world’s greatest navy.

Originally published in The Jakarta Post on May 24, 2018

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Meditations in Stone

Meditations in Stone

Stone obelisks
Monuments to glories gone by
Now stand silent
Barely glanced by passers by

Clock towers tolling the hours
Tolling for warriors
Perished far from home
Tolling eventually
For you and yours


Silent edifices set in stone
Set for veneration
Set for division
Set for reminders
Of where we’ll be

Victoria Park, Portsmouth

An Intimate Snapshot of the Enigmatic Dayak Culture


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.


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


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


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.


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.”


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


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.


‘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


“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.”


“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


‘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

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Fred Perry Decks Jakarta in UK Underground Fashion


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


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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