Will Buckingham

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“Genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course; for larger patterns to emerge.”

 

Will Buckingham

Philosopher & Writer
On the Different kinds of power, Living with equilibrium, and what governments can learn from The Moomins.

 

Power. The mere sight of the word can evoke feelings of both seduction and disgust, yet it remains an immovable presence, woven into the very heart of human history. But are there – beyond the desire to control and influence the behavior of others – hidden essences of power that behave in ways we cannot see? What are the differences between the power that is gained from grasping, and the power that is gained from letting go?

One thing is for certain – despite the innately fluid nature that makes it difficult to measure – power is something that affects us all, whether we are aware of it or not.

On a sunlit terrace in Ubud, below a convocation of writers and readers, Manusia took a moment to interview a man who has spent years contemplating and writing about the human experience. Captivated by what he sees as the “sheer malleability of human existence,” Will Buckingham has lived in the spaces in between philosophy, storytelling and anthropology – forging new imaginative paths of deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

His curiosity took him to Indonesia’s Tanimbar Islands in 1994, where the then new anthropologist’s visceral experiences eventually led to him leaving the practice of anthropology behind. Will later wrote about anthropology and the ambivalences of power in his memoir Stealing With Eyes – one among the many works he has published in various genres. He is also co-founder of Wind and Bones, a project exploring the intersection between creativity, writing and social justice currently based in Yangon, Myanmar.

In this brief interview, Will addresses different ways of approaching philosophy – reflecting on the ones that have made the biggest impact on his life, as well as his intriguing relationship with power. He concludes, smilingly, with the one book he feels should be required reading for all governments.


Was there a moment in your life that sparked your passion and curiosity for philosophy?

 

I’ve always liked to step back and think about life whilst living it, and appreciated this kind of double perspective. But I actually found philosophy quite boring when I was younger. I still do at times, to be honest, even if I’ve always had philosophical tendencies. Because of this, back when I was studying anthropology, I had friends who would say to me, ‘ You really should be a philosopher,’ and my response was usually, ‘Why would I want to be one of those? They don’t seem to be much fun.’

But there’s a big distinction between philosophy as an academic discipline – which is something I have never been particularly interested in – and philosophy as a process of deeper reflection on life. I’ve always been preoccupied by questions about what it actually means to exist and to be human, what it means to relate to others and the world of which we are a part. So it is this latter approach which I find more engaging.

The philosophers of the ancient world were not academics. They weren’t writing scholarly papers. They were engaging in experiments in how to live thoughtfully and how to think better about how to live. So the kinds of philosophers that interest me are philosophers like Confucius, going around and trying to demonstrate to people how to better order their lives, or the Epicureans in ancient Greece, living in their experimental communities. What I’m interested in is this thoughtful engagement with life. I am interested in how we can do something creative about the fact of living.

 

What are a few different philosophies that you personally have found to be the most intriguing and why? 

 

My PhD in Philosophy was on Ethics and the work of Emmanuel Levinas. His main focus was the face-to-face relationship with others – the responsibility you have when encountering another human being, the fact that you are answerable for your existence. I was fascinated by Levinas’s emphasis on the primacy of responsibility, before you’ve even had a chance to ask yourself “What ought I do?” But as I went on there was also a lot about Levinas that I found increasingly unappealing, particularly his taste for high drama, and the religious tenor of his language.

“As I went on there was also a lot about Levinas that I found increasingly unappealing.”

Increasingly I am drawn to the Chinese traditions of thought. One book that I particularly love is a book by Francois Jullien called In Praise of Blandness. For me at least, Jullien’s book highlights something central to the Western philosophical tradition, and the culture that has come from it: the emphasis upon drama. In much Western philosophy, life is seen as a kind of drama, with the self as the heroic protagonist (usually a tragic hero) in this drama. What Jullien highlights in his book, as a counterbalance to this, is the whole aesthetic in Chinese thought of ‘That which has no taste,’ ‘That which is bland’, or ‘That which has no color’. To Western-trained ears, ‘blandness’ might seem like a bad thing; but Jullien shows how in the Chinese tradition, it has had a strongly positive value.

“To Western-trained ears, ‘blandness’ might seem like a bad thing; but Jullien shows how in the Chinese tradition, it has had a strongly positive value.”

Reading Jullien led me to something that I now think about all the time: the idea of the de-escalation of internal drama as one of the most important arts of living. It’s not something I’ve written much about yet, nor something I’ve found a particularly rigorous or systematic way of practicing, but it is something I am hugely preoccupied by.

By nature, I’m quite a drama queen. But since reading Jullien, I have engaged in quite a few little experiments in practicing blandness, in the de-escalation of internal drama, and I can see that there is a huge value in this.

