Dicky Senda

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“I feel a sense of responsibility to bring these traditions back to life. As a writer and an activist, I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.”


Dicky Senda


Writer & Founder – Lakoat Kujawas
On the importance of standing for what you believe in, backing words with action, and facing challenges with positivity.

 

It was around the 6th Century B.C when a man named Siddhartha Gautama treaded across regions of Nepal and India, carrying his sacred teachings of the “Middle Way” – a simple guide for living rooted in perfect balance between extremities in thought, speech and action. It was a philosophy practiced endearingly throughout generations of men and women who, since then, have celebrated this gift from the man more commonly recognized as the Buddha.

Today, amidst a time of entrancing technological advances in the face of rapid modernization, and the ensuing restless excitement to be a part of it, we can often overlook the need to reflect and wonder, what have we left behind? What has been forgotten along the way?

The unsettling demise of cultures and traditions are a prevalent issue faced by many nations today; a somber yet real consequence of the change and disruption brought with such advancement.

As a developing country rich in ancient tradition and cultural diversity, Indonesia finds itself on the frontlines. The youth from rural provinces across the archipelago are leaving their ancestral homes for the promise of opportunity in overcrowded cities, leaving fewer custodians to cultivate their farmlands, and inherit their stories and timeless wisdom to pass down for future generations.

The same principles of the middle way, however, can be applied to give simple and practical solutions for the issue; ways in which we can re-integrate the wisdom and beauty of our old traditions into the magic of our modern time.

One brave Timorese writer and activist is doing just that.

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For the past two years, Dicky Senda has been nurturing Lakoat Kujawas – a social enterprise empowering the local communities in his home village of Taeftob, tucked deep in the valleys of Mollo in central Timor.

What started as a project to encourage the youth to stay by providing a positive economic and social impact to local communities, has now grown into a movement that simultaneously revives the lost collective memory of his people through the reconnecting of their artistic heritage.

Children of the community are involved in acting and writing classes. Musicians, artists and writers from Indonesia and abroad are also invited for residencies, creating projects centered around different aspects of Timorese culture. All of this while promoting eco-conscious tourism – as homes are made open for visitors looking for an authentic village experience.

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With Lakoat Kujawas, Taeftob is a place of potential by any stretch of the imagination, having already captured the attention of some of Indonesia’s biggest national news outlets.

As its founder, Dicky is a pioneering role model for the youth in rural Indonesian provinces and a man guided by a strong moral compass, choosing to serve the larger whole by making an uplifting contribution to something beyond himself.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Dicky. Here, he reveals the unique challenges he’s had along the way, the responsibility he feels towards his people, and his own relationship to writing.

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Dicky, you’ve only started Lakoat Kujawas two years ago, yet it has grown so quickly. Looking back, what were the biggest challenges that you had along the way?

 

To give you some context, my dream was to build a movement that involved the youth in Timor and helped them as well. We’re in a time where a lot of the young generation in Timor are starting to leave their traditions and feel less confident or proud with their local ways. I feel like I’m witnessing a slow separation and distancing from our past and Lakoat Kujawas was born, partly, as a response to that.

The youth are all migrating away from the gardens of their villages and heading to the cities, despite having a lot of potential in our villages in terms of our agriculture and traditions. There are many aspects that can be developed, but they left to get jobs and seldom do they return and contribute something back from the experience they’ve gained.

From that stemmed social problems as well. There are issues of human trafficking, where kids were literally bought to go and work. Many were scammed.

This moved me to act, but not from a place that was grounded in negative thoughts from the situation – more rather, from a place of positivity. I thought, “What do we have here around us now? Let’s see the potential!”

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“This moved me to act, but not from a place that was grounded in negative thoughts from the situation – more rather, from a place of positivity.”

The initial problem I found out was that our collective memory had begun to fade. I thought, “How can I remind the youth of this? How can I convince them of my vision?”

I was living in Jogja and I had to expand my network. I met with local social workers, people working for TV, artists – all who have some sort of influence around their circles. I brought them together to brainstorm, and it turns out we all had dreams of returning to our homes and doing something there with the experience we have gained away from home.

But even after Lakoat Kujawas was born, I found out that the young villagers were still very much in their comfort zone. They felt happy and content with the status quo of moving away and becoming government workers or teachers.

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“Our collective memory had begun to fade.”

It was a challenge to convince them that there was a problem in that. Though I presented a solution, I realized that people are hard to convince using just words. They need to see action take place. Words are not enough to get them to act.

So I initially began Lakoat Kujawas from an artistic angle, which was something I knew would get people excited. The people of Timor already have strong artistic tradition, and our collective memory with art is still there. Art was the bridge, it was the doorway to their hearts. It was the doorway helping them realize that we are from Timor, and that we have all these amazing things.

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Source: Lakoat Kujawas

“Art was the bridge, it was the doorway to their hearts.”

So the songs and dances that the kids participate in within our artistic community, are, without them realizing, replanting the seeds of our culture within the next generation.

The initial idea of Lakoat Kujawas was to be a social entreprise. How can we manifest local potential to benefit the local economy but also have a social impact? That would involve preserving local traditions and providing education for example, while also documenting and archiving local recipes to produce and sell, and therefore having an economic impact.

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Source: Lakoat Kujawas

“How can we manifest local potential to benefit the local economy but also have a social impact?”

Another challenge was that the fact that our village also had eco-touristic potential that wasn’t cultivated. So over the past two years, I invited the villagers to open their houses to becoming homestays for visitors! They didn’t have to change their houses to fit a standard; instead, they left them as they were because travelers want to look for an authentic experience. They’ve already stayed at fancy hotels, why not in a traditional house with local food? That’s an authentic experience for them.

Another challenge was that the locals felt somewhat inferior when travelers came. They felt embarrassed with what they had. They started feeding them biscuits and instant noodles instead of their own delicacies because they felt they weren’t “sophisticated” enough for city folk.

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“The locals felt somewhat inferior when travelers came. They felt embarrassed with what they had.”


What were some important ways that your childhood has influenced you to become the person you are today?

 

There were so many, especially because I only stepped outside of Timor for the first time when I went to study for University in Jogja! It was my first experience with the outside world. But growing up, I was shaped by such amazing local traditions that have enrichened my life, a lot of which, has influenced my writing.

In fact, all I’ve accomplished throughout my whole journey has been a byproduct of my roots.

Even the words “Lakoat” and “Kujawas” are two local fruits that every child in Mollo enjoyed when they were growing up. These fruits were a part of our adventures in childhood and are a part of our identity.

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“All I’ve accomplished throughout my whole journey has been a byproduct of my roots.”

I invite artists and musicians for residencies at Lakoat Kujawas, and make programs centered around aspects of local living. This not only makes the locals proud of what they have, but it adds life to that collective memory that we have all lost. It’s time that we bring that to life again.

Because of my strong roots, I feel a sense of responsibility to bring these traditions back to life. As a writer and an activist, I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.

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“I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.”


How was Lakoat Kujawas changed you as a person? What were some of the things you realized and probably didn’t expect?

 

A lot happened in the two years that we’ve existed, and we’ve met many amazing people as a result of having a strong vision. I realized that having a strong vision attracts those who believe in the same thing. Even to be here at the Ubud Food Festival was outside of my expectations!

So I know that there are, in fact, a lot of people who believe in the same values as us! As long as we continue to carry and stand for these values, it won’t be hard to find people who think the same.

Personally, I’ve learned so much more about my own traditions. Not only are we rich in it, but we are overflowing with it. That was something completely beyond my expectations.

 

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“As long as we continue to carry and stand for these values, it won’t be hard to find people who think the same.”


Describe your relationship with writing and the process you go through.

 

I’m aware that my process of writing is not too different from the process of building Lakoat Kujawas. When I’m in my research phase, I do a lot of interacting with the people around me, and that’s the same as my process for writing as well – a lot of inspiration comes from my interactions with people.

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Image Credit: Vifick Bolang

 

I can be researching about food for Lakoat for example, and that will inspire me to write more about food.

The universe always tends to puts me in positions where I’m not too far away from all my professions. Everything seems to be interrelated, so I have no trouble whatsoever in finding inspiration for my writing.

 


 

If you would like to contact Dicky you can email him at :

dickysenda@gmail.com

If you would like to know more about Lakoat Kujawas, visit:

www.lakoatkujawas.blogspot.com

Instagram: @lakoat.kujawas

Facebook: Lakoat Kujawas

Santhi Serad

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“There are so many layers to uncover for each dish in terms of taste – but the same can be said about their stories.”


Santhi Serad


Author | Founder – Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago & Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia (ACMI)
On nurturing responsibility, developing intimacy with food, and life lessons from her father.

 

It was centuries ago when powerful European nations scuffled for control of the global spice trade with Indonesia as its beating heart. Trade routes carrying cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves flowed like currents through the Middle East and into Europe where they were coveted and consumed by those willing to pay a hefty price to immerse themselves in the exotic flavors of the east.

Today, the eagerness to discover Indonesia’s spices and cuisine remains just as strong. The archipelago is home to an eclectic spectrum of dishes teeming with flavors, textures and aromas; enticing the curiosity of food connoisseurs from diverse backgrounds and professions who seek to connect with, and retell the stories of their origin.

One such woman is Santhi Serad.

A self-driven culinary explorer with a Masters in Food Science and Technology, she founded Kebun Bumi Herbal, a eight-hectare herbal garden nestled in the bustling city of Bandung, built on a foundation rooted in a deep sense of responsibility to preserve and cultivate herbs and spices and a love for the stories behind Indonesian cuisine and its ingredients.

After traversing the country for years, she authored Leaf it To Tea, an intimate and illustrative book documenting the various herbal infusions and Tea-drinking rituals of different Indonesian cultures.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Santhi. A kindred spirit with evident passion and enthusiasm, she reflected on her approach to writing, lessons from her father, and suggested ways on how we can better develop intimacy with our food.

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Can you describe your love for writing, and your love for food? How are they related and how are they different to you?

 

The way I see it is, people say a lot of things, but people forget a lot as well. As a matter of fact, I feel that the things I do can’t be completely understood until I’ve reflected upon them and have written them down. In writing these words down, I know they can last forever. When I’m gone, people can still read about what I’ve learnt and done. “Verba volant scripta manent”, which, in Latin means, “Spoken words fly away, written words remain.” It’s a quote I keep in mind.

I love Indonesian food in all its variants, but it’s more important for me to be aware that behind every dish is a story of how it came to be. Sayur Asem, Rawon, there are stories of how they arose in certain places. For example, what are the journeys of the spices that arrived in certain areas in Indonesia?

There are so many layers to uncover for each dish in terms of taste, but the same can be said about their stories, and that goes right down to the farmers who grow the food.

Each ingredient, as well as the markets they are sold in, have their own identity, and I find that beautiful. That being said, if you want to get a feel for the scope and essence of a place, go to their traditional markets. You can notice the abundance of chilies in Padang, and the enormous amount of fresh fish in Ambon.

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“Each ingredient and the markets that they are sold in have their own identity, and I find that beautiful.”


You’ve mentioned that it took almost 4 years to write Leaf It to Tea. How do you approach your process for writing and how did it feel?

 

I start with a lot of reading, where I tend to look for references. I also do a lot of interviews for the same reason. I wrote this book, first of all, because tea is so well known everywhere here, and I wanted to know how different places and traditions in Indonesia consumed tea.

The thing I realized was that travelling and writing for this book really required my full commitment to it. It’s a lot of hours sitting and writing, which can be hard to concentrate on when you’re on the road.

But at the times where I want to enjoy travelling, I make a habit of writing notes as I go and keeping them in my bag. That’s the important part of writing actually –  the process of looking back and putting the pieces together from my notes. When getting an idea, it’s easy to say “Oh I can remember to write that later on,” but its never the case! Our brains have a limit to what they can remember.

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“That’s the important part of writing actually –  the process of looking back and putting the pieces together from my notes.”


What’s one important thing you’ve learned from growing your own food in Bumi Herbal that you didn’t expect?

 

First off, Indonesia is one of the world’s Megadiversity countries – we’re only behind Brazil in terms of biodiversity. I saw the huge potential of this archipelago. 17,000 islands, 34 provinces, home for 1,300 tribes, with 250 million people.

Each part of Indonesia has different traditions and unique ingredients for food, and I felt that if I didn’t do my part in cultivating our country’s herbs and spices in my garden, there’s a chance that they’ll be gone over time.

That being said, what ultimately grew in me throughout the whole process of creating Bumi Herbal Dago was a sense of responsibility. I saw that the best way to learn was to dive straight into it, and of course, there was a lot of trial and error involved.

 

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal

“If I didn’t do my part in cultivating our country’s herbs and spices in my garden, there’s a chance that they’ll be gone over time.”

 

How can we develop our intimacy and relationship with the food we eat?

 

One of my life principles is to share my knowledge about food, and I feel successful whenever I am allowed to do that. At ACMI (Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia), we have a potluck program that we do once   every two months that is centered around a theme, such as the “process of cassava” or “tempe”, where the participants bring their own dishes made from scratch and share their processes.

It’s the small things like that, done within a community that can inspire those who come to appreciate their food better, especially those who aren’t cooks themselves.

The sharing of knowledge and process also blows away the perception that cooking isn’t as complicated you think it is.

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago

Who do you look up to and why?

 

My father. He taught me how important it is to be consistent, patient and to keep working. He taught me that hard work can always out-do intelligence. I always read to improve myself as well, and I think in an era of social media, we need to put down the screens and pick up the books more often.

