You know what I’m loving right now? The fact that change is right around the corner. It’s been awhile since I last paid attention to this little blog.
Partly because I moved across the world, partly because I was finishing up writing projects in Jakarta, but mostly because my heart just hasn’t been in it.
This in in no small part due to my intense hatred of cold weather. I don’t like how my fingers feel numb, and my camera just isn’t as fast. I don’t like how when I’m cold, the only thing I can focus on is getting warm again. So even though I’ve only been Stateside for a number of weeks, it feels like it has been a very long winter.
BUT, I feel now like the end may be near. In the coming weeks I’ve been promised that sunshine and warmer temps will become a regular thing. And this thought inspires me.
So here are some pics I’ve taken and I offer them as a tribute to a lovely season, that will hopefully be heading out soon!
I am rapidly becoming a ghost in my own house. Preparing to move, our space is filled only with memories, no longer with plans. In the coming months we will be nomads, visiting friends and living in a temporary apartment as we make our way to Malaysia.
Moving away is a strange experience. Saying goodbye to friends and slowly being erased from their future gatherings and get-togethers is bittersweet. Moving isn’t without its advantages as I’ve pretty much reinvented myself with every transition. I had my own art studio and taught Contemporary Art at a Museum in China, became an advocate for animal rights in Barbados, and then developed into a full-time writer in Indonesia. Each time I was granted the opportunity to explore something new.
I often wonder if I could stay in one place and be happy doing so. Over my whole life I’ve never stayed in one place longer than 6 years. I grew up overseas but I’ve adopted my husband’s hometown as my own. When people ask where I’m from it’s much easier to relay his story, rather than delve into the details of mine.
I will miss Indonesia. The friends I’ve made are some of the most creative souls I’ve ever met. I will miss the messy and layered landscape of Jakarta and the sleepy rice paddies of Bali. Someone told me that Jakarta is like an addiction that’s hard to shake. I now believe this to be true. Usually I can look forward, without looking back. This time I’m not so sure.
2010 was a big year for independent short filmmaker Adhyatmika. That was the year he won the Democracy Video Challenge, flew to the U.S., met Hillary Clinton, and was featured on America’s most popular morning TV show.
Adhyatmika makes thoughtful, insightful, sometimes funny, but always poignant short films. In his film, Democracy is Yet to Learn (Masih Belajar), he conveyed in 2 minutes and 10 seconds the exact nature of democracy in Indonesia. The film went on to win the Democracy Video Challenge–a global contest that asks participants to finish the sentence “Democracy is….” With 800 entries and only one winner selected from each of the six worldwide regions, Adhyatmika had his work cut out for him. But Adhyatmika has a gift when it comes to the ability to succinctly translate mammoth themes into minute movies. Where one would perceive an epic poem, Adhyatmika envisions a haiku. The filmmaker, who also fancies himself a dreamer, has since continued to produce short films that are both beautiful and evocative explorations of pertinent issues.
When making a film, what is your ultimate intention?
Over the years I’ve tried, or perhaps struggled, to find my own voice. As a film school trained filmmaker, I’ve made quite a range of short films to practice my skills and hone my craft. There is always something that I want to say in each film. I believe that to make films is to communicate with others. Film is a universal medium that can transcend space, age, and time. Mike Mills, (who directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Thumbsucker) once said, “If I’m going to die tomorrow, this is the best story I’ve got. This is my best chance to try to communicate something about being human.” That’s what I want to do; tell an essentially human story.
How long have you been making films?
While other new filmmakers usually shoot their first film in their house, school, or neighborhood, I shot my first short film in the airport! It was a story about a young boy who is fascinated by airplanes, but controlled by his father. It was quite tricky to get permission to shoot inside the airport, but my dad helped me to gain access. I was 16 back then, and in looking back…not bad for a 16 year old boy.
If you couldn’t make films, what would your second choice be?
Either a desperate guitarist or a writer. Definitely not a math teacher.
You seem to relish nuance in your films, is this a mindful choice in your work?
Yes. Although I’m starting to find that it irritates me. My high school friend asked me recently why I always make films that give an answer to a question. I dunno, but it’s already inside me I suppose.