When I manage to practice this a little more systematically, I find that life takes on a very different flavor. There aren’t all these ups and downs, all these upheavals. It isn’t a deep spiritual experience – I’m suspicious of those as well (because they are often expressed in dramatic terms). Instead, it is more a sense of equilibrium, a sense of things being simply what they are, without adding all that intensity and drama. I think there’s something in all that! I think that Edward Slingerland’s book on Trying not to Try, which also has the advantage of being nice and accessible, also touches on some of these themes.

How is humanity, at our time, transforming and evolving from a philosophical standpoint? Are we seeing new philosophies sprout out? Or old ones re-emerging?

 

Academic philosophy is often quite hung up on the ‘next big thing’, although I’m not sure that philosophy really progresses or evolves like this or whether the next big thing in academic philosophy is ever that big, or that interesting. However, in terms of genuine and thoughtful engagement with life, I’m sure there are wider cultural transformations going on all around us, even if it’s hard to see where things are heading. I neither have great hope, nor great despair, but that’s perhaps just me trying to de-escalate the drama!

 

One thing that is interesting at the moment is the questioning or even dissolving of certain distinctions and categories. One obvious example is that of gender. It’s fascinating how uneasy people are when you start questioning gender categories. And obviously anthropology has a role here as well (I was reading recently about the five genders of Buginese culture). The current exploration of the nature of gender is another thing that feels like a work-in-progress, without any clarity about where things are going. But when it comes to the breakdown of old certainties, the interesting thing may not be the replacing of old certainties with new one. Instead, the interesting thing may be the opportunity this breakdown gives us to face the genuine complexity of being human.

Another quite common narrative about cultural change is that through globalization everything in the world is being flattened out. Traditional cultures are dying, we’re all becoming more interconnected and more the same. But I don’t know if that’s true. Difference seems to spread and multiply wherever you are, especially when you’re not looking. So the world remains interesting.

“Difference seems to spread and multiply wherever you are, especially when you’re not looking.”

I was in the Tanimbar islands over 20 years ago, and I remember meeting a French guy who was outraged because the island and culture weren’t “primitive” enough! He got really angry with me about it, although I wasn’t sure that it was entirely my fault! And it’s true that there has been massive cultural change in Tanimbar over the past century. Since the first Catholic missions came in 1910, Tanimbar that has experienced huge, and probably often traumatic, cultural upheavals. Nevertheless, after some time in Tanimbar, I realized that it really was quite a unique and singular place. I remember saying to the French guy, “Yes, this place is rather ordinary, but it is also quite strange.” You just need to know how or where to look.

Since then, things have continued to change in Tanimbar. Today I can I read tweets on my Twitter timeline from once remote villages. But if I were to return (which I hope to), I suspect I’d find that there is still something stubbornly Tanimbarese about the place, across all of these changes. Recently, I wrote about how everywhere is both exotic, and mundane. Both of those things are true, I think, wherever you are. And I think that they will go on being true.


What is your relationship to power; of yours and of others around you?

 

Suddenly I start squirming! My main relationship with power would be one of unease, I think. One of the philosophers I love, Michel Serres, talks about investing some of your power in holding back from power. For Serres, genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course, for larger patterns to emerge. We’re back again with trying not to try, I think.

I myself am increasingly aware that I’m in a massively privileged position. I’m a white, more-or-less heterosexual male who comes from a fairly comfortable middle-class background in one of the richest countries in the world. So that does put me in a position of power. These days, part of my strategy in dealing with the fact of power is to try and hold back, to attempt to slip away from that power and privilege to leave room for others.

One of the interesting things about the current cultural moment is that people are much more aware of aware of the dynamics of power, so people like me are increasingly held accountable for the power that we have. And that can’t be a bad thing.

“Genuine creativity involves a certain reticence in the exercise of power, keeping a space open for larger things to take their course, for larger patterns to emerge.”

Nevertheless, power works in all sorts of different ways, so our assumptions about who has power and who doesn’t, and in which situations, are not always accurate. There are different kinds of power.

Coming back to the philosopher, Levinas, one of the things he argues is that in encountering another person, we are always subject to a demand. Levinas says that the other person we encounter has a certain height and destitution. By ‘destitution’ he means that we encounter the other person’s need. This might seem like a position of lesser power. But Levinas also emphasizes the other person’s ‘height’, meaning that in encountering them we encounter an ethical demand to respond to and meet their need, and so in a very real sense, they have a power over us.

For example, if I encounter somebody begging on the street, putting out their hand for money, from one point of view I have the power and they don’t. But on a subtle level, in that gesture of putting a hand out, I am now subject to them. Being aware of the ways in which we are subject to others in our face-to-face encounters, holding back and making space for this demand, can open us up to a greater awareness of the complexities of power dynamics, and how they play out in human life.