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“Hard work can always out-do intelligence.”


What can local schools do to educate the youth of Indonesia about food?

 

As far as I know, there aren’t any official programs about it. But I figure they should start introducing the awareness of food through simple but clever ways. For example, younger students can be challenged in competitions to draw or color in Indonesian dishes instead of the typical natural scenery that we’re told to draw. These things are a fun introduction to food and a gateway to further learning.

The knowledge of food also starts from the home, and parents have a role in it too. I think that families should make an effort now and then to cook with their children, especially nowadays when food can be easily ordered.

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Image Credit : Kebun Bumi Herbal Dago

 


 

If you would like to know more about Santhi Serad, visit:

www.santhiserad.com

Instagram: @santhiserad_food

If you would like to get in touch Santhi Serad, you can email her at:

shserad@gmail.com

If you would like to know more about Kebun Bumi Herbal and ACMI, visit:

www.bumiherbal.com

www.akucintamasakanindonesia.org

 

 

 

 

 

Andrian Ishak

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I’m not really into winning anything. I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do, and how to do it.”

Andrian Ishak


Founder & Chef | Namaaz Dining
On the nature of creative ideas, approaching food as an artist and musician, and the culinary arts as the ultimate multisensory experience.

 

Tempeh under the guise of cotton candy, rehydrated watermelon slices that look and feel more like beef carpaccio – these are a few of the elaborate and delicate culinary inventions of Andrian Ishak, a curious molecular gastronomy chef, hell bent on expanding our perceptions of institutional Indonesian Cuisine.

Despite gaining attention in recent years (most notably getting continuous smoke to blow from talk show host Sara Sechan’s mouth and nostrils), it comes as a surprise that he only recently has begun his immersion into the culinary arts.

Having originally played his trade as a musician and artist, Andrian is a man at the captivating intersection of food, arts and music. Anchored in this unique position, he feels liberated, allowing freedom to give birth to a holistic curation of the senses.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

The result? An unorthodox approach with a Willy Wonka-esque imagination and the showmanship to match. Think of a dining experience where a chef blasts music from  Mötley Crüe and plays along with his electric guitar while your dessert explodes and ­­­crackles on the plate before you, culminating in a tossing of liquid nitrogen in the air that evaporates into a thick cloud of cold smoke.

It is this indeed this exciting permeation between crafts gives that has given notoriety to the multisensory 17-course dining experience of his restaurant, Namaaz in Jakarta.

Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Andrian. A pure joy emanates from him as we find out where he get’s the creativity to transcend taste and to question the existing boundaries of food, his background as an artist and musician, and the Indonesian dish that describes him the most!

 

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You came from a background of arts and music, and said yourself that you were a late bloomer in the culinary arts. What parallels and differences do you see between your approach to Art and Music, and Food?

 

I think the main difference is that the culinary arts involve all of your senses. In music, you can hear beautiful songs, and get some form of visualization from concerts and music videos, but somehow you’re missing the sense of “touch” when it comes to the final product you make; you can’t really touch music.

It’s the same in terms of emotions that come from the act of listening. We can feel a lot when listening, but it’s all a very internal process.

I did a lot of painting too, but again, it was mostly about entertaining myself in what I saw visually. It was missing a lot – the hearing, and tasting parts.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“We can feel a lot when listening, but it’s all a very internal process.”

So it was interesting to approach the culinary arts from that background. When we talk about the culinary arts, we seem to focus mostly on taste. But somehow, the dynamic nature of molecular gastronomy became very liberating for me, in that I could express my artistic side and incorporate all the senses.

I decided to incorporate music, and enhance sight. I put laser shows in the restaurant, and use smoke like in concerts – but I make smoke out of Pandan and Rendang! Can you imagine that? It’s an elaborate form of art. That’s what I love about this craft.

Coming at it from this angle forces you first study and think about the way we see our food and the culture behind it, especially in Indonesia.

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“The dynamic nature of molecular gastronomy became very liberating for me, in that I could express my artistic side, along with all the senses.”


You’re very much a person who’s pushing the boundaries of what we perceive as food here in Indonesia. Is creativity something you’ve always felt you had, or was it something you’ve developed over time?

 

I’ve always loved and have been involved in art ever since I was a kid. When I drew, I took serious intention in it – my drawings always had to mean something.

I remember now, there was a painting competition I once took part in, and instead of using regular paints, I used a typewriter to paint a robot with the letters ‘X’ and ‘O’, and that blew away the judges.  So, creativity was always with me.

But I’m not really into winning anything, I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do and how to do it.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“I’m not really into winning anything, I simply want to create and express myself in a way where no one can tell me what to do and how to do it.”


When you look for an idea for any aspect of the multisensory experience you provide in Namaaz, where do you usually start? What’s the process like for you?

 

First of all, for me, the very idea of creativity is abstract. You can’t really find anything that directly teaches you how to be creative. You can learn all the techniques from books, and chefs, you can find all the best ingredients and markets anywhere around the world, but creative ideas still seem to come from nowhere. I don’t really need to know where to go to be creative.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra

“The very idea of creativity is abstract.”

I usually get ideas when I go travelling, but sometimes I don’t find what I’m looking for. But on any other given day, like going to the ATM, it can come!

That’s creativity. It’s about keeping your mind open.

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Image Credit : Anggara Mahendra


What is one Indonesian dish that describes you the most?

 

Martabak! and It’s for sentimental reasons.

In primary school, I wanted to learn guitar from my neighbor, but he asked me to pay him. My parents didn’t want me to learn guitar and didn’t want to help pay.

I negotiated a deal to cook him martabak instead. I went to a street vendor and learned how to make it, and it was the first thing I learned how to cook!

It’s for that reason that Martabak is the only dish that I choose to not deconstruct and leave in its pure form, just to preserve that memory.


 

If you would like to get in touch with Andrian you can email him at:

andrianishak@namaazdining.com

Instagram: @andrianishak

If you would like to know more about Namaaz, visit:

https://www.namaazdining.com/

Ben & Tim Fijal

“As beautiful as the forests were in Kalimantan, I saw that they were very vulnerable at the same time. That made me realize how vulnerable I was as well, because we are a part of Nature.”    – Ben Fijal

“I’ve been transformed to the point of realizing – look at all these people around me who have what I can never have.”  – Tim Fijal

Ben & Tim Fijal


Co Founders | TRI Upcycle
On overcoming self limiting beliefs, cultivating a sense of awe as the driving force for change, and the strength and fragility of nature.  

 

It was in October of 2015 when Ben Fijal, then an eighth grade student at Bali’s Green School, was shown the eye-opening documentary Heart of The Haze, which captured the devastation caused by the peatland fires in Kalimantan that year. It was a harrowing sight as cities were engulfed by a murky brown smog that came from the desolate landscape; displacing families and endangered wildlife.

Discovering that this was a perennial issue – occuring every year for the past two decades – shocked and perplexed Ben, and it was only a few months later that he, along with his parents, some classmates and a group of local Balinese students, embarked on a journey to see the situation firsthand.

Moved by his initial trip to Borneo, he chose to dedicate his middle-school graduation project to taking action on deforestation in Indonesia. Hence, TRI was born.

The idea was simple – to create and sell artistically designed bandanas, and use them as a unique tool to spread awareness about deforestation – allocating all profits to fund grassroots organizations on the ground in Kalimantan that are working to protect forests. Ben and his dad, Tim, co-founded TRI as a business in September 2016 with no prior experience or knowledge; only a desire in their hearts to make a difference.

Some say it’s the most important thing you need, and by their example, it’s hard to argue against the evidence. In less than two years, TRI has grown into a small team that has so far raised funds to repair and operate a “floating library” that provides education to hundreds of indigenous children in remote villages in Kalimantan, planted mangrove trees for a restoration project in northwest Bali, donated five dams to block illegal canals and rehydrate vast areas of Central Kalimantan’s Sabangau Forest, paid for wages of two patrols to protect Aceh’s Leuser ecosystem against poachers and illegal farming, trained more than 25 firefighting volunteers in Kalimantan, and aided members of the indigenous Dayak tribe to become professional videographers, enabling their voices to be heard widely on deforestation.  And they’re just getting started.

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For the latter half of 2017, Ben took a semester off of school and Tim took a leave of absence from Green School to embark on a journey around the world to present to school children in multiple countries, meeting forest protectors, fellow upcyclists, and opening up avenues for the sales of their products internationally.

Despite their inspiring example of resourcefulness in the fight against deforestation, both Ben and Tim have their feet firmly planted on the ground, acknowledging that they have only barely begun to scratch the surface with their young company, knowing that there is still much to improve on.

Within a lively after school setting, we sat down to reflect on the sacrifices made along the way, the importance of listening, and how they both learn best. Ben and Tim also reveal the books they’ve recommended most, and the best advice they’ve ever received.

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Can you both describe your own personal relationship with nature? What are some lessons that being in nature has taught you about yourself, others or life as a whole especially after your expedition to see the peatland fires in Kalimantan?

 

Ben: I’ve always been around nature. I was lucky enough to be in Vancouver for most of my life, and we would always go on walks through beautiful forests with our dog. When we moved to Bali, we were surrounded by even more Nature!  I get to surf at the beach near our house, and my school (Green School) has no windows or walls and it’s in the middle of the jungle. Nature has become a part of me and when I go to big cities, I can’t help but miss being around it.

In terms of what nature has taught me – I guess, as beautiful as the forests were in Kalimantan, I saw that they were very vulnerable at the same time. That made me realize how vulnerable I was as well, because we are a part of Nature.

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“I saw that they were very vulnerable at the same time. That made me realize how vulnerable I was as well, because we are a part of Nature.”

Tim: Working at Green School – I didn’t expect the immersion in nature to affect me so much. But I remember realizing it for the first time after being here for about a year. I was in Jakarta for a conference and woke up an hour after dawn with only the hum of the AC being audible. I realized at that moment in that sterile hotel room how connected I had become to nature through my life in Bali and at Green School.

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As a Canadian, I always had boots and socks on, bundled up to protect myself against the cold. Here in Bali, I feel like I’m in my element and so much more connected to Nature with my bare feet on bamboo and earth every day.  I wake up with the first rays of the dawn sun in a wooden house every morning and I can hear nature sounds outside.  Nature has become part of my heartbeat and, living in Bali, I feel like I’m in my native habitat.

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Being in Indonesia where so many natural resources are threatened by the demand of consumers from all over the world, it was really shocking to see the devastating impact of consumption firsthand in Kalimantan.

To witness orangutans up close and really feel what close relatives they are to us, and then to understand how helpless they are to defend their own habitat is deeply moving. It makes you realize how vulnerable these ecosystems are that we rely on so heavily.

Another point of connection I have with nature is when I go snorkeling with my wife and kids here in Bali. The reefs aren’t even what they were even seven years ago when we first got here because of all the bleaching caused by climate change and acidified oceans.

That instills in me both a sense of urgency and appreciation – I want to go out there with my boys and witness the awesomeness of nature while those corals are still living.

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“Here in Bali, I feel like I’m in my element and so much more connected to Nature with my bare feet on bamboo and earth every day.”


Tell us about the amount of hard work that goes into having your own brand, especially one with an inspiring upcycling model as TRI. What were some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make along the way?

 

Ben: As a teenager in high school, I had to give up my weekends sometimes.  My friends would be hanging out and having fun, and I would be out getting sponsors for TRI. So I had a fear of missing out.

Sponsors are one of the ways we make money, and at the beginning I was going up to local businesses and asking them if they wanted to sponsor us for 1 million Rupiah for a year.

It was tough because sometimes I did this alone, and I experienced that feeling of failure when some people said they weren’t interested.  So there has been some sacrifice of my personal time.

For TRI itself, I think being committed to upcycling and being an ethical brand can be limiting, and it can feels like we sacrifice opportunities that way. We make stuff out of retired bedsheets, and not everyone is into bandanas, handkerchiefs and tote bags. Upcycling can narrow our options down in terms of product range. I guess that’s something we can discover more in the future – how to upcycle more products. It forces the hand to be more creative.  So that’s good.

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“It was tough because sometimes I did this alone, and I experienced that feeling of failure when some people said they weren’t interested.”

Tim: It has been a lot of hard work, but when you’re driven by something you believe strongly in, it doesn’t necessarily feel like work. Regardless, I’ve had a lot of late nights; I have a full time job at Green School that’s passion-driven as well, and we’re very lucky to live in Indonesia where there are a lot of talented and big-hearted people around who are eager to get involved and support.

The sacrifice also revolves around our commitment to give. Social enterprises generally have an agenda to make money for themselves too, and that’s part of what drives them.  There’s nothing the matter with businesses making profits, but we’ve decided to take a different approach.

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In our case, TRI has been an exercise of radical giving and an experiment on my part as a parent to try to expose my kid to doing something not for the sake of money, but just to see what happens when we respond to our own consciences.

We give away all of our profits as well as our own time and resources. We’ve done pretty well, but when we don’t sell enough products, we have still stuck to our commitment to give, so there has been personal financial sacrifices also.

So that’s been a challenge – to stay committed to the cause, to believe what we’re doing is worthwhile, and that as a social enterprise, we will reach a place of financial sustainability before long.

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“TRI has been an exercise of radical giving and an experiment on my part as a parent to try to expose my kid to doing something not for the sake of money, but just to see what happens when we respond to our own consciences.”