When I first decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker, I took a hint from Stanley Kubrick’s approach to storytelling. He prefers subtle and layered meaning rather than an in-your-face situation, even when he makes comedies. As an audience member, I found that his films really provoked me; he made me think about what he wanted to convey, while still having fun. And once you understood his message, it just doubled the fun.
What are your main obstacles to making films?
I believe every single filmmaker in this country will say the same thing, shoot me if they don’t: Money and distribution. We could have an endless discussion about this. In fact, I was at a seminar about film finance and distribution, and a film lecturer from Jakarta’s Art Institute told me he’d been at seminar like this ten years ago, and still nobody has come up with an answer or done anything about it. If mature and seasoned professional filmmakers have complained about money and distribution problems since forever, how are young, independent filmmakers supposed to resolve these issues?
For me right now, the key is to know the market. I realized that I can’t hit the big screen, yet. Film festivals and communities may not be my best friends; it’s a whole different story there. But, if I hit my audience in the right spot, little by little, I can poison their minds with my films.
I believe the future of independent filmmaking lies with the internet. Viral media is one promising, yet scary, monster. You can become an overnight sensation (for better or worse) or hit ground zero. If a filmmaker plays his/her cards right, and encounters a bit of luck, they can get a million viewers, and also build a strong portfolio for potential clients.
What’s in store for you in 2012? What do you hope to accomplish this year?
The hippies’ icon, Peter Fonda, once came to my college to give a speech. He said that mind expansion is better than taking LSD or any other drug. And what is mind expansion? It’s learning something new. I’ll be 23 this year, perhaps not old enough to be a man, and not young enough to be a boy. I’ve learned many lessons over these couple years, and I’m eager to learn more.
My highest priority this year is to study film production in the United States. Why America? Well, show me another country where the film industry is well established and the system has been running for almost a century. What Indonesian cinema needs now is not only great films, but also a system that accommodates both the makers and the audience. I’m interested learning how Hollywood has done it. How do they make their art, sell their products, and how can we replicate that model in Indonesia?
Filmmaking is a collaborative art which requires many creative minds. I’m always excited to meet passionate young creative people who want to make films. They always surprise me with their ideas and bravado. Personally, I’m looking for someone with a talent for business. When the art of filmmaking meets the art of business, it creates one powerful combination, so buzz me if you’re one!
Check out Adhyatmika’s work for yourself online at: http://www.youtube.com/user/superrandompanda
While some may be content to wear their heart on their sleeve, Tarita Aurora and fellow tattoo artist Nathalia Shelly, take this notion to the extreme, by imparting their passion on skin.
Upon meeting Nathalia Shelly and Tarita Aurora, their passion for ink is immediately apparent. Both of the 20-something entrepreneurs are enveloped in lovely tattoos. Tattoos tend to disclose what you value most, want to forever remember, or character traits you most admire. It’s an art form with tribal associations that has been embraced by nonconformists the world over. While it seems male tattoo artists have always been in business, female tattoo artists are surprisingly hard to come by.
As such, Shelly (as she’s known) and Tarita are part of a group that includes only a handful of members. Tarita explains, “Women in this business aren’t taken seriously yet. It’s a male dominated industry. Especially with personalities like Kat Von D in the spotlight, women are seen as a novelty, and not as legitimate contributing members of the trade.”
Women like Shelly and Tarita are working hard to change this perception, and by all accounts they are making steady progress. Shelly’s tattoo studio, Woody, just celebrated it’s one year anniversary. This is no small feat considering there are 48 tattoo shops in Kemang alone. The success of her studio lends credence to the notion that women are not a trend in the market, but an enduring asset to the field.
Tarita too has found continuous work as a freelance tattoo artist. Having worked in the industry for six and a half years, she still finds the work both exciting and rewarding. Notes Tarita, “I had a sense that I wanted to be an artist when I was ten years old. Over the years I would research tatoo art and when I turned 18 I got my first tattoo, an eight point star, on my back.” Shelly adds, “I decided when I was 18 that this would be my path. I loved tattoos since I was a kid and when I was 14 I got my first one. Nowadays people are surprised and amazed when they see all my tattoos. They are the best advertisement for my shop, and they start conversations with people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.”