“Our assumptions about who has power and who doesn’t, and in which situations, are not always accurate.”

My book Stealing With the Eyes is all about navigating these dynamics in the Tanimbar islands of Indonesia. I was in Tanimbar to study the work of sculptors who worked in wood and stone, and the book is an attempt to respond to the charge put to me by one of the sculptors I met: the charge that I came to Tanimbar to ‘curi mata’, to steal with my eyes. The power dynamics of my time in Tanimbar were complex: the book explores adat, the power of the ancestors, the power of witches and the power to heal, the power of church and state, and my own power and culpability as a researcher.

In the end, I gave up the practice of anthropology due to my unease with all of these power imbalances involved, and the book explores all this. But even in saying ‘I gave up the practice of anthropology’, I realize that I’m not being quite accurate. The picture was much more complex. It wasn’t that I made an empowered decision to give up anthropology out of my unease. Instead, I crashed out of my PhD in anthropology with some kind of sickness that, I knew, my Tanimbarese friends would either blame on bad adat, or on witchcraft.

The decision to turn my back on anthropology was the end-result of recurrent fever, sickness, endless sleepless nights, and a rumbling ethical discomfort about my culpability in all these power imbalances that, in many ways, made life more difficult for those who were so kind to me in Tanimbar. So, in a way, the collapse of my anthropological career was not an autonomous decision to give up, so much as it was a justifiable stripping of my power when I came to the realization that I simply couldn’t do this anymore.

“The decision to turn my back on anthropology was the end-result of recurrent fever, sickness, endless sleepless nights, and a rumbling ethical discomfort about my culpability in all these power imbalances.”

 

If you could recommend one book that would be required reading for those working in government, what would it be?

 

It would have to be the children’s book, Comet in Moominland (Tove Jansson), which was written during the tensions of the Cold War. Effectively, the story is about a great disaster looming – a comet coming to Moominland – and the Moomins don’t know what to do about it. In the book, there is no heroic saving-of-the-world. Instead the Moomin characters, knowing that perhaps there is nothing they can do to stop the comet, commit themselves to finding out more about the comet, to understanding the reality of the situation they are in. They go on a long and dangerous journey to the lonely mountains and talk the astronomers, who tell them the comet is going to hit at a particular time, maybe 3 or 4 seconds before or after. And then they come home, gather together in a cave, and together they eat cake. Fortunately, the comet misses, and after an anxious night, a new day dawns and the world goes on.

I find this vision compelling: it suggests that the two things worth cultivating in the face of disaster are knowledge and friendship. The Moomin characters cultivate knowledge of the comet, but also a deeper knowledge of each other. And they cultivate friendship not only with each other, but also with the world as a whole, and even – in one extraordinary passage where the character Moomintroll meditates on the loneliness of comets –with the comet that is coming to potentially destroy them.

“The two things worth cultivating in the face of disaster are knowledge and friendship.”

So I read Comet in Moominland as a book is about what to do when the end of the world, or the apocalypse, is almost upon us. And this is a situation that we are all in with the looming threat of global warming. What Comet in Moominland teaches is the terrifying thought that such problems may or may not be solvable.

Of course, if there are potential solutions, we should put them in place. But on the other hand, not all problems have solutions. Here’s the terrifying thought: maybe we are all fucked. What then? Well, even then, there are things we can do. We can keep cultivating knowledge and understanding, and we can commit ourselves to friendship with each other and with the world. This may in fact be the best way of finding solutions to our problems. But if it turns out that there are no solutions, it may also be the very best we can do for each other, and for the planet as a whole.

 

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

www.willbuckingham.com

If you would like to get in touch with Will, you can do so at:

email: will@willbuckingham.com
twitter: @willbuckingham

Endy Bayuni

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“Have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.”

 

Endy Bayuni

Senior Editor | Jakarta Post
On finding wisdom in a time of information, achieving unity through freedom, and advice to his younger self.

 

Our age, like many that have come before us, is rife with boundless intrigue and complexity brought by the continual birth of new information at every moment of every day. The stark difference we see today, however, is in the great magnitude and speed at which this reality is unfolding; there are simply more of us, digesting more information, at a rate faster than ever before.

As a seemingly natural consequence, it has become easy to assume that passive consumption of information automatically renders to more wisdom – but that rarely is the case.

If anything, our time, more than ever, yearns for men and women who can give proper context and interpretation of information to transmute into deeper understanding of the human condition.

Few occupations in society house the responsibility of such a task as journalism; a profession that is, today, largely predicated on the speed of reporting, often at the expense of accuracy and true wisdom.