But indigenous people on the front lines of deforestation are dealing with far more significant challenges and sacrifices, even giving their own lives in the protection of forests.  Our work with TRI is a small act of solidarity with these courageous humans that work to protect the lungs of our Earth.

 

What part of TRI do you both enjoy working on the most? Conversely, what is currently the most challenging part for you both?

 

Ben: My specific role in this social enterprise is to be an ambassador and spokesperson for it. That’s something that I enjoy doing – to stand up there and talk to kids my age and even older than me about deforestation.

It feels good to share what I know and see that young people are learning and maybe changing their behaviour or way of thinking of themselves as consumers because of this.

What’s challenging is actually the same – being someone who is the “face” of TRI. It’s pressure for me to be that.

Sometimes I feel awkward to take so much credit for TRI because there’s a team of people that support us and put a lot of hard work into communicating our message and selling our products.

But I know that because I am a young person, people are more willing to listen when I speak up about this issue, so I know it’s important I take on this role.

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“Because I am a young person, people are more willing to listen when I speak up about this issue, so I know it’s important I take on this role.”

Tim: There’s a lot that I love about it. I love the fact that TRI has taken us to Kalimantan four times in the last year where we have made new Dayak friends who are doing such inspiring work to protect forests in their own way.  I am so grateful for the opportunities we have had to meet with forest protectors in other countries, including one of my personal heros, Jane Goodall.

I love working with and learning from Indonesian artists and producers with whom we share ideas about design, sourcing, more sustainable production methods, etc.

As a dad, I love watching my son present and seeing the response he gets from the adults and kids he shares with. It’s highly motivating to see young people engaged and wanting to take action.

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“It’s highly motivating to see young people engaged and wanting to take action.”

Most of all, I love the team of young, brilliant and hard-working people that we have built and affectionately refer to as our TRIbe.

The challenging part for me is balancing another full-time job that I care deeply about and to manage a tendency to feel consumed by TRI’s mission when I’m at home.  I have to be sensitive to Ben being a teenager and not put too much pressure on him.

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I think the other challenge is simply generating revenue. We’re doing ok, but we really want it to grow. We’re not experts and we don’t have too much experience in any of this, but generating a significant revenue so that this is a viable business is certainly the biggest practical challenge.

 

In spite of the difficulties, what are some of the unexpected benefits of building a brand like Tri Upcycle?

 

Ben: As a 15 year old, I was able to travel six months around the world. For the first half of this year we were spreading the TRI message and growing the community.

It’s also the connections – we meet a lot of people, and its good for me personally because I’m building a network for my own future.

Another benefit would be the fact that I’ve turned into a more conscious consumer. Two years ago I would’ve never cared about conscious consumption.  Since then I’ve gained so much knowledge from events and research about how our consumption affects forests.

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“It’s also the connections – we meet a lot of people.”

So I have developed a stronger conscience, especially when shopping in the supermarket where I always check labels of the things that I buy.

I like Oreos, they’re a good cookie, I’m not going to lie! But I’ve cut them out of my life because those Nabisco guys just haven’t been responsible in the past about sourcing sustainable palm oil, and I’m not sure we can trust big guys like that to do the right thing for our forests.

In terms of clothes, I’ve also thrifted a lot more in the past year.  I just think a lot more before I buy now.

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“I have developed a stronger conscience, especially when shopping in the supermarket where I always check labels of the things that I buy.”


Tim:
We don’t tow the line religiously around 100% avoiding palm oil or purchasing new clothes, but what Ben is referring to is a gradual awakening. That’s a fringe benefit of doing something you believe strongly in.

Humanity has got its eyes half closed right now, and in some cases completely closed. We don’t really want to see the reality of what’s happening to the ecosystems that sustain our life.  As a result of TRI, I’ve done a lot more reading and learning about that.

In some ways that can be depressing, but it can also be empowering and it can jolt you into action. I feel like I’m a lot more aware than I used to be as a consumer, and the situation challenges you every day, and that’s a good thing – to think about our respective roles in contributing to the problem and to the solution.

The process is a good one.

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“We don’t tow the line religiously around 100% avoiding palm oil or purchasing new clothes, but what Ben is referring to is a gradual awakening.”


In terms of the day-to-day running of TRI, what has become more important to you since you started, and what has become less important?


Ben:
Over the past year I spent more time figuring out what my role was, and now that I’m established as a spokesperson and ambassador, that has become more important.

That means prioritizing presentations and knowing more about our cause. The rest, like going to events and selling products at the booths, which I still do sometimes, have become less important.

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Tim:
I think the refinement of our message has become more important; really trying to learn from all our failures (and we’ve encountered many) has been great.

A favorite failure would probably be initially thinking we could make a million dollars for the peatlands of Indonesia by selling bandanas. I thought it would be so simple, and what better place to start than here in Green School? To rally a whole community around a concept.

Well that didn’t quite work out the way we had anticipated and we learned pretty quickly how naive we were.

We have had to explore further afield for our cause, and we’ve had to reach out far and wide to nurture the level of engagement we’re aiming for.  It’s a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way.

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“It’s a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way.”

I realized that you just have to be smart about how to engage people in a movement. It’s not that simple and our ideas were initially not as great as we thought they were. So now we’re refining our messaging around more targeted campaigns and we’re getting traction.

 

What self-limiting beliefs did you have to change over the recent years to become the person you are today? How did you overcome them?

 

Ben: When we first started out, I wasn’t an expert about global warming, or the forests in Indonesia. I wasn’t a professional presenter and also, I was a 13-year-old kid! I was just a kid, how could I possibly be convincing or do something to help find a solution to a problem so big?

The ways I overcame these beliefs were just through practice and research. I was also connecting to researchers and conservationists in Borneo and learning from them.

It’s nice to see how far I’ve come in the past couple of years in terms of how I present and communicate.

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“I wasn’t an expert about global warming, or the forests in Indonesia. I wasn’t a professional presenter and also, I was a 15-year-old kid! I was just a kid.”


Tim:
I think the same as Ben. Who am I? Some “bule” (foreigner) that walked into a jungle in Kalimantan who thought we should do something about it?

Who am I to tell people that they should care about forests or not? I fly in airplanes and have palm oil in my toothpaste.

I’m acutely aware of my potential to muck things up like so many other well-meaning foreigners have done before me.

Which is why we’re aware that we don’t have all the answers, and instead we focus on supporting informed and engaged people on the ground who are dealing with the situation first-hand.

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“We’re aware that we don’t have all the answers, and instead we focus on supporting informed and engaged people on the ground who are dealing with the situation first-hand.”

How do I overcome self doubt? I think about those orangutans that we saw firsthand and how helpless they are, all the people in Kalimantan that suffer as a result of the haze, and the fact that the whole world is impacted by climate change as a result of deforestation.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or Timbuktu, those carbon sinks in Kalimantan matter to you. If that’s not enough to motivate a human with a conscience, what is?

 

What are some of the ways that you like to learn? (Whether it’s picking up a new skill or finding ways to improve your own lives, relationships or the brand.) Are there any particular habits you’ve picked up that have been effective for you?

 

Ben: At Green School, we’re more experiential driven learners. We’ve done coral reef conservation classes, gardening classes – things that you do with your hands. That way of learning stays in my head, unlike opening a text book and just memorizing.

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“I learn by doing.”

When we first learned about the fires in Borneo from the film ‘Heart of the Haze’ which was presented here in school by the Borneo Nature Foundation, we thought we just had to go and see it first hand.

To actually meet the people there, as well as the indigenous people fighting against the fires, made me want to do something about it, whereas if I just stayed here and watched the film, I would have probably just thought “what am I going to do about it?”

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Tim: TRI has offered us a really rich learning experience in so many ways. From every interaction we have, we’re learning something. We learn about conservation, marketing, product development, design. It’s all by doing.

 

Tim, over the years you’ve been here, and now working in Kul Kul Connection, are there some things that the local community here at Sibang Kaja taught you about yourself that you previously have never realized?

 

Tim: For me, it’s everything. I came to Bali with a bleeding western heart, thinking, “Look at all these people, they don’t have what I have, and wouldn’t it be nice to help them!”

I’ve been transformed to the point of realizing, “look at all these people around me who have what I can never have.”

Because of the way that I grew up with my biases and my privilege, it became a question of how they can help me to become more humble, grateful and connected to community.

I’ve never learned more precious lessons about being human than I have here in Indonesia.

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“It became a question of how they can help me to become more humble, grateful and connected to community.”


Both TRI and Kul Kul Connection certainly require a lot of listening; to various perspectives, stories and ideas. What does it truly mean to listen for you both?

 

Ben: Of course it’s absolutely important to listen to various perspectives and ideas. Whether its listening to indigenous stories, or from conservationists – when you listen, you learn.

The more I listen, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more confident I become at what I do.

For TRI I have to be a good listener because if I didn’t know anything about my cause, people would call me out on it.

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“The more I listen, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more confident I become at what I do.”


Tim:
I think I’m at that stage in life where I realize the older I get, the less I know. I’ve always been a good listener, I don’t like to talk too much, and as an introvert I think that can actually be a gift in some ways. I feel more shy to express myself but people feel more comfortable around me to share their knowledge and wisdom.  So I take it in as much as I can.

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“I think I’m at that stage in life where I realize the older I get, the less I know.”

In terms of TRI, by going into something that you have a very limited knowledge about, it puts you in a good position to be a listener. You have that urgency to understand.

Having said that, I think the human population is less inclined to listen than they are to speak, despite the fact that we have two ears and one mouth.

That’s a challenge wherever you go and it’s a hurdle for sustainability at a time when people really need to hear one another and reach a deeper understanding of how interconnected we are.

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“By going into something that you have a very limited knowledge about, it puts you in a good position to be a listener. You have that urgency to understand.”


What do you think is the secret to successful teamwork, especially in an environment with different backgrounds, ethnicities and opinions just as you have in Green School and Kul Kul Connection?

 

Tim: Google has done a lot of work on this subject, and I’ve directed teams for quite a while. I think my instincts are usually correct in knowing that people want autonomy – whether they’re at the top of the hierarchy or the bottom. They want to feel trusted.

I like to nurture teams where people are trusted to create; to have crappy days, and failures, to never be afraid to share ideas no matter how stupid they think they are.

I also think it’s critical for individuals in teams to nurture their own sense of purpose into their work.  It’s something that takes experimentation, patience, and really listening to one another.
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“People want autonomy – whether they’re at the top of the hierarchy or the bottom. They want to feel trusted.”


Ben:
Of course, as we said just now, listening is an important part of it. In our TRI team, everyone has their chance to speak to be heard about their ideas and opinions. Most of our team are Indonesian women.

My dad is who I work with most of the time for TRI, and being a father-son duo is sometimes not the easiest way to go. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to listen to him, but I have much respect for him, as he’s still my dad so I can still be comfortable around him.

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Knowing what you know now, what are some specific steps that businesses here can take to add a social, or environmental component to them?  

 

Ben: It’s important to find passion in the causes you care about, and find a way to link it with whatever you are doing. I’m passionate about wanting to save the forests for the next generations. Finding your passion is the main ingredient.

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“It’s important to find passion in the causes you care about, and find a way to link it with whatever you are doing.”


Tim:
You don’t have to look far to find a cause. There’s social injustice, environmental degradation – there are issues everywhere you look. You need to look at which issues trigger your compassion and longing to take action. That’s the starting point.

Other than that, you can get behind grassroots projects. The grassroots level is important right now because the climate change crisis will demand all hands on deck to be solved.

We can’t wait for governments and corporations to make responsible decisions. It’s important that local businesses explore locally to see what problems there are to be solved around them, then participate in solutions in a more hands-on way, or, empower local change makers at the grassroots level who are positioned to make a difference but are lacking resources.

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“It’s important that local businesses explore locally to see what problems there are to be solved around them.”


What is the one book that you’ve recommended the most to others?


Ben:
It’s a book and a movie! The Lorax by Dr Seuss.

We use a quote from the book in TRI presentations – “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, its not.”

It’s a timeless piece.

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Tim: One that I’ve recently read and would recommend  is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It gives a 200-thousand-year perspective on the history of our species, a very broad context, and narrows it down to what we’re experiencing right now and where we might be going.

The prognosis isn’t great for our species. We’re the first ones ever in billions of years of life to have such an impact on this entire planet.

So, knowing what I know from Sapiens makes me feel inclined to be a bit radical.  We have a lot to lose, so why not take action?


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

 

Ben: I guess, to be humble. It’s something that my dad gives to me – to not brag too much and be more self aware.

Tim: A documentary comes to mind called Planetary. I used to watch a five-minute segment of it before bed.

The conclusion of it is this – in order to save our ecosystems and ultimately our species, what we need most is to cultivate a sense of awe of nature.

If we are both individually and collectively awestruck by nature, we will protect it to our final breath.

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 “If we are both individually and collectively awestruck by nature, we will protect it to our final breath.”


Outside of the work or career ahead of you, what’s one thing that you would love to accomplish in life?

 

Ben: Maybe own a hamster! (Tim: I knew he was going to say that!) They’re special. They‘re like little dogs and I always thought it was cool how they have the tubes and running wheels in their cages!

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Tim: We have an immediate and tangible goal in terms of getting more focused with TRI. The point where it first clicked for Ben when we made our first trip to Kalimantan was when we saw the illegal canals there that were draining the peatlands dry and creating a tinderbox out of the worlds most precious carbon sinks.

We learned from the staff at the Borneo Nature Foundation that if you block the illegal canals, the water rehydrates vast areas of peatlands so they won’t go up in flames.