While each nurtures a unique style, (“Shelly’s work is bright and colorful, like she is, while mine is more grayscale with a restrained use of color,” observes Tarita) both find painting on skin to be a borderline sacred practice. Tarita explains, “Tattooing is a deep-seeded thing. The energy behind it is ancient and spiritual. It’s an artwork that you carry with you, theoretically, until you die.”
Painting with needles may be a skill few have the talent or nerve to pursue, but for women like Shelly and Tarita, the urge to leave their indelible mark runs more than skin deep.
Some dream in color, others in black and white, but for Ario Kiswinar Teguh dreaming in paper is the norm. His artworks, crafted out of repurposed paper, have been everywhere from The National Gallery to Hello Fest. While his work may have earned the prolific artist an income, for Kis (as he’s known to friends), creating art has never been about making money. After all, money is just paper.
I met Kis one sunny afternoon in his Jakarta studio. The 25-year-old recently graduated from Trisakti University with a degree in Visual Communication Design. Now three years out and fully submerged in the real world business of being an adult, Kis has not compromised his dream of being a full-time paper artist. But, the path is not without challenges.
“I constantly have to prove my commitment and focus to my family,” says Kis as he gingerly sips his coffee. “They don’t believe I can make a living doing this. My father said to me, ‘you need to wear a tie at your job,’ as if wearing a tie was the benchmark of a legitimate occupation. So for a while I made my paper art while wearing a tie.”
As he describes his family’s lack of acceptance, it becomes clear that it’s an issue that weighs on his mind: “My family views art as a hobby, not as a profession. In my culture I have to obey my elders, so it’s hard to break these family customs. It’s hard for me as I stand out with my long hair and unconventional style, but this is who I am. Now that I’m finding success, I know it will be easier for them to understand my choice. I believe my family looks at money as the objective when selecting a career, but I look at money as the effect, or byproduct, of my calling.”
So how does one find a calling in making art from what society readily discards? “I had designer’s block. My drawings became redundant and I had to find another medium. I started watching Art Attack (an instructional TV show for children). I saw how the host was teaching kids how to reuse garbage, and it really resonated with me. I felt compelled to give it a try, and well, here we are,” Kis explains with a wry smile. Works like his 5 kilo paper dress brought Kis much attention and he began building a solid portfolio.
Discarded paper is something that is ubiquitous in modern life. Whereas some artists have to search out and purchase expensive paints and brushes, the materials for Kis’s work seem to find him. When Kineforum received 1,000 entries for a novel writing contest they sponsored, and due to copywrite laws they had to shred the losing entries, they called Kis and he received tens of thousands of shredded sheets of paper which he then turned into chairs and racks.
Kis, who also made a full-scale Bajaj that was exhibited in The National Gallery and a huge pair of Converse shoes (most recently spotted at Hello Fest) out of repurposed cardboard, has also built a community around his passion for paper art.
“My community was established in September of 2008. At first it was just a community of people who liked paper sculptures. Later we discovered that these sculptures could be a tool to spread awareness of environmental issues. Many people are surprised to learn that each one of us produces around 340 kilograms of paper waste each year. I made some calculations concerning how many trees were cut down just for the 2009 Presidential Election and I found out it was about 64,762 trees for the election ballots alone. This doesn’t even include regional elections, which tend to get contested, so the amount of cut-down trees gets crazy,” Kis excitedly elucidates. “People who run for office don’t talk about the environment, just corruption, not environmental waste.”
His passion for raising awareness on the issues of deforestation and unmitigated waste, is grounded in his love of creating objects of art. “I have a sense of art in me that I had to find an outlet for. Paper was the cheapest material. Newspaper only lasts a day before we throw it out, but when I turn it into a sculpture it endures for about 50 years. When I turn it into a chair it then has a function. I enjoy bringing people closer to paper, not as a tool to simply read/record stuff, but as a personal object. An object you use every day: chairs, ashtrays, racks… I delight in turning paper into things you love to use.”