Here in Indonesia, sits a man who has stood in the middle of this dynamic for over three decades. A former Indonesian correspondent for Reuters and Agence France-Presse, and Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2003/4, Endy Bayuni currently stands as Senior Editor of the Jakarta Post – one of Indonesia’s oldest and most credible English newspapers.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Endy at this year’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Calm, composed and thoughtful; he recognizes a dire need for courage in journalists to transcend the habitual churning of cold and objective facts, and instead, learn to convey purpose, with piercing insight into the greatest questions of humanity through explorative and engaging storytelling.

It is a responsibility he feels, is owed to the public, and to the world at large – a perspective many of us can find solace in. Endy also shares a personal view on how we can move closer to unity, reflects on what he has loved most in his life as a journalist, and ends in honest and sage advice to his younger self.

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We live in a time full of readily accessible information on the internet, yet some people assume that more information would equate to more wisdom in society – but is that always the case?

 

 

It’s not always the case, but that would probably reflect my bias! News today is defined by technology, and technology means speed. Everyone wants the story now, and there’s just not enough time for people to reflect on the bigger picture – let alone the journalists!

That means that the wisdom, as you’ve said, is almost gone. As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, “should I put this story up? or not?” Many editors today would just tell the journalists to put it up.

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“As a journalist, there’s not enough time to really think and ask, ‘Should I put this story up? or not?’ “

It’s what we’re seeing now, and it’s a dangerous thing. As a reaction, we see too many people fighting and bullying one another as well as the rise of hate speech.

Part of that wisdom comes with experience too. In the old days, the media was led by chief editors who were in their 60’s and 70’s. Now, they are in their 30’s – it’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience. Editors today are faster and more aggressive, but one element that’s missing is that wisdom which usually comes from the years of experience.

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“It’s a big age difference in the amount of life experience.”

 

As a person who works with, and makes sense of information, how do you go about turning it into wisdom for a better world?

 

 

I simply have to give myself time to really sit with the story I’m working on. These stories will consequently impact those whom I’m writing about, and those who will be reading them. It’s not a form of censorship, but the cultivation of a degree of wisdom that is necessary for good journalism.

There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people. There has to be a moral component to journalism – something that is disappearing in this age of competition always trying to be the first.

Often, journalists know they’ve gotten the story wrong, but just put it out anyways! You can’t do that. Being in print, we learn more from our mistakes, but when publishing online, you can quickly remove a story.

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“There are times where I won’t put out a story because the consequences would be severe for the people.”

 

Do you think journalists need to be reminded of that responsibility?

 

 

As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility. Anyone serious about this profession will always go back to the basics – which means having a sense of public service. Journalism is a type of public service and many people have forgotten that.

Of course, we need to put up a story fast, but it needs to be credible and accurate. If you could choose between speed and accuracy, which would you choose? Accuracy of course.

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“As writers, we need to understand that we have the power to influence, and that power brings responsibility.”

 

In this fast world we live in, I’ve mentioned the need for re-training journalists to cater to a niche audience that wants to know the story behind the news, though the number of people in that particular group might be smaller.

But that’s something that many journalists are just not equipped to do, because many traditional journalists are trained to simply tell things as they are. They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning, and so, people lose the incentive to read beyond that – but I feel there’s an art to storytelling that can still convey the news, but is engaging and relevant.

 

“They are essentially trained to tell the punchline at the beginning.”

 

Looking back from where you are now, what are some of the things that you have personally loved most about both your life and career?

 

 

I’d say, it would be the formality it brings, compared to other jobs! On a daily basis, I don’t really need to dress up or be too rigid!

But mostly, the joy is from the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life; from those who are marginalized, to those in power. I don’t think there’s any other job that gives you the privilege of meeting all these people, and having them want to talk to you because they have stories to share – that plays a big role in the enjoyment of being a journalist.

Another one would be that I get to tell those stories – some of which I get to know before anyone else! There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on. It’s the reason why many journalists accept jobs, even though the pay is low.

So many journalists can get better paying jobs with the skills that they have, but they stay journalists because of that feeling; it outweighs having the small salary!

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“There is a feeling of satisfaction I get that you just can’t put a value on.”

 

From all your interactions and experiences with different people of different backgrounds, have you noticed any universal obstacles we seem to share, either as individuals or collectively, that hinder the unity and common ground many of us desire?

 

 

I have this internal debate on what unity is, and this is my opinion after growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, when the government kept promoting unity, but we as a people didn’t have freedom. Maybe unity is the ultimate goal, but it is something that has to come from each of us voluntarily. We tried to impose unity in East Timor, but they didn’t want it because we didn’t give them total freedom. We can’t just impose unity.

Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom. To me, freedom comes first. If the outcome of that freedom means that we are united as one nation, one family or one community, then that’s great.
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“Unity shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s freedom.”

 

However, with individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging. That’s the unity I believe in, but it’s definitely a challenge. It’s something we wish for as a nation, but as a democracy, we have to go through elections and polls etc. Unity is a process.

Despite conflicts and tensions, unity is good and is something worth fighting for, but not with the use of force: that sense of unity has to come from within.

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“With individual freedom, we have to work to make sure that each one of us feels safe and has a sense of belonging.”

 

Knowing what you know now as a journalist, what advice would you give your younger self?

 

 

I started the job when I was 18, and I think I was a little arrogant! As journalists, we think we know everything, but we don’t.

In fact, we often make mistakes, but with that being said, humility is an important part of this profession of writing, and probably every profession! So my advice would be to have humility in knowing that you’re not as great as you probably think you are – with all your flaws – but carry on and do your job.

I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of my friends and professional colleagues because of my attitude – so humility is something I teach in journalism. It’s the first quality you need.


If you would like to get in touch with Endy, you can do so at:

Email : endy@thejakartapost.com

Butet Manurung

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“There are no stupid people; only those who don’t listen to their hearts.”

Butet Manurung

Anthropologist, Author & Founder | Sokola Institute
On learning acceptance, following a higher calling and how the indigenous teach critical thinking.

 

In 2003, a lone anthropologist trudged bravely through the dense rainforests of Jambi in Sumatra. Seven weary hours had passed since the start of the trek under harsh sunlight that pierced through the canopies, when suddenly, amidst the dizzying crescendo of flies and cricket chirps, a spirited cry echoed from ahead – “Teacher!”

From a simple wooden shelter, children dressed only in simple garments around their waists, leapt and ran towards her in unison. She had finally reached her destination, one of the few isolated indigenous communities native to the Bukit Duabelas National Park; she had reached the “Orang Rimba”.

In the ensuing days, a rugged blackboard was pulled out. She began to write letters of the alphabet and pronounce each one for the children to respond to. Mathematics would soon follow. She had been here before – in fact, she had been making this journey for years.

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Source: SOKOLA

Any curious observer would see, with clarity, the purpose of her visits; education, and perhaps more specifically, Indonesian literacy. But why would such a rich culture, adept in their own language and ways of life, seek such help?

The Orang Rimba, are one of many tribes who have seen their homes devastated by the injustice brought by companies, and their illegal logging exploits. Without even a basic understanding of the Indonesian language, their rights as citizens of the country have little ground to be defended under law. As the lone anthropologist saw it, the Orang Rimba cannot depend solely on the help of others – they would need to learn to stand on their own.

And so, the SOKOLA Institute was born – a non-profit organization providing educational opportunities for marginalized people in remote areas of Indonesia. Since it’s inception, it has seen 15 schools open up around Indonesia with an estimated 10,000 people involved.

Her story was penned into a book, and further commemorated into the successful film, Sokola Rimba, raising her fame even more and earning her multiple awards as an anthropologist and educator, including a prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award.

It is the story of Butet Manurung, one that has captured and enriched the imagination thousands of people around the world – story that has endearingly touched their hearts. In a time where we yearn for meaning and remembrance, Butet stands as a beacon of hope – a bridge between the old and the new, reminding us of who we once were and where we came from.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing Butet at this year’s Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Passionate, and tactful as she is known to be, she reveals how the indigenous can teach us critical thinking, how she has changed since starting SOKOLA, whilst giving poignant advice for the youth of Indonesia.

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Butet, we know the story of Sokola Rimba, but there was also trust to be gained by other Indigenous communities that you sought to help afterward such as Sokola Pesisir, Sokola Kajang, and others. How much easier was it to gain that initial trust? And how do you know when to even help a community?

 

From our experience in Rimba, and the mistakes we’ve made, we’ve learnt a lot in how to approach a new Indigenous community and respect their ways, despite how we can often, without knowing, violate certain rules of their culture.

But rooted in that knowledge and experience, we’ve made our initial approach process easier and we haven’t encountered any strong aggression towards what we have to offer.

However, there have been times where we are told up front by these communities that they don’t need outside education, or we discover ourselves that it is not a priority for them.

I’ll give you an example – we were looking to establish a Sokola in Timor and encountered the Boti tribe. After living with them for some time, we realized that they were completely fine on their own and didn’t need the education we offered.

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“There have been times where we are told up front by these communities that they don’t need outside education”

We have to weigh out which tribes need our education, and we have a criterion for that; one important factor is a strong tradition that still dictates their everyday way of life, the second, is evidence of injustice or harm towards a tribe when interacting with the outside world, or even a complete unfamiliarity with their rights as Indonesian citizens.