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Orangutans and other critically endangered species get a healthy habitat, millions of people in the region get clean air to breathe, and climate change is mitigated by protecting those peat lands from burning.

It seemed like really critical work to dam those illegal canals.  There’s over 4000km of them, so there’s hundreds, if not thousands of dams that need to be built. I just have a picture of TRI playing a significant role in that.

We’ve contributed five dams so far, but we visualize giving hundreds, if not thousands, so we can see that whole ecosystem rehydrated and happy orangutans within it.  So we’re asking the world to ‘give a dam’ and join our TRIbe.


 

If you would like to get in touch with Ben and Tim, you can email them at:

Tim : tim@trihandkerchiefs.com

Ben: ben@trihandkerchiefs.com

If you would like to know more about TRI, visit :

www.triupcycle.com

Facebook : Tri Upcycle

Instagram : @triupcycle

Budi Agung Kuswara

“Each small aspect of your process is something that entails a level of good communication with yourself, as well as a sense of appreciation with what you’re doing.”

Budi Agung Kuswara


Artist & Co Founder | Ketemu Project
On the appreciating the process, knowing your boundaries, and how artists teach awareness.

 

In a culture too often governed by reaction rather than creative response, the role of an artist is one that is commonly overlooked and underappreciated within society. Are there lessons to be shared that extend beyond the basic human need for self expression?

To Budi Agung Kuswara, (famously known as “Kabul,”) the artist, just by being, can teach a lot about sustaining awareness in our day to day lives; re-framing static and mechanical mindsets, to ones that continually look out for new and life-enriching perspectives and seek to provide creative solutions to the many social problems that exist within society.

Seemingly quiet and reserved – there is more than meets the eye to this Klungkung native. After studying in the renowned Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Jogjakarta, Budi has gone on to explore his artistic potential through residencies in Japan and Malaysia. His art work, known for its playful imagery and replete with satire and symbolism, has graced exhibitions in Indonesia, Philippines, Italy and in the UK.

He went on to Co-Found Ketemu Project, a collective of artists, cultural managers, designers, educators and curators that develop socially conscious projects and interactions in art.

Upon meeting him, there’s no denying that Budi’s down to earth and warm personal makes it easy to feel welcome in his company. Throughout the interview, he graciously reflected on his challenges of being an artist, common misconceptions about him, and what difficult circumstances in his upbringing taught him about life. He concludes with logical insight into how tourism industry has hindered Bali’s artistic innovation and simple advice he would give his 18-year-old self.

Enter Budi,

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Budi, how were you introduced to art?

 

I grew up in Sanur, in an environment that we can refer to as an “expatriate” community, and by stating that, I mean that I didn’t grow up in a traditional Balinese environment. That had a huge impact on the way I think today.

My father worked in ceramics but was also a painter who had a lot of experience – and I often saw him work. Outside of watching him, I wasn’t exposed to the arts, and my parents didn’t have any specific intentions for guiding me to have a career in the arts.

I just knew that I liked it, and in high-school did I already made a commitment to further my studies in art by learning it here in Sukawati. That was the start of it.

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“Anonymous Ancestors” by Budi Agung Kuswara – Official Artwork of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2018

Artists have different reasons for being who they are. I’m curious to know, why are you an artist?

 

If you’re asking me right now, it’s because I have a need for self-expression that can only be facilitated by the making of art.

But if you want a thorough answer, I see the profession of an artist as one that is flexible. I’m not at the point where I can achieve total freedom from my profession – but it does allow me to be flexible. I get to socialize with all sorts of circles – and as an artist, I feel welcomed.

Furthermore, there isn’t much stigma in the arts and in the artistic community. It’s the most “neutral” profession in my opinion.

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“I get to socialize with all sorts of circles – and as an artist, I feel welcomed.”

What are some of the professional or personal challenges of having an art career? How do you overcome them?

 

Honestly, it was a personal challenge to see art as a process – particularly when a piece is finished and is ready to be shown to the public; trying to deliver the concept that a piece is trying to convey is still a challenge for me.

There are two parts to this artistic process that I see. One is studio based, and one lies more in interaction with society.

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A studio based process is for a certain section of artists who can sit quietly and enjoy the entire thought process that an artist can experience him or herself. But when their work is brought out into the world, people’s reactions and interpretations will often be different to what the artists were trying to convey. As an artist, this expectation can’t be applied when you aim to have the general mass as an audience.

But when you have a community based approach, an artist can be automatically appreciated amongst a like-minded audience.

So the challenge is in knowing which audience you need to ignore, and which audience you can select to present the topic of your art.

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“When you have a community based approach, an artist can be automatically appreciated amongst a like-minded audience.”

Artists of any kind have a degree of receptivity and awareness to the world around them. Is that receptivity something you’ve learnt’ or has it been something you feel you’ve always had?

 

It’s something that I learned and am continuing to learn, and in my opinion, awareness or sensitivity is something gained from your process. Each small aspect of your process is something that entails a level of good communication with yourself, as well as a sense of appreciation with what you’re doing.

When you can appreciate the smaller aspects of a process that make up the larger whole – like creating an art piece, which can involve meeting people and gaining feedback for your idea beforehand, you can learn a lot.

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When I’m involved in that process of feedback with an artistic community, I purposely come with an empty mind, so I can find new angles in which I can approach my work. Sensitivity is built from these interactions with people, and in a way, I don’t come as an artist, but as a facilitator.

What ideas can I facilitate as an artist? From these discussions we can, as a community, find new ways at looking at the day to day nuances of life.

It is because of that process, and the awareness of that process that I learn so much from each project I do.

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“What ideas can I facilitate as an artist? From these discussions we can, as a community, find new ways at looking at the day to day nuances of life.”

Has Ketemu Project changed you as a person in a way that you probably didn’t expect?

 

It forced me to be more coordinated! And a sense of leadership had to be developed whether I liked it or not! Honestly, I hadn’t had much experience with team work, and I guess you can say that I have difficulties working in a team – Even team sports like football. I prefer solo sports.

So in the end, I had to change because of the consequence of my decision to make Ketemu Project. Any organization needs strong leadership.

Ketemu Project is actually what opened up a lot of opportunities for me. There was the Art and Social Entrepreneurship program from the British Council, in which I was chosen for to represent Bali. There was also the Creative Climate Leadership course in Slovenia where Ketemu was one of the chosen members from Asia to go.

All of it changed me in a massive way.

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“A sense of leadership had to be developed whether I liked it or not!”

Who do you look up to and why?

 

My parents.

Even though, I grew up in an expatriate community, in a way, we were limited financially up until the point where I had to find my own means for school and other day-to-day expenses. Though it wasn’t good for them as parents, the situation, along with their guidance, allowed me to gain a sense of living as a whole – not just a way to “survive.” Life isn’t limited to just surviving

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When you think of the word successful, who’s the first person that comes to mind and why?

 

Hmm. That’s difficult for me, as I can’t point success down to an individual. Maybe I do need a model to follow!

But success to me is the ability to make those around you feel safe and comfortable. I think comedians are a good example!

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What has become more important to you over the recent years and what has become less important?

 

It ties down to what I said earlier. What has become more important is how intensely involved I am in the process. The final result isn’t too important to me.

I have many limits in seeing the final outcome of things, but when I focus more on the process, the outcome always gives me satisfaction.

I studied art from an academic lens, and there’s a lot of theory and text that you study that hopefully can amount to a work of art. But now I realize that there’s a lot of limitations to that – the fact that the final outcome of a piece is ultimately all under my control; to be exactly how I want it to be from the start.

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“I have many limits in seeing the final outcome of things, but when I focus more on the process, the outcome always gives me satisfaction.”

To feel stressed from this academic process of over-analyzing the theory while making your art is why I didn’t want to continue my studies and take my Masters. Instead, I was more attracted to art residencies.

For a few years I was moving around. I was in Japan and Kuala Lumpur, and I was more satisfied with that, because each residency was like a little reset in a way. In those short periods of residency, I had to sum up my experience in a presentation, both oral and visual.

I gain much greater satisfaction from this environment, as opposed to an academic one.

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“I gain much greater satisfaction from this environment, as opposed to an academic one.”

In your opinion, do you think artists have a particular responsibility to fulfill in society?

 

It’s difficult, because there are so many types of artists. Art as a profession doesn’t have a single standard that society requires, like being a doctor.

Anyone can become an “artist.” But in my opinion, artists allow society to not only see things from a new perspective, but to be comfortable and used to doing so on a consistent basis.

There are many social problems within society, whether it be race or just ways in which we relate to one other in general, so as an artist who senses new perspectives and possibilities actively, you share that characteristic to society.

It doesn’t always have to be through an exhibition, because as an artist just living day-to-day, you already see the world differently – and that’s what needs to be shared; the initiative to see different sides of a problem.

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“In my opinion, artists allow society to not only see things from a new perspective, but to be comfortable and used to doing so on a consistent basis.”

How can an artist help the average viewer approach his or her art to appreciate it better?

 

This goes back to the expectations of the artist; your audience can’t be seen as the same all across the board. When you start thinking they’re all the same, that’s when you start thinking of ways you can intervene in how the audience approaches your work. If you’re doing that as common practice, I think it’s difficult.

But one thing that helps a person (understand you art better) is to present the process of creating that piece of art. In doing so, an artist is challenged to be honest.

In the process of creating beautiful work, there can be moments of absolute stress for an artist. Do you want to show that side to the audience as well? It’s up to you as an artist.

But the most effective way in gaining wide appreciation is by presenting that process, so the audience better fully appreciate your work.

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“In the process of creating beautiful work, there can be moments of absolute stress for an artist. Do you want to show that side to the audience as well? It’s up to you as an artist.”

Are there any similarities or differences that you’ve seen in the artistic approach or process for artists in Bali and Jogja? What are the factors that affect it?

 

Because Jogja is a university city, it has a more centralized community, and from there the sharing process is done within a more open environment. It’s that environment that creates the atmosphere to share ideas – and it’s been like that since before.

the “visual construction” process there is more influenced by a lifestyle that’s more modern and contemporary.

Though Bali is more rich in tradition, it means you’re therefore more limited when exploring your artistic boundaries. What causes that is the tourism industry itself.

In my opinion, the arts are one of the pillars of the Balinese tourism industry – and it’s a pillar that, in a way, needs to remain the same over the years.

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“In my opinion, the arts are one of the pillars of the Balinese tourism industry – and it’s a pillar that, in a way, needs to remain the same over the years.”

When you want to start to become truly innovative, this traditional monotone look starts to become a bit “boring.” Yet, it’s this “boring” industry that gives the artists a means to live economically. At the end, the sense of innovation dwindles over the years without us ever realizing.

So the artist’s (sense for innovation) in Bali aren’t really honed, because they produce what the tourism industry looks for. But it Jogja, artists’ innovation are always honed and sharpened without the influence of a tourism industry.

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“The artist’s (sense for innovation) in Bali aren’t really honed, because they produce what the tourism industry looks for.”

This is why the new generation of artists here in Bali are beginning to have communities that share ideas on different topics. That’s a positive sign for me, and it’s something that will shape the general public’s opinion on art in Bali.

For the Balinese, besides being an aspect of tradition, art is for tourists. “Good” art is viewed as something that can either add to tradition or can be sold to tourists. But the function of art beyond the visual is much greater. That value isn’t seen as much here, where the mindset has been geared towards the tourism industry.

It starts with the small communities that hold events. That leads to a lot of knowledge sharing, which will play apart in this evolution of art in Bali.

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“It starts with the small communities that hold events. That leads to a lot of knowledge sharing, which will play apart in this evolution of art in Bali.”

What are some common misconceptions about you?

 

There’s a lot, to be fair. It depends on what I’m working on! Because I’m active in socially engaged art, or community and participatory art – I’m often seen as an “Artivist” (an Artist-Activist.)

I’m not really attracted to that label because I feel that I have a boundary when it comes to realizing change. Activists have an idea for change and have to oversee that that change is implemented, whereas I present a perspective of a problem from an artistic angle.

Maybe there’s a solution that comes from these perspectives, and if there is a point in which a piece of art can create change, then I feel like that’s already outside of my jurisdiction as an artist.

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“I’m not really attracted to that label because I feel that I have a boundary when it comes to realizing change.”

That’s the point where the responsibility lies elsewhere, such as with an activist – who will make sure that change will happen.

It’s too big of a responsibility for me to worry about fulfilling the duties of being an activist, because the work of an artist is already heavy – filled with it’s own responsibilities.

There are artists who do make both art and activism possible, like Ai Wei Wei. But like him, you can’t work alone if you want to claim that title. There are people you need to work with who do have that sense of activism that can turn activist art into a success.

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“It’s too big of a responsibility for me to worry about fulfilling the duties of being an activist, because the work of an artist is already heavy – filled with it’s own responsibilities.”

What is one piece of advice you would give to your 18 year old self?

Go out more often. Explore and meet more people.

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Maybe to be based in many places. Not just in Bali. I hope that Ketemu Project can run automatically, and that I can dive further into other experiences abroad.



If you would like to get in touch with Budi, you may contact him at :

budiagungkuswara@gmail.com

If you would like to know more about Budi and Ketemu Project, visit :

http://www.budiagungkuswara.com/

http://ketemu.org/

Instagram : @budiagungkuswara

Facebook : Ketemu Project

All images copyright Ketemu Project and Manusia

Sandrayati Fay

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You can know your identity but you need to release it to understand it – because you then realize, actually, we are all something very similar.”