The objects Kis and his paper-loving community make are sold through their Facebook page, “Toko KPK.” The group has about 20 active members. Kis points out: “Anyone can join our community. Many members come from backgrounds in management or communication. They make our point of view broader and their perspective makes us better.” Together the group works to create art objects with an interactive component. The notion of erasing the boundaries between art and life is something Kis wholeheartedly embraces in his personal art projects, and advocates in his community endeavors: “I want to get as close to people as possible to deliver my message. If you want to take the shortest amount of time you need the shortest distance too. That’s why people can touch and interact with my work.” He encourages people to sit in, or “try on” his giant cardboard shoes, and with his community he creates beautiful and surprisingly durable objects that make us re-envision what the role/purpose of paper can be.
“When people ask me, ‘how’s your life?’ I can’t say, because I’m not finished yet. I’m doing more than a job, I’m doing my part.” In doing his part through raising environmental awareness, inspiring others, and by pursuing his dream, Kis has become a role model proving that even paper dreams yield great rewards.
Emely looks like a very pretty girl. If you saw her on the street you wouldn’t think that it was actually a man who had captured your gaze. And that’s where the duality of her existence begins; Emely feels like she should be a girl, but reality dealt her a different card, and genetically she is a boy.
It’s a pretense that most of us never entertain. Our bodies match up with our gender. But, for this 24 year old, that was never the case. Around the age of 13 Emely started to feel, “that inside, there was a woman’s life.” As a kid a separation between her truest self and what others expected emerged. It’s a division that has underhandedly predetermined her career options, choice of friends, even which city she calls home. Born in Surabaya she came to Jakarta as the big city offered job opportunities and a like-minded community that simply didn’t exist elsewhere. Nevertheless, even in Jakarta, in her professional life as a make-up artist, she operates as a man, working as female lip-syncing performer and party MC only on weekends. It’s on the weekends that Emely can be her authentic self. She admits that its hard to be someone else five days a week, but contends that her culture, “doesn’t fully accept Ladyboys, and, I have to think about my family.”
Emely’s big heart and considerate ways become obvious once you start talking to her. She’s charming and soft spoken with a gentle nature that is instantly apparent: “People tend to think inside the box when it comes to gender and find it hard to see a ladyboy as a human being.” When I ask her if she is happy, she takes a moment and then replies, “Yes, because I let go of worrying about what people may think about me.” She works with Arus Pelangi and wants to spread her message that “everyone, including waria can contribute to society.”
Emely adds, “my advice to someone struggling with the issues/feelings I had as a child would be, don’t rush into decisions. Consider who you are and if you can be ‘normal’ then choose to be normal. Try normalcy first. If you can’t be normal, then accept yourself. Time will tell you who you are.” Her poignant advice underlines the notion that most people would choose to be normal, if they could. Emely though is by no means normal. She’s an extraordinary person, whose commitment to simply being herself, is in itself a significant and relevant gesture.
If Jakarta’s most notable features were in a competition for a Gold medal, surely traffic would beat out the grimace-inducing public art, and bottle-neck causing Kaki Limas (and with time to spare). For it is traffic that compels every person, be they a resident or visitor, to let out an exasperated sigh, and utter “traffic” as you would some four letter expletive, at some point (but more likely, at multiple ones) during their tenure in the city.
Sometimes I wonder why this is the case. After all, don’t we all occassionally wish for an excuse to do nothing at all. Friends often muse, “If I only had time to, I would read that book/learn to knit/write that novel” and yet when given loads of time (and in a cozy, temperature-controlled environment to boot), it seems all we can think of is getting on with things.
Jakarta’s slow-as-mud pace of traffic conditions you to inching your way to a destination. So much so that when your driver actually hits a stretch of smooth sailing (perhaps on a an early morning toll road, or during Idul Fitri) you feel like you are flying! “Why are we going so fast?” asks a worried child as the speedometer trebles over 40mph.
Indeed, these bursts of speed are as close to feeling like Danica Patrick as I am likely to ever come. So, perhaps traffic does have its merits. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to finish my industrial rock song/traffic anthem, “MACET sekali! Macet SEKALI!.”