These two factors within a tribe make our approach easier and more welcomed.
If a tribe has no strong tradition, they are usually looking towards formal Indonesian education, and if their interaction with the outside world doesn’t harm them in any way, then our presence isn’t really needed, and is, naturally, not attractive to them. In such cases, our programs won’t work – they might even damage their way of life.

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Source: Jurnal Asia

Personally, have you always trusted yourself in doing the right thing?

 

That depends! As an educator and anthropologist, I’m very confident in what I do and I’ve always trusted that. But when I’m confronted with politics or business, then that’s another story! From fundraising and merchandising, we at Sokola are still learning how to be financially sustainable as an organization.

 

Was there a moment where you found out your cause was bigger than you thought?

 

Indeed! it was a year into my life in the jungle; I was really isolated and had no contact with the outside world, and I had found myself fighting with illegal loggers. I took photos of them; the movie (Sokola Rimba) showed me running and escaping within 5 seconds, but in reality, it was an 11-hour chase.

I realized that this encounter was only one tiny part of Indonesia, and that illegal logging was probably happening everywhere!

I really believe that education and awareness is the answer, so I made a map of the illegal loggers in the area. I recorded their GPS coordinates, and counted how many there were. There were around 10,000 of them, and this was just around one river. There were 3 in the whole park.

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With the information, we went to court with the help of the governor, and we still lost. The big bosses of the logging industry have backup from Jakarta. How can you not be frustrated?

Education will empower the locals so that they can advocate for themselves. A prime example is the Rimba people; just last month, they successfully influenced the national forestry department to make new regulations that are based in their culture and way of life for the conservation park where they live in. This was a victory 12 years in the making.

“We went to court with the help of the governor, and we still lost.”

You’ve described how modern education given to indigenous peoples should not be a replacement of their knowledge, but an extension of it. With that in mind, what indigenous knowledge or ways of life can we incorporate into modern curriculum as an extension of what we know today?

Sure! The first thing we in the modern world can learn and implement is indigenous methodology itself. The notion of “School” in an indigenous sense is actually very research based, which is something that we are sorely lacking in Indonesia’s national curriculum.

From a young age, the Rimba people learn by going out and researching. They ask questions from their observations; “Why is the vegetation around an area like this?”, “Which direction does the wind blow?”, from that they can make traps and shelter. This is all done by research, analysis and critical thinking.

They are naturally very pragmatic and therefore often critique something. Whenever I began to teach them something new, they would ask how it would directly be useful for their own lives. Would learning multiplication help chase the illegal loggers away? If there was no direct connection, they wouldn’t want to learn.

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Source: SOKOLA

“If there was no direct connection, they wouldn’t want to learn.”

We’re not used to incorporating critical thinking in our modern curriculum. Our kids only sit there to absorb and remember! In fact, there are no indigenous communities that aren’t critical in some way – if so, they must have already been influenced by some program that eventually turns them into consumers; one that trains them to just absorb and not think.

Another thing that indigenous can teach us all is ancestor knowledge. If we want to be true Indonesians, we have to be authentic in knowing where we came from and not simply adopt western ways of life. It’s a shame that we Indonesians have adopted curriculums from outside. I think every province should have their own educational curriculum according to their way of life.

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“We’re not used to incorporating critical thinking in our modern curriculum. Our kids only sit there to absorb and remember!”

How have you evolved and changed as a person since starting the first Sokola? What has become more important for you now and what has become less important for you?

I lived for a long time in Rimba before I even began Sokola. There, I had my own transformational process – the process of turning from Butet who is from the city, to Butet who is a student of the Rimba people. I had to learn how to see and think like them.

I was alone too, which was an advantage. If you want to go learn about a people or a culture, go alone – otherwise you’re almost in another community within a community. Being alone allows you to blend easier.

But back to my process, here’s an example of it; we would go out setting traps for animals to eat, and one day we found a wounded bear cub inside one of them, with its mother crying outside. The kids that I was with proceeded to begin killing the cub, but its mother then began to chase us all!

The kids managed to climb up a tree and left me crying for my life as I couldn’t climb and they thought, “Our teacher is so stupid! She’s been here for three years but still can’t climb a tree!” Eventually they came down and helped me up; these were 8-year-olds!

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“I had to learn how to see and think like them.”

They eventually chased away the mother, and I cried and begged them not to kill the cub as I felt sorry, but they told me to be quiet, because God will hear my words and not send anymore food to their traps. So, I learned from then that anything that came into the traps was to be food for that day, no matter what.

I had to learn to think from their culture. That applies to everything else I found shocking; I had to learn to be accepting of it.

That would be my biggest transformation – learning to see the perspective of others and be tolerant.