Sandrayati Fay


Singer-songwriter & Performer
On her creative process, the importance of identity, and the role of women today.


Within a quiet, sun-basked home, nestled in the palmy Balinese village of Mas in Ubud, a subtle hint of momentum lingers in the air for a young musician. There is a sense that something special is beginning as she prepares a maiden tour, only a few months after the release of her first Live E.P.

For Sandrayati Fay, the release of Bahasa Hati (translated as “Language of the Heart”) has been a brave journey of self-exploration – an attempt to nurture her own space to understand, and express the truth of her heart within an ever changing and carefully curated world – all while sharing the experience publicly on social media.

It is, in retrospect, a process still ongoing, but a milestone nevertheless and a culmination of growth over the years where she has enchanted her listeners in venues and events across Indonesia, including the Bali Spirit Festival, TEDX Ubud, Folk Music Festival, and internationally at the ASEAN Human Rights Forum, and the Asia Pacific Music Meeting in Manila and Seoul respectively.

It was an afternoon replete with questions. In the spaces preceding her answers, she is both quiet and contemplative – presently aware of the transient nature of life around her. Responding with wisdom, she recounts finding her identity in her upbringing, and shares perspectives on the powerful role of women in creating positive change, as well as why she thinks Indigenous values are just what is needed in today’s modern world.

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Sandra, tell us a little about your upbringing and how music began to play a part in it. Was there a point in particular where you knew you wanted to be a musician?

 

My mother used to sing to me when I was in her womb, and I really believe that it planted a seed of song in me. Being Filipina, she sang and wrote songs when she was younger as well, and while I grew up, my father played guitar and wrote songs too.

I think the energy of song has always been present in my family and I’m very grateful for that. Every time we had parties in our house there would always be music, and even if nobody was into music, my dad would just whip out the guitar and it would often end up having people share poems or songs at our community within Bogor.

It was an international community with big trees, and families from all over the world lived there. Our school would nurture music a lot actually. They would teach us a lot of songs and we would have to perform it in front of the whole school on Fridays.
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There was always support from everywhere – from friends and family who kept asking me to sing, but I was terrified to for so long! I would never want to because of shyness, because it was something I knew I loved to do, but to actually do it was very scary and I can still relate to that now! My sisters also have very beautiful voices and we all love to sing as well. So it was very much weaved into me from the womb.

Then there was pop culture which I was super into. I would go to Jakarta in the weekend in the malls and listen to all this pop music, and there were the American Idol shows which I would watch all the time. All of it definitely influenced me seeing all the different ways that music can live in the world.

Pop culture was definitely a part of my life, and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t expect of me. They see me as an indie musician or grassroots, but I grew up going to malls! I loved Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, Eminem and Pink. Those were my top 4 pop artists!

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What were some of the early challenges you faced when trying to establish yourself as a musician here in Bali, and how did you overcome them?

 

I feel like I’m still in those early stages in the moment! But something that’s quite interesting was that when I came back from the states, although I wanted to do it, I didn’t really have a specific intention of coming back to do music here. I got invited from so many different people to come play and that was really my foundation of starting out here in Bali and it wasn’t so much my own music.

First off, playing with Nosstress felt so real and it felt like a really important seed of what I wanted to create – the core for me was in that song (Kita). But then I started playing a little bit with Superman is Dead, Devil Dice, Iwan Fals and did some stuff in Ubud with Prana and Sawung Jabo and Navicula, Ayu Laksmi – all these various different artists here.

I did get some feedback from some of my friends later on saying they were confused with what I was doing, saying things like “You’re playing with rockbands, that’s so not your style! Are you too nice to say no?” But it was really my choice. It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to say no, rather it was because I didn’t know what or who I was yet.

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“It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to say no, rather it was because I didn’t know what or who I was yet.”

 

Because of that Nosstress song, which was my core, people saw that as Sandrayati – but I support these all these people too, I support Superman is Dead and all what they fight for as well like the “Tolak Reklamasi” movement. I contribute to it, and I feel honored to contribute to what they’re doing.

I was really in my starting phase, and that was really challenging because some people within the community of musicians here were saying that they already knew what Sandrayati was. She was a folk musician who sings these sweet songs and cares about the Earth, which is true, and those are aspects of me but I also have so much more that I want to explore, and I felt like I was tied down a bit.

Also at the time, I didn’t feel like I really had started a musical career, and some people in the scene already saw that I did, assuming I was already a musician with a career and had fans here and there. It was like patchwork, and I didn’t see these patches weave together yet because I had never released anything.

I hadn’t released a full album. I don’t even have a website or a music video – all of which the people who I collaborated with have, along with their teams. So that was a big challenge for me because I still don’t really know what I am.

I’m still experiencing that, but that’s why this movement with the E.P had to start, and I really felt like it was starting something. It really feels like tailing the soil and making sure that there’s really healthy soil there to plant the seeds.

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As a singer-songwriter, what’s your process of bringing out a song into reality? Is there a particular space where your songs are born out of?

 

Yes, there is a particular space. The situation always changes but that space is always quite similar every time; the essence of what’s happening in that space. For me it always begins with inspiration from anything really. It’s a matter of keeping this doorway of inspiration open and then that space is always available.

If I’d like to, I really can just weave some words together, a melody can come out and it’s there, but it exists for a moment and then disappears into the ethers. If we don’t actually take my phone out right now and record it, or write down those words, it disappears. So is that bringing a song into reality?  Not yet, but it did in some form.

This is my process that’s quite challenging because you have to have commitment and focus and desire for that song to be born, and that’s really something I’m learning. My process happens very naturally – it’s just intimacy. You feel it in you, and you allow a song to be what it wants to be.

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Now I’m in a different mindset, where I know I want to do music for my life and commit to it, and the details of how to bring a song into reality become a bit daunting because I’m not too familiar with recording. I get overwhelmed with having to make guide tracks and making things on tempo; all those details. But now I can feel that when you make a commitment to something, everything flows.

So many times when I write songs that I love, I record them on my phone and then they’re just there, lingering and waiting to be born. They’re like eggs in a nest, and I can go back into the nest of my phone, look through these eggs and bring them out when it’s time!

There are so many depths to bringing a song into reality but it comes down to the choices to make it happen. I pray that one day that all those choices will just be something I “know” and it won’t feel like a choice anymore to make a song. It’s going to be in me, and I’m not going to be overwhelmed anymore.

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How do you relate to your songs after they have been performed or released for the first time – have you seen them grow and change? Have people’s reactions changed the way you see them?

 

Interesting question. The first time that I watched people have a relationship to these songs from my live E.P in their own way really changed the way I myself see the songs. The songs have a life. They desire to live and they live with everybody now. In a way it’s like letting go and really letting them be what they want to be.

It’s interesting when somebody says that my song brings something into their life – it feels like it has nothing to do with me. I don’t ever feel proud, it’s something that’s just cool and it’s an experience that I just observe and see objectively.

Most of the time when I write my songs, I don’t really understand them. It’s not like I’m analyzing them as they go. The meaning even changes for myself. There is one example when I was working at a women’s retreat. I was singing and I would read the lyrics before I would sing the song, and every single woman related to those lyrics.

It changed it for me entirely in terms of both why and how I was singing the song because, in that space, it wasn’t my song anymore. When I sing that same song now, it’s even more different than it was in that space – it depends on the situations. Every time a song is sung it actually grows and never stops.

I used to think that it would be so boring to see musicians on tour playing the same song over and over again, but I don’t feel that anymore. I let it grow, and see that these songs have never been sang in this place before, and now these tones will reach that wall, and that person and that shoe. These tones touch everything and grow because it sees something new. Now I’m actually excited to do other versions of my songs!

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What is the story behind the title of your live album,
Bahasa Hati?

 

It’s weird. I don’t even know how that came up! I was writing it in my journal a lot. I had no idea what it meant or why – those two words just came out.

I feel like Bahasa Hati is really a place of truth for me because language and communication comes in so many forms, and something that has held me back for a long time is not always knowing how to communicate what feels true for me.

Sebenarnya, lebih enak kalau campur bahasa saya, dimana ada sedikit Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Inggris, dan Filipina (In truth, it’s better to mix up my languages. When there is a little bit of Indonesian, English or Filipino.) That’s actually where I feel most true, and its not really possible in many cases to mix it up with many people.

I felt like I was always searching for just one place where I could just feel like I was speaking without any hesitation from the heart. It’s kind of symbolic of just me embodying being from many places.

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“I felt like I was always searching for just one place where I could just feel like I was speaking without any hesitation from the heart.”

Stepping back and seeing it from a different perspective, I just thought “What if we just speak with our heart? What would happen to the world if people just knew what their hearts were feeling?” I really believe in people’s hearts, I really do. I trust it in all people.

Bahasa Hati was also a challenge of wanting to step out of being this folk singer-songwriter thing. I have a background in theater and I want to dance, speak and move! I love performance, and I was feeling a little limited by my own perceptions of what I have to be, so Bahasa Hati became an exploration for me.

How do I speak with my heart today and how do I show that to the world on Instagram today? I created that hashtag #BahasaHati for a little while before the E.P release. It was a such a fun exploration, and I really do feel like people started to understand me a little bit more.

I see the spectrum of what we can express in so many different ways, and music is always a part of it. Even if it’s dance, there’s music in your body. Even if it’s poetry, there’s rhythm in your words. Music is always part of it and is the foundation of Bahasa Hati. Music is a tone, and so many tones exist within a tone. Everything that is physical is vibration, and that is music too. So when we look at it existentially, that’s our Bahasa. That’s our language.

 

You’ve included two of your own poems in Bahasa Hati. Are there differences in your mental approach to writing poetry and writing your lyrics to music?

 

Yes. There are differences. I write a lot, I write everyday. Sometimes it’s poems, at other times it’s not. Sometimes from writing, there are words that really pop out and they end up being lyrics, but lyrics usually come out when I’m with an instrument or with the music. When I’m just writing, I’m not thinking about lyrics. But when I have a guitar I usually start with improvisation and melody would be there, and the words would come to the melody and I end up writing them.

 

 

Who do you look up to and why?

 

My mother. She’s got a heart of gold. She gives so much without really thinking about it – she knows how to trust and go and helps out so many people. She works with indigenous people and communities all over Southeast Asia. She has a training in Law so she really has a strong voice in giving people the rights that they need and that they deserve. She makes it happen and I don’t really understand how she does it – I see her on her computer and phone, talking in her meetings and travelling. It’s all a blur. But I just know that all of that comes because she is very much “in her head” all the time. There are so many people that I look up to, I could go on and on but my mother is the first person who really comes up. And all mothers I have so much honor for. They know how to give, and I trust that.

 

What are the specific habits or rituals that you’ve developed either in your work or daily life that have helped you grow?


Something that really shifted things for me that helped me grow, in which the lessons I continue to carry into my daily life now has been the choice to be celibate. I was celibate for 8 months and just made that choice to be completely on my own; being so young too, a time where our hormones are going crazy. It was really a choice I made to be close to myself and love myself.

I later on discovered that it became an exploration in my relationship with nature and how I experience intimacy. One example is the ocean. My relationship with the ocean was really strengthened in different ways in having that practice of deep listening to everything around me. It all became really alive when I was celibate because I was making the choice everyday to listen deeply and to love myself.

The choice led from different sexual traumas and from having been active for a lot of my life and not being in my own space. Now I know that I can I have access to this space, and I know that my relationship can deepen even more with all the elements that are around me.

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Elemental sensuality are the words that came up. We are born out of a very intimate and violent experience of leaving somebody’s body. We are born into this way of being sensual, and yet it’s such a taboo isn’t it?

It’s interesting – there’s a poem I read this morning, about how we all have these shells and some people are brave enough to actually poach though and see clearly with their eyes, their inner and outer worlds. That says a lot about life. We have to make that choice to break through the shell. We can have it on us all the time if we don’t choose to break through. So that choice of celibacy and intimacy gave me that point where I can break through that shell.

Besides that, I don’t really have rituals that I have everyday. I like to stretch and meditate, and improvise my singing just to hear my voice and how it changes, where it lives, and how it moves through my body. I like to play and dance!

 

We tend to pay more attention to people’s successes and the things they’ve done right, but we often don’t take into account the important “failures” one has to encounter and learn from along the way. What has been a particular “failure” of yours that has taught you a big lesson?

 


I think failure is subjective. For some people, something can be a failure, and for others it’s not that bad. I think every single time I perform and sing a set, there’s always something that goes wrong – either I miss a chord, or I didn’t hold my finger down on that string long enough for example.

When I was playing the weekly gig at The Orchard, Fendy and I were doing a jazz standard, and I completely went off key on the bridge. It was a failure. I’m really hard on myself – that’s something I’m working on too. I can never be satisfied with a show because of a “failure”, or even if I didn’t even feel an emotion as fully as I could have felt and expressed.

But I trust myself enough to fail. There’s kind of an inner knowing that I can trust myself. Because I know I can learn from that, instead of focusing on the failure.

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“I trust myself enough to fail. There’s kind of an inner knowing that I can trust myself.”


How do you deal with fear and self doubt?

 

I don’t really know! There’s never one way for dealing with that. The way out always changes. Sometimes I really need reassurance from other people, and I’m not too proud to say that, but that’s what community is right? We need to support each other.

Another way can be praying. That really helps for me. When I’m praying, I call on a lot of the people that I love. When I’m alone and feeling afraid, I call on my grandmothers, I call on my mother. I call on people that I know are supporting me even though they’re not physically with me. That helps a lot.

 

   Where do you usually go to for new ideas?
What places, sights and sounds can stimulate your creativity?

 

Waterfalls. I feel so at home when I’m by a waterfall. It doesn’t necessarily stimulate my creativity, but it’s what gives me space and reminds me of who I am. I go to the waterfall to create a space for the stimulating.

But there’s never really just a “go to” right? I watch the news and a lot of the things that I’m inspired by are experiences that people are going through in life right now on a large scale. Collective experience, suffering and just a lot of dark shit in the world; it inspires me so much to create. It’s a stimulus for me to see how I’m relating to the world.

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Outside of Music, what makes you happy and fulfilled?

 

Banana pancakes! And I love seeing thriving gardens; you walk into someone’s farm, and they’re planting, cultivating and sharing and cooking the food together – that is so vibrant and fulfilling to see! Not only that but sharing music and spaces of love to create.


What does identity mean to you, and why is it important (or not important) for one to find an identity?

 

There are so many layers to this, but there are two main parts to it. We have bodies, and we have to meet ourselves here. Where we are, where we come from, our history – it means something, even if we don’t know why. Every identity is some sort of knowing, and a meeting of yourself, in relation to the world. It’s so significant, because to know this individuality is what makes a collective very strong.

Identity is important for that knowing, but to let go of it is when you really know what it means. To really let go of needing to be seen as this “thing”. “I am a woman, you must see me as a woman!” You can know your identity but you need to release it to understand it, because you then realize, actually we are all something very similar.

Growing up with so many different “identities” has been very challenging for me. Only really recently over the past year have I started to merge my worlds. I have so many different worlds. I have my world in the Philippines, my world in America, my world in Indonesia. Who I am here, there and different spaces. That’s with anything you know – the world of your family, the world of your friends. But for me it was really quite drastic.

Here, I feel very Indonesian, but I’m still a foreigner. There’s so many triggers for me and I have to tread lightly, because I’m “weird” ! It didn’t really make sense to be anywhere that I was, when we look at it from a very mainstream lens.

It was only when I took a bilingual writing class in college that I realized something. The teacher was encouraging us to write in many languages, and in the academic world, it’s not very accepted right? It’s quite controversial to be so bilingually expressive. Depending on the field of course – it’s changing a lot now, and she’s a part of that change. We focused a lot on identity in that class and the significance of expression.

Even for me, I never really even wrote in Indonesian or Tagalog before, and I realized that there are parts of me that I cannot express in English. I had to meet myself there. That really was the starting point for me in asking the bigger questions. Coming back to Bali has been a very strong choice to be in a place of not too much judgement of myself in terms of where I identify myself, where I don’t, as well as knowing my place.

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It’s very interesting in the moment because I feel like we’re identifying so much more because we can. We identify Trans-gender, Gay, Woman, Man, Latina, Black, White, Asian. Everything’s being identified for the sake of individuality and the honoring of this individuality.

Now we can see that you deserve to be identified because so much of the time, in mainstream media you haven’t been, because you’re the minority. There’s this huge movement happening right now where this identification is “alive”.

It’s important, but I’m feeling that in some cases, it’s too important, and letting go isn’t. We’re actually all on the same team. It’s important that we’re all identifying and then choosing to bridge and relate, rather than demand respect because you are in power now from being identified.

It’s such an intricate balance, but I wanted to touch on that because it’s important to not over-identify. Knowing your relation with yourself, and understanding each others relation with each other’s history as well. Black history is very different from Filipino history, Balinese history is different from American, so we have to know our place.

But can we just be? And not only focus on these boundaries that we are in? Can we let go of that and identify ourselves as a human race? As a human being?

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“There’s this huge movement happening right now where this identification is “alive”. It’s important, but I’m feeling that in some cases, it’s too important, and letting go isn’t.”


You’ve worked with young indigenous groups and musicians in recent years and had the chance to immerse yourselves in their culture. What in particular makes the indigenous arts important in today’s world, and how do they have the power to create change?

 

There’s a remembrance that is very strong in Indigenous communities that you can’t really compare with anyone who’s grown up outside one. There’s something that’s just innately “here” that they can just have access to, and I do believe that we all have that, but it’s just different when you’re coming from an indigenous community.

That remembrance is a doorway that can lead us to understanding something that has long been forgotten, and this lives in the song of indigenous people. It has traveled through generations.

I’m still exploring my relation to Indigenous peoples and I’m so lucky to be invited to experience life in villages in Indonesia because of the work of my parents. But I’ve noticed something in a welcome song from Sulawesi. With it’s melodies and intonations, it sounds Native American! It’s Earth song! So it doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from, people from all over the world are singing similar tones during similar times. It’s that remembrance of how to be in community that makes Indigenous song important, and it even relates to this heart space!

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I think this idea of being indigenous sticks to this image of women and men in weavings in the forest. The indigenous now don’t need to be people walking around naked – that was their time and we’re in a new time now. In some ways, Bali is an island that is still running on it’s “indigenous” ways. There’s a thread where everyone’s still doing the rituals that their ancestors were doing. Within all my Balinese friends, I forget that they are indigenous and their values are already changing the world, even though it’s not in mainstream culture.

People are still in ritual, and Indonesia has so many indigenous cultures that are still alive, and of course it’s hard because money is changing everything. From my own experience, I’ve can say that I’ve been learning from them and that’s changed something in me, and that has affected people who hear my songs. I don’t really know my role yet, but we’re sharing and learning.


What do you think is unique about the role of women in bringing about positive change in today’s society? What specific qualities of Womanhood are an essential part of this change?

 

We live in a patriarchal society that is just taking and taking, from the earth and from each other, and not giving enough. When we look at in existentially, there’s a lot of taking and not enough giving. It’s the moon and the sun, the dark and the light, the inhale and the exhale. Women symbolize the exhale. But it’s completely out of balance right now.

There’s a quality of expressiveness that women have; a way of relating to humanity that is very feminine. It lives in men too – I’m not saying that it’s only with women, but it’s a feminine energy that is sacred that lives within everything, including all men and women.

A woman carries that in her and the role that women play in this shift is incredibly important. It’s not about switching roles. It’s not about a woman needing to live in a man’s world and taking over. I feel that the role of women is to come home to yourself.

The magic that happens in a woman’s body when a baby is coming in is a physical example of the energy of creation that can be accessed as well. In matriarchal societies in indigenous times, women were honored for that. Women were honored when they bleed, and the process when you bleed every month, you’re releasing and cleansing. Not just for yourself, but for the tribe. You’re fertile, you create visions and dreams when you’re menstruating. This honoring is still alive, but it’s been completely oppressed over time, and the role of women is to come back. To reconnect to the earth and to each other. That’s what we’re really missing; our communication that’s honest and real, to see things as they are.

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“It’s not about switching roles. It’s not about a woman needing to live in a man’s world and taking over. I feel that the role of women is to come home to yourself.”

I think that honoring the blood and knowing your relation to blood is very important, and it’s going to be different for every woman. When you start bleeding – this is something that happens to every single woman and is something that nobody teaches or talks about, you have all these emotions that come up – it’s an entire process.

In my experience, I learned so much about myself when I learned about my blood. I used to want nothing to do with it. It was dirty, and when it happens, it hurt, I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t go to work or do these things that I wanted.

But it takes you out of this time clock that we’re all in. It brings you into realness and that is a gift! How do we learn to honor that? It’s such a huge step into womanhood – when we can give ourselves space and only you make that choice. It’s an individual path, but it relates to all. It’s a natural cycle – we bleed with the moon, and it’s a direct connection we have to the cycles of the earth. It shows us this balance.

       What book have you recommended the most to people?

Anastasia by Vladimir Megré ! And the Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.


What’s one piece of advice you would give your 18 year old self?

All you need is love, and wisdom! Gotta have some wisdom.


Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years time?

Trusting. I see myself really trusting. No more holding myself back. And that will lead to just being able to share a lot of music, and travel. I want to travel with a team of strong musicians and just have a momentum of energy there.



If you would like to get in touch with Sandrayati, you can contact her at:

sandrayatimusic@gmail.com

To find out more about Sandrayati Fay, visit :

 https://sandrayati.bandcamp.com/

  Instagram : @sandrayatifay

Facebook : Sandrayati Fay

 

Julien Mélot

“ We have been so conditioned into thinking that things have to be done in a certain way…, and that’s so untrue, there is a myriad of possibilities.”

Julien Mélot


Co-Founder & CEO | Azura Marine & Azura Marine Earth
On staying focused, practical innovation, and why Indonesia is perfect for renewable energy.

 

Today’s mainstream media is brimming with stories of innovators and high-tech start ups, fueling our insatiable desire to continually break boundaries and reinvent the wheel. Despite the obvious allure in glorifying the latest and greatest, we often fail to see the beauty to be found in the practical and accessible end of the spectrum of innovation.

Take one example, of a man living his childhood dream of roaming through blue oceans on a Jukung (a centuries-old traditional Indonesian fishing boat), powered only by sunlight.

Using primarily locally sourced tools and technology, Julien Mélot and his vessel, crowned, “Surya Namaskar”, have gone more than 2000 kilometers around Bali and to Flores – all without a single technical issue. Behind this amazing feat is Azura Marine, a company co-founded by Julien, built on a holistic combination of spirituality and his profession as a naval architect and an electromechanical engineer. Its social division, Azura Marine Earth, provides apprenticeships in the field of renewable energies and technology in addition to offering workshops on environmental issues.

The success of Julien’s journey is nothing short of incredible, yet a merit hard-earned. Beneath his warm and easy-going nature lies a pragmatic foundation of grit honed from years of work in the shipyards of Singapore. Throughout our conversation, Julien shares his story of persistence in building and travelling with Surya Namaskar, dealing with doubt, fatigue and the risk of dengue. He also shares unique perspectives on why Indonesia is the perfect place for sustainable energy, and how to break the stigma of its use.

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Julien, you are an electro-mechanical engineer and a naval architect by profession, what’s the story behind your love for the ocean?


It started when I was a little kid; I was fascinated by pirates, and what would a pirate be without a boat? When I was five or six, I would be making drawings of pirate ships all the time. When I was seven, I would spend summers on lakes, and I started sailing when I was around eight. I was sailing every summer and I built my first sailboat hull when I was 14.

There was no naval architecture university in Belgium, and I had a lot of interest in mechanics so I studied electro-mechanical engineering and took a masters in naval architecture in Lisbon a few years later. But my love of the ocean has always been there since I was a kid. When you love the ocean, you obviously want to protect it – you want to protect what you love.

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What’s the story behind Azura Marine? How did it come about?

 

I’ve always had an interest in combining renewable energy and boats. Azura Marine came about when I was working in Singapore, and I set up that company thinking that one day I could fully dedicate myself to that. I needed to create a company in Singapore because I was consulting there, and I knew that my goal would be to design and build an ecological boat.

The idea initially popped up nearly ten years ago. I had a strong interest in hydrogen technology back then – Its really amazing. You just need sun or wind, and some water or sea water, and you can have a great source of energy. The most ideal application for that is shipping because there’s an infinite amount of water, wind and sun out in the ocean. You can basically power a whole shipping fleet out of hydrogen.

I also did my Masters thesis on this and 8 years ago I built a scale model of a catamaran that was powered by solar panels and a hydrogen fuel cell. So the idea was already there long ago, but as you know, sometimes ideas take time to mature and become right.

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“Sometimes ideas take time to mature and become right.”

Why do you think that a company like Azura Marine and Azura Marine Earth is important in today’s world?

 

First of all, we are disrupting a lot of the current technology – that’s pretty clear. Looking at the boating market sector, it’s an extremely conservative one. Things don’t evolve there much because of the culture.

Sailors, or seamen – they don’t want to take risks on something that hasn’t been proven over and over again over the centuries. So we’re looking at a very backwards-thinking industry, and I think we at Azura have a very bold approach.

We do things very differently; a lot cheaper and more eco friendly. It’s important to bring new solutions and think outside of the box.

We also have strong social consciousness. That’s something important because its lacking a lot in most corporations. It all started with that idea in mind. I’m not a millionaire philanthropist – at some point I have to be realistic and I have to make money, but you can make money making products that are good for the planet – like ecological boats.

If something like that is making a profit, that’s great, because we all need to live, and if there is additional profit then that can be invested to directly help communities through Azura Marine Earth.

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“We also have strong social consciousness. That’s something important because its lacking a lot in most corporations.”

Why did you choose the Jukung boat as a base design, as opposed to building an entirely new design from scratch?

 

I simply thought that we should be able to turn any boat into a solar electric one. Part of the decision was down to opportunity as well. I put the word out there, and a friend of mine found a jukung for sale. We didn’t put much thought into it because we saw that it was a very common boat which was well built. It’s something that many people in Indonesia can relate to as it’s kind of the most universal boat here in Indonesia. It’s built in Java but you see them in Sumatra, Bali – everywhere! It was perfect and I didn’t think twice.

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“There was lack of understanding for the bigger picture and doubt, but curiosity mostly.”


What were reactions like from the local communities that you’ve either worked with or come in contact with in the process of building

and travelling with Surya Namaskar?

 

Building and travelling brought out very different reactions. When we were building, I don’t think they really understood what we were doing. There was certainly a lot of curiosity, and there were always people coming around the boat but they were also probably doubtful and wondering why I would spend so much money on it. So I would say there was lack of understanding for the bigger picture and doubt, but curiosity mostly.