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“That would be my biggest transformation – learning to see the perspective of others and be tolerant.”

Finally, if you can give one message to those who are looking to make a positive impact on the world, what would that message be?

 

There are no stupid people; only those who don’t listen to their hearts. I believe that we’ve all come into this world with our own passions and talents and those who don’t listen to the call of their hearts will only look back in regret.

Those who listen will truly be useful to others, because when you are happy and totally invested in what you do, you can fully maximize your potential, despite anything that might come up against you.

If you’re starting out in your passion, I strongly support volunteering in any field. The rest will follow if it is truly meant for you.

 


If you would like to get in touch with Butet, you can do so at:

Email : butet_manurung@yahoo.com
HP : +628157118389
Instagram : @butet_manurung

If you would like to know more about the SOKOLA Institute, visit

http://www.sokola.org

Facebook : Sokola Indonesia

Ade Putri Paramadita

“I don’t pursue happiness. I don’t pursue anything. I just see what happens, and I let go of expectations.”

 

Ade Putri Paramadita


Cultural Writer & Culinary Storyteller
On what makes great storytelling, having a sanctuary,
and learning to say “No.”     

 

Mavericks. They are the men and women led by an instinctive curiosity that drives them to learn and share in a manner tuned to their inner worlds. They are here. They are a plenty.  

Those outside looking in often shrug their shoulders and scratch their heads in bewilderment as they struggle to place them into the confines of a box. Any effort to do so, however, is done in vain; it is simply their innate nature to find their way out of it.

As a former radio host, MTV Trax Writer, road-manager for renowned punk rock band Superman Is Dead and heavy metal band Seringai, Ade Putri Paramadita knows all about redefining, as much as being defined; her tattoos, piercings and sharp gaze have enticed and unsettled plenty upon first glance.  

The Jakarta native is one of a few genuine cultural personalities garnering a following in Indonesia, most notably, for her expansive culinary storytelling exploits – but it doesn’t end there.

A somewhat jack of all trades, Ade could, at any given day, be documenting and photographing the delicacies of a quiet village within the archipelago, appear as a guest speaker or host at some of the nation’s most unique culinary events, be sharing her latest progression in CrossFit on Instagram, or tending to her duties as Co-Founder of Beergembira, a dedicated educational media platform on all things beer-related.           

Speaking to Ade, you will find a woman that is warm-hearted and simple as much as she is vivacious and straightforward. Her life is an example of the willingness to explore the worlds that ignite her curiosity, create vocations out of them, and share her insights for the sake of sharing, with no strings attached.

Simply put, what makes Ade interesting, is that she is interested – a quality we can all consider in setting our own barometers for success.   

In an engaging interview, she reveals where that drive and curiosity comes from, the qualities that she believes makes a great storyteller and what “Home” means to her. She also unveils her own views on happiness, her greatest fear, the link between a culture and the food they eat, and an unlikely cross-cultural dish she loves most.

 

Enter, Ade

 

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Ade, in your own words, what makes a great storyteller?

 

Passion! If you don’t have it and just work to get paid, that will make the difference in storytelling. With passion, your work will be more sincere, it will be done and said with more love.

My stories are a product of my own exploration; from conversations with people and seeing their processes. I want to know these things, not to get paid, but because of my curiosity to discover something new to share to others. There is a sharing aspect to it.  

There are certainly other qualities that make a great storyteller, and many people have stories but simply don’t know how to tell them in a way that excites others or arouses the curiosity to want to know more.

Of course there’s an element of natural talent, but it’s something that can be learned – most notably, where to start the story. It’s what we think of first when wanting to tell a story right? Where do we begin? I never would start a story with the main point of it.

 

Ubud food Festival 2017
Image Credit : Matt Oldfield

 

“Where do we begin? I never would start a story with the main point of it.”

 

I can talk to you plainly about garlic for example and within a minute, I’m sure you’d walk out the room. But what if I said, “Hey! I see what you’re eating – in Indonesia, we have an equivalent of that, but instead of using garlic, we use…”

So there’s an art to arousing curiosity in the beginning of the story, then you can build on that to present what you want to share. We do so with sentences, with visuals, or through demonstration of the process. You can cook while telling a story for example, and in during that, you can ask people to come and smell and taste the raw ingredients.

The way you tell a story matters. Not everyone can fantasize or imagine what something can look like. It matters to the listener when you show them how to add lemongrass and lime, rather that telling them – especially when they can’t cook. You have to be ready to tell your story to everyone, which means having outlets that incorporate the senses.

 

Taken by @indrakepakisan @pukupictures
Image Credit: @indrakepakisan @pukupictures

 

“You have to be ready to tell your story to everyone, which means having outlets that incorporate the senses.”