When we were travelling, the reactions were different. People were definitely curious and they were asking how this thing works – they saw it as some kind of UFO. Everywhere we went, as soon as we dropped the anchor, tons of local people would come on board and ask questions. We exchanged a lot of contacts because some of them were really interested. So, a lot of curiosity and interest for sure.

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What were the biggest professional and personal challenges you had when building Surya Namaskar, and how did you overcome them?


Finding the right person to work with in the first place wasn’t easy. I made a big mistake in partnering with a contractor and trusting some people I shouldn’t have trusted. I got completely ripped off, and I lost a lot of money and material at that time.

As a foreigner, finding someone you can trust wasn’t easy and that was definitely a big challenge. But I learned from that, and afterwards I found the perfect person. The second would be logistics and importing the materials. That was a tiresome process.

It was physically very tiring. At that time I was staying in Ubud, and the boat was in Benoa. So every single day I was on the scooter for more than two hours, leaving very early in Ubud and coming back at eight; going around Denpasar and buying stuff in between. It was really crazy. When I think back, I don’t think I would do it again.

I drove 7000 kilometers with my little scooter in two months, on Balinese roads, which are definitely not the safest. Of course there were tense moments, especially in my personal life, because it took a lot of time.

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“Although It looks hard from the outside, I was really enjoying it.”

We had a tight timeline as well, because you have to wait for very high tide to launch the boats and there was only one every month or two months, so there was a rush to catch the tide, that’s why we had to push hard to make it happen on time.

Working in the mangrove and getting bitten by dozens of tiger mosquitoes also was a challenge. I got lucky I didn’t catch dengue, although statistically, I should have! Although It looks hard from the outside, I was really enjoying it; times like eating Padang food and coming in with mud all over my legs – I looked like a construction worker!

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Based on the experiences of your trips with Surya Namaskar, how do you feel you can improve on the boats, or the design and construction process for the future?

 

If there was one lesson drawn from the big trip, it was that the boat would have been better if it was one or two meters longer, considering the size of the roof and the power we had. When you design a boat like that for the first time its really hard to know what the end weight will be. A 10-meter boat will be better than an eight and a half meter one. She’s a little bit on the heavy side at the moment.

For the rest, the construction process was really good. We did all this in two months. Process-wise I wouldn’t change much. Of course if we have more orders for boats like Surya Namaskar, we would probably make it in a better place.

In the end we did more than 2000 kilometers. When we went around Bali and to Labuan Bajo, we didn’t have a single technical issue. This technology really works – it’s fabulous.

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What are the specific habits or rituals you’ve developed that have helped you grow over the years?

 

Meditation has helped for sure, but I don’t really have a routine. I spent many years working in a shipyard. It’s a very high speed, no bullshit environment. There’s no time for politics, there’s no time for wasting time basically. So I think that was an extremely good “school” for me. It’s straight to the point and you also embrace the fact that building a boat is the sum of small details. You have to be specific, and you have to solve one issue after the other, and although they may sometimes look insignificant, they are.

As I was a project manager at the shipyard, I was able to look at the bigger picture – I would make a timeline and organize the project properly. It was just a very rational way of working that I learned the hard way – to focus on what matters and leave the bullshit outside.

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When I started building Surya Namaskar, I thought ‘If I won’t be able to make this thing in 2 months, there’s no way I can do this.’ In the shipyard we would build something really crazy in twelve months using thousands of tons of steel. I thought a small boat like this, I must be able to do it in 2 months. Focus is important nowadays. I reckon in this era of social media, you have so many distractions and its very difficult to focus.


Were there any self-limiting beliefs that you had to overcome to become the person you are today?

 

Sure. One that’s been sticking with me is not being able to finish everything; you start, and you tend to give up at 80 or 90%. I was like that and I knew I had to push hard to complete the project. If not, I knew I would always drop out before the end.

Of course, there’s always fear; not being in the corporate world and having no safety net. But I wouldn’t say that was self-limiting, it was almost exciting to get off the safety net. But there are times when you question yourself. So there has been doubt, for sure.

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What are the specific qualities that you look for in a team? Especially for a team behind a company like Azura Marine?

 

I want to make sure that people can work independently and are smart; that they can understand things without me watching over them all the time. The most important thing is that they can fly with their own wings and that I can trust them.

Honesty is really important for me. The whole concept of the company is to not only make money but to give back, and if I understand that anyone in the team is not abiding to those rules and is being selfish or greedy, that’s a no go. They have to be reliable people, to get things done and to be trusted.

They need to be sort of a perfectionist, because I am, and I sort of expect the same from other people. But that’s really hard, and it’s something I’m definitely working on for myself. But my expectations of people cannot be too low as well.

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“Honesty is really important for me. The whole concept of the company is to not only make money but to give back”

When you hear the word “Successful”, who’s the first person that comes to mind and why?

 

At the moment I would definitely say Elon Musk. He’s a model for me and I’ve been watching him for more than 10 years – before he became mainstream. He is the embodiment for success because of his vision and how he goes for it relentlessly.

He’s got a lot of common sense and that’s something I can relate to from my professional background. If you tell him that something is not going to work, he’s just going to go back to the principles of physics and tell you ‘Yes it is going to work! Prove to me that this doesn’t work and maybe I can believe you.’

There are people who are jealous when you do new things, there are people who want you to doubt it. There’s a lot of negativity that surrounds you when you try to disrupt and go for a breakthrough development.

You need to keep your calm, go back to the fundamentals of what you’re doing and ask yourself ‘Why would it not work?’ I think he’s a very good example of that, especially in cutting corners as well.

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There’s so much bullshit happening in the corporate world. So much time and money is wasted, and I think that’s very unnecessary, and in the case of Azura Marine, that was one of the main realizations during my Vipassana (silent meditation course) – ‘Why do we need to make things so complicated?’

Can we not just embrace what nature is giving? Things that are available here and there. Something that people can make great things out of? But we have been so conditioned into thinking that things have to be done in a certain way, and that’s so untrue. If we go back to the laws of physics, you see that there are tons of ways to do things, and some are definitely better for the environment than others.

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Where do you usually go for new ideas? What places, sights, and sounds can stimulate your creativity?

 

Being by the sea and looking at nature in general inspires me. Looking at beautiful pieces of architecture and beautiful human creations as well – be it houses or boats, I find it very stimulating. Sometimes I look at Antoni Gaudi’s buildings, and think ‘Wow this is perfect! There’s so much to learn from this’. Sacred geometry sometimes also brings ideas to mind.

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“God knows what will happen, as this technology evolves really fast.”

The idea of using alternative energy sources as part of everyday life here in Indonesia still seems hard to grasp, due it’s perceived high costs, risk and other “unknowns”, yet the potential is massive. How can we break the stigma and encourage its wider use?

 

To me, the barrier to embracing these renewable energy sources is money. The problem in Indonesia is that most people seem to live day by day, so they are rarely able to make a long term investment. That’s the reality.

I think the way to bring it forth is to have an incentive, either private or ideally public. But the government isn’t going that way at the moment because of PLN’s (Perusahaan Listrik Negara – Indonesia’s government-owned electricity corporation) interests.

We should be able to offer micro credit options, just like when people buy their motorbikes. They just pay monthly and in this case it would be perfect, because they pay a certain amount per month to pay off their micro credit, and after five years, they would have free electricity for 20 years.

At the moment, the current design of solar panels has a lifespan of 25 years, and God knows what will happen, as this technology evolves really fast.

Imagine not being tied to a monopoly that raises the price. You pay 200,000 Rupiah per month for five years to a Solar company like Azura Marine Earth for example – meaning that we are basically freezing the cost. So for five years you know that there won’t be any increase in price, which will of course happen with PLN – they increase almost twice a year!

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It’s a no-brainer in terms of how good and safe it is for an investment. It would be fantastic to find financial institutions that are ready to go for it because it’s been proven in other countries.

People need electricity anyways and so at the end of the month, that’s part of the usual household budget. It’s really the way to go if we were to upscale the renewable energies in Indonesia.

Indonesia is the perfect place to embrace micro-credit for renewable energies because its de-centralized geographically, and politically in terms of how the government doesn’t intervene too much on daily life. So it makes full sense but it requires involving a financial institution or body to be honest.

Maybe there’s a political obstacle to overcome doing that as well, I don’t know. But you have to do this from bottom up, starting small scale in remote areas where nobody is currently supplying people with electricity.

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“You have to do this from bottom up, starting small scale in remote areas where nobody is currently supplying people with electricity.”

How do you plan to scale the technology used in Azura Marine?

 

At the moment we are working on a catamaran of 12 x 7.5 meters, whose electrical architecture is an upscale of Surya Namaskar’s. We plan to start building that boat in Indonesia and Singapore this year.

It’s going to be interesting – it’s a modular concept and its bare deck can be customized as a dive boat, a tour boat, a ferry or a yacht. There’s a huge deck area that’s nearly 100 square meters so you can do a lot with an area like that.

This will be a boat with a proven electrical system – as it is an upscale of Surya Namaskar – on board so that it is able to sail 24/7 non-stop for 20+ years at least, with zero cost and free of any noise, smell, vibration, and pollution. At the same time, I would like to propose replicas of Surya Namaskar for dive centers, eco-resorts and local communities.

We plan to downscale Surya as well! I would like to see how small and how cheap we can replicate Surya Namaskar. I’m thinking around IDR 15-20 million for a four or five-meter fishing boat which you’d be able to sail for 20 years pretty much for free.

There would be an engine on the boat, and solar panels and batteries. In terms of converting existing conventional boats to solar electric, it’s interesting to have the two ends of the spectrum. From the biggest jukung you can make to the smallest and anything in between.

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What is one thing that innovators do wrong?

 

I would say, from my humble experience, it’s trying to go too high-tech and getting the best of the best, but ending up with very inaccessible products. I’ve seen a couple of companies that are proposing something similar to my catamaran but either the price tag is absolutely unrealistic, or they went for a hybrid – not going fully solar.

I have no interest in working on a hybrid – you either go fully sustainable or you don’t. I feel that in this field, sometimes innovators either don’t believe in what they’re doing and go half way, or they go all the way but have a complete disconnect with the market in terms of what people are able to afford.

A higher level of complexity means it’s less reliable too. You have to be pragmatic – the concept has to be innovative, but the technology has to be proven. You can innovate using available technology; you don’t need to make everything new and re-invent the wheel. That’s very dangerous.

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“You can innovate using available technology; you don’t need to make everything new and re-invent the wheel.”

What’s the one book you’ve recommended most to people?

 

Recently I liked Et tu trouveras le tresor qui dort en toi by Laurent Gounelle and recommended it to a few dear ones. I often recommend Paulo Coelho and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

One piece of advice to your 18 year old self?

 

No matter what, go after your dreams. Don’t give up on them. Believe in yourself and trust in your capabilities to turn your vision into reality.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

 

I don’t know the exact timeline, this could be 5, 6 or 8 years! But I guess I see myself having accomplished a bit with Azura Marine while having evolved spiritually too.



If you would like to get in touch with Julien, you can email him at:

julien@azura-marine.com

if you would like to know more about Azura Marine and Azura Marine Earth, visit:

http://www.azura-marine.com/

Facebook: Azura Marine Earth

Instagram: @azura.marine.earth

 

All images copyright Azura Marine Earth

Ratna Odata

There are times when an artist can present something that can challenge the viewers and put them in a position to face certain things they would usually avoid.”

Ratna Odata


Co-Founder | Cata Odata
On being open-minded, gaining trust, and the importance of art.

 

Under lush canopies and swaying bamboo trees, an old three story structure stands idly still, sheltering paint on canvas and installations that surround a group of starry eyed visitors. The place is home to an endeavor – one that continues spirit of Bali’s fabled artistic heritage in today’s modern world.

It is, in essence, a hybrid space – a term that even its co-founder Ratna Odata struggles to define. “You can’t describe Cata Odata as just a gallery, a studio or a collective. I can honestly say that it’s too early to fully answer that question,” she argues with conviction.

Founded in 2014 from humble beginnings with her co-founder and friend Kenyut, Cata Odata has only grown in prominence in the arts community in Bali. Since then they have staged exhibitions for both local and international artists, encouraged interdisciplinary dialogue by facilitating open discussions with the public, held workshops and artist residencies, often while collaborating with local galleries and venues.

It is a place unique in its grassroots approach; fostering a tight-knit community of artists and creatives of all disciplines, who regularly come to search for new meaning and insight. That deep sense of community is a trait that Ratna highlights as a strength that reflects the Balinese way of life – something that she believes individual-driven creatives can learn something from.

Over the conversation, you can sense that this place is a true reflection of her values of openness and collaboration. Ratna shares her story on growing up in (and blossoming away from) a time of heightened prejudice during her childhood, the kinds of conversations that inspire her, and gives thoughtful perspective on the identity struggle for Indonesian contemporary art.

Enter, Ratna Odata

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Ratna, tell us a little about your upbringing. Where did you grow up? Were the Arts always a part of your life?

 

I grew up in Kediri – a small town south of Surabaya and was born in a Chinese-Indonesian family. As a lot of people know, there was a lot of friction and prejudice back then between the Chinese and non-Chinese. My parents lived in hardship, and I clearly remember being told not to go out often or create a lot of attention – even to not make friends with non-Chinese Indonesians. It was, and still is difficult for me to deal with.

Despite this, not once did I feel like I was different. I learned that what you hear sometimes can be scarier than what reality actually is. When I was in junior high, I mingled with every one. All the fear that was in my mind was never real – on the contrary, I made friends with a diverse amount of people, and we were all open to each other.

If I didn’t experience those events and realize my identity, I wouldn’t be as open as I am today, and the idea of this place (Cata Odata) wouldn’t turn out the same way. I would have brought those prejudices with me. I never see things black and white.

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“I learned that what you hear sometimes can be scarier than what reality actually is.”

Art started to play a role in my life in high school in Surabaya; the tension there was very challenging. It was the type of school that really focused on academic achievements and I realized it wasn’t the kind of life I wanted. There was very little exposure to art, however, it was the first time we were exposed to the internet and to all this expression! It made me realize there was a wide range of options out there!

Where we grew up in Kediri, they had a very fixed mentality. People thought there were only a few ways to make a living. If it’s bad, it’s bad, if it’s good, it’s good. Art reminds me that there is a middle ground.

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“Art reminds me that there is a middle ground.”

What is the philosophy behind Cata Odata?

 

Openness. In my perspective, I didn’t want something that had a label, which is why I didn’t include any words such as “contemporary” or “art gallery”. Whatever name that we chose, it had to give people a sense of both comfort and mystery as well. “Cata” means heart, and “Odata”, which is my family name, means white.

The color white is the easiest pigment that can deliver and make shown the most other colors. To me, this “white heart” represents openness. It represents doing our best efforts and being transparent as well. Having my family name represents the hard-working values of my family – It’s a continuity of our values.

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“To me, this “white heart” represents openness.”

Describe the moment you decided to create Cata Odata.What were the events leading up to it?

 

It’s funny actually, I was thinking of having a place like this for quite some time and had an urgency to want to do it when I was in college in Singapore. I didn’t realize it would happen so quick. It was very unplanned.

I graduated from LaSalle in 2014 and was confused as what to do next. During holidays in college I would work as a set designer for theater, but after graduating, I realized I didn’t have my student pass to continue working. I didn’t think it through!

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“It was a stroke of luck!”

Since I worked in set design and was a freelance, I thought I could work anywhere. It was in my mind to stay in Bali, because I already had friends here, like Kenyut (co-founder). The only thing I wanted was to find a place to live here. I didn’t think about the dream so much because it just wasn’t possible to achieve in a short amount of time.

One day, I found a large shabby building – a ghost house! There was a large sign saying “For Rent”. I definitely knew I couldn’t afford it, but for some reason I just grabbed my phone and dialed the number. The building manager picked up the phone, and the first question he asked was what my budget was. I was honest and blurted out a really low number, which was only enough for a kost (single room apartment). But there was nothing to lose! The day after, I ended up meeting the owner. He questioned who I was and what I wanted to do here. He liked the vision, and in the end, he gave it to me for a very, very reasonable price. It was a stroke of luck!

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It was surreal, it was happening and I had a chance to realize my dream. But the amount of energy and time both Kenyut and I spent on this place was crazy! We didn’t have a lot of money and this house was old and needed a lot of care. But I had absolutely no plan in the beginning, and it was a lot of improvisation.

Along the way, I met people who had professional backgrounds in business and management who questioned me. When I told them I only had experience as a set designer in theatre with no business background, though it wasn’t blatant, I knew they thought I was crazy. I got the message, and it’s still a work in progress.

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“But why is art important? I think at some point, art has to disturb someone’s peace. It can also calm those who have no peace of mind.”

What makes a space like Cata Odata different from a traditional museum or gallery? How important is it to have places like Cata Odata within society as a whole?

 

Commercial galleries are less “open”, and I think that’s something we have here as a hybrid space. You can’t describe Cata Odata as just a gallery, a studio or a collective. I can honestly say that it’s too early to fully answer that question.

But why is art important? I think at some point, art has to disturb someone’s peace. It can also calm those who have no peace of mind. It can make you see things you never knew before, or see things you already knew from a different perspective.

People can come and be inspired by the art, but there are times when an artist can present something that can challenge the viewers and put them in a position to face certain things they would usually avoid – it asks questions.

What we do here (at Cata Odata) isn’t always something that inspires people, it can disturb and challenge you and that’s why it’s important to have a space like this – to challenge ourselves.

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“What we do here (at Cata Odata) isn’t always something that inspires people, it can disturb and challenge you and that’s why it’s important to have a space like this – to challenge ourselves.”


What were some of the earlier challenges you faced when opening Cata Odata?

 

Trust. To give you context, I fell in love with art pretty late, I didn’t have any connections at all with the art community, and I didn’t have the chance to continue my further studies overseas. When you open a place like this, people from the art community questioned who I was and what my background was.

In Bali, I learnt that many artists had issues with the traditional gallery system. One of the artists who we collaborated with told us about his experience with a previous gallery; he felt like a slave, where he had to produce a certain amount every month. If he couldn’t reach it, they would come into his house without any consent and take any painting they wanted. That trust issue between us and the artist was the first challenge we had to overcome.

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The trust had to be earned with our audience as well. Can we deliver with intention? And know why we want to deliver it? Gaining that trust from our artist collaborators and audience wasn’t as easy as we thought. That’s something we overcame with preparation, and making sure that we don’t break that trust we gained.

Has there been a particular project, workshop or exhibition that you personally enjoyed working on the most?

 

It’s very difficult to describe which one I enjoyed the most because I gained so many things from the different projects I had.

In general, I do enjoy it more when we can collaborate with a lot of people. It’s amazing because you feel like it’s not only about us in Cata Odata. I like it when I can engage with different communities and people. If there’s anything we can do in Cata Odata that allows more people to join not only as an audience but as participants, that’s something we can’t say no to. It’s a bigger challenge, of course, but I hope we can live up to that reputation.

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How was running Cata Odata changed you over the years? What has become more important to you? And what has become less important to you?

 

My personal goals are less important to me now. I still have my values which has to reflect onto the things I do. But now, it can no longer just be about me – I don’t want to be selfish. Sure, there’s a good selfish, like working to achieve a higher goal later on that can be enjoyed by all, but I don’t want to mix in personal goals in terms of profit, and that’s a struggle. I prefer not to enjoy my pay if I still can’t give anything to those who have helped us.

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Management has become more important over the years. I’m still struggling with it! Finding out ways to handle the things I postponed was challenging earlier on. Habits like scheduling have really helped, and even making long term strategies. We didn’t have that at all in the beginning so it’s more important now for me to write down our goals. We’re in our 4th year now, and I’m realizing that there’s no goofing around now! Having structure is important.

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“It can no longer just be about me”

What important qualities do you look for in a team? Especially a team running a space like Cata Odata?

 

They must have a very wide perspective and have the passion to want to be challenged. They must think creatively as well. As much as I like hard work, I prefer those who can work smart, but of course we need a combination of both.

We’re not only in the business of visual arts, but we want to work with people with different backgrounds and disciplines so we want to be as open as possible.

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It would be difficult to work with someone who sticks to one rhythm – and that could be as simple as someone who thinks fine art is better than kids’ art. I don’t like working with those kind of people. I believe in any kind of art form, craft or discipline.

I don’t want a team to be too timid. They must show respect towards anyone they meet because sometimes when you go to an art gallery, you might feel like you’re looked down upon from your lack of money or knowledge.

I don’t want Cata Odata to be like that. You have to treat whoever walks through the door with respect. Everyone with good intention has the right to appreciate art and access these facilities.

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“Sometimes when you go to an art gallery, you might feel like you’re looked down upon from your lack of money or knowledge.”

When you think of the word successful, who comes into mind and why?

 

I’d have to say my parents. Of course success is different from one person to another, and we could name the usual people who are hugely successful. But if my parents didn’t believe in what I was doing, I wouldn’t be here right now. When I see the amount of dedication and sacrifice that they were willing to take just to make sure that we had better opportunities than them, that is what I call success.

Where do you usually go to for new ideas? What places, sights and sounds can stimulate your creativity?

 

The first time I found theater, I fell in love with it. It was a great vessel for inspiration. It was a place where there so much was happening with scripts, characters etc, and as a set designer I had to get inspiration from different places.

My background in theater allowed me to find inspiration from everywhere and everything around me. Everything has its own beauty, but the ideas behind most of the exhibitions and events I got to curate myself came from conversations I’ve had with people.

So it’s not always a “place” that these ideas come from, it’s from conversation – especially with those who have a completely different perspective from me. These people blur the lines, and make me question things – leaving me quiet and wondering what the hell that conversation was all about. In a way, I was disrupted, but I take that feeling and formulate it into an event! It’s a curatorial practice. People are my biggest inspiration.

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“People are my biggest inspiration.”


What makes you happy and fulfilled outside the work that you do?

 

I don’t consider this as my job. It’s my life. Sometimes when you work for someone, you need an escape for recreation, but art offers me both worlds at the same time. Even if I go out, most of the time I end up at a gallery or some collective or creative space.

So it’s pretty much not too far away from what I’m doing here. I can’t draw any boundaries between work and play. But other than this, travelling makes me happy. I really feel happy visiting a place that I’ve never visited before.

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What are the unique aspects about being in Bali that influence artists who live here or visit here?

 

What’s unique about Bali is that no matter what turmoil or change happens, the whole island continues to live with the same values and traditions that they had centuries ago. That’s not something you see too often with globalization now. It’s amazing when you see it from the perspective of the Balinese. I’m not Balinese, but just imagine that; with modernization, you have to compete with the world but at the same time, you have to make sure the aspects of your traditions are managed well.

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I have huge respect for the Balinese for the amount of dedication they put on a daily basis. This comes through in the art that they do. The challenge is that when we talk about art, we see it a lot from a European art perspective, and that’s very different from what we have in Bali.

Here, the traditional artists have collective goals. Where in Europe, it’s all about your personal views and ideals. Individualism is valued more there. But in Bali, especially in traditional art forms, they still admire the value of having a collective goal.

An example are the traditional paintings; it might look boring or the same from a European when you have the whole village painting the same way. But think about it, you’re not alone in that sense, and we have to appreciate it from that perspective. Being in a collective can be a challenge for some.

People visiting Bali can really find value in being in a collective, and admire quality of the work that the Balinese have in their creative pursuits as well.

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What unique contribution do you think Indonesian contemporary artists can specifically bring to the world right now, and for the future?

 

The identity of a country such as Indonesia is very complex. How can you be a Javanese and a Papuan and still be Indonesian, when those are two entirely different cultures? As a country, we’ve only been around since 1945. Imagine being alive in 1945 and waking up one day saying “Today I can become an Indonesian.”

It’s hard to comprehend, but that’s the beauty of being Indonesian. We still have a lot of homework, and before we can go out and tell people who we are, we have to find out first for ourselves.

Imagine living with a lot of people from different backgrounds – we’re not even talking about different islands yet. You can’t even map out an entire region that has one single practice – at times, literally every village within the same region has a different practice. Indonesia isn’t a country that is being built under one certain condition, rather a country that is being built by many people in many conditions who have come together and called themselves Indonesian! It’s a huge collective of cultural heritage.

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Sure, we have a lot of great contemporary artists who have exhibited worldwide, but we’re still not in the best shape to showcase our contemporary art. If you see where they came from, they pretty much came from Jogja, Bandung, Jakarta and Bali but it’s a pity that we can only offer that much in comparison to the heritage we have.

As Indonesians in creative practices, we’re constantly challenged by so many new ideas that come at the same time. Unfortunately, those new ideas don’t always come from the country itself. Many things are adopted from somewhere else and because we aren’t one of the main actors on the global scene, we are pretty much a country that stands in the background and follows, especially on the contemporary scene.

In my personal view, it’s something I think I can fully answer better in 10 years, given my experience. But I feel like many times we are forcefully being uprooted from our seeds. A lot of what we’re doing right now seems like it has little connection to what we made before.

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“I feel like many times we are forcefully being uprooted from our seeds. A lot of what we’re doing right now seems like it has little connection to what we made before.”

If you see art history in Europe; the art movements, although different in nature, always had some kind of connection and reaction to it’s previous one. If you trace back from the renaissance time all the way to contemporary art, you can draw a line and see the connection between one another.

But in Indonesia, all these new ideas are being adopted from outside places because we feel like we have to catch up with the world in competition. Most of the time we see ourselves (Indonesian culture) as “worn out”, and if we feel that if we want to present ourselves as best as we can, we have to do it to suit their perspectives.

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It’s a pity that we in Indonesia draw lines with traditional and contemporary in that they have no connection at all. We keep challenging ourselves with new ideas just for the sake of it; finding ones that are not a true reflection of ourselves. I think we need to reset in a way.

In Indonesia, there are still many artists that still have their own supernatural beliefs. That’s something you don’t often find in many other places. It’s often that you meet someone who is well educated, but you have to have to listen to and take in something from them that seems quite illogical. That’s the kind of diversity and mysticism we can bring to the world. Coming from a country with so many different cultural aspects that we can celebrate – it’s something we can enjoy from the contemporary scene.

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Do you have any specific advice for Indonesians who want to grow their creative potential but probably don’t have the support from their community around them?

 

Know who you are. Not in the perspective of others, but you in relation to yourself. Just make sure that this is something that you want to do for the rest of your life. If you can say yes to that while being dedicated, open and respectful, then I think you’re set.


All time favorite artist?

 

I don’t have one! But I can give you my least favorite, Damien Hirst. Don’t ask me why.


One piece of advice you would give to your 20-year-old self ?

 

Be patient.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

 

Running a better version of Cata Odata!



If you would like to get in contact with Ratna, you can email her at:

ratna@cataodata.com

If you would like to know more about Cata Odata, visit:

cataodata.com

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