 

Why are you a storyteller? Was there a moment when you knew your life would revolve around food?

 

I grew up in a family that loved to eat. My mother had a catering service and my grandfather would take some members of the family abroad just for lunch or dinner. I didn’t get much pocket money back then, but I saved and saved until I had enough money just to buy caviar! We all were foodies from before!

Why did I decide to become a culinary storyteller? Back in the day, I used to have a Multiply account, which was a lot like Myspace, but you could write down stories.

I didn’t know much about food that time, but I loved sharing what I experienced wherever I went to eat. I documented things like the restaurants I went to and meeting and talking to waiters – the entire experience of eating there, and not only about the food I ate.
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“I saved and saved until I had enough money just to buy caviar!”

 

From there I kept on writing, then I got an offer for Radio Female in Jakarta where they had a show called “Food for Fun”. We explored food in a fun and lighthearted way, like food you would have on a first date for example. That job put me in a position where I had to constantly find more angles to talk about in the world of food.

I also worked for MTV Trax Magazine and was asked to write about music, but I asked if I can write about food instead. There weren’t many magazine columns dedicated to food and reviewing restaurants at the time. So from that point, I decided to go further into it and tell more people about my discoveries.

There were a lot of good food bloggers already, but they were all saying the same things and limited to only giving their opinion. I wanted to write something more, so I spoke to the chefs and owners, and I also took the recipes home and put a twist on them. I don’t say if a dish is good or not, I simply describe the experience of what I taste and the colors I see.

 

 

 

Who else would you consider to have done a great job in culinary storytelling? Why?

 

The late Pak Bondan Winarno. As a former journalist, his use of language was incredibly descriptive in a way that was welcoming and not boisterous. He wrote in such an exciting and enthusiastic tone and I didn’t want to put down his books.

His experience was incredibly vast, and he taught me as a writer to always ask questions to chefs because we can’t always leave things to assumption. You can taste turmeric in a dish for example, but you have to make sure.

You can’t just go about on your assumptions then write about it without being 100% sure. You’re sharing this to other people!

 

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Bondan Winarno | Image Credit: AirMagz

 

As a former journalist, his use of language was incredibly descriptive in a way that was welcoming and not boisterous”

 

He would say things like “Go to Sanur and try this Squid Lawar. The family running it is in their 3rd generation, and it started off like this..”  Doesn’t that make you want to try the food even more? to appreciate every bite? You will appreciate everything more once you know the story behind things.    

It goes both ways too! Chefs and owners will appreciate it too if you’re excited about their story. It becomes an exchange.              

 

Do you think you can tell about the characteristics of a people or a culture by the food they eat? What is one of the best examples you know?

 

Oh yeah! There are many cultures where entire gatherings are based solely around food and the act of eating together. Some of the Manadonese people in Sulawesi, for example, live on open grasslands , and the grandmother would prepare a big vat to cook Bubur Manado (Manadonese Porridge) and the members would go out together and literally find anything out on the fields that can be added to their bubur.

The whole point is to cook together, eat together, and drink together around music. You can see how open they are as a culture, from the willingness to add in whatever they find.

You see that they aren’t fundamentally a culture of individualism – it’s about the whole. This can be found throughout Sulawesi. They gather around to eat and drink a lot, despite sometimes struggling to afford all of it and without the need for a special occasion too. You can notice that they are a culture that like to make other people happy.

 

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“You can see how open they are as a culture, from the willingness to add in whatever they find.”


I’ve never ran into the opposite. But the Javanese, particularly in Jogja or Solo, like to take Dutch dishes and turn them into their own.

There are some recipes that are named as Keraton (Ruling Class) recipes – but all of these dishes are actually Dutch, and changed to fit the Indonesian tongue. Selat Solo for example is actually Beef Stock, from the Netherlands, but made sweeter.

Other Javanese food is very rural, like Sate Kere, which is made from tempe because they weren’t capable of buying beef, but they put so many spices onto it that it tastes like beef! Through those two examples, you notice how the caste system is ingrained within society, where people are categorized based on who they’ve descended from or how much money they make.

Even now, there are cultures that are still like that in Java, where you find people who can’t eat the things we others eat because you’re not on the same “level.”

This is why Jokowi (President of Indonesia) won people’s hearts, because he invited people to come eat together, especially around street food. He treats you as the same.

 

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What is your greatest fear?

 

My biggest fear is that I actually try to be fearless. Trying to kill all my fear, actually makes me scared. “What am I trying to prove?”,  I thought. I was afraid of heights, so I went wall climbing. I was afraid of being upside down, and so I learnt how to do handstand pushups – all to prove myself that there was nothing to be afraid of.

My friends ask me, “There has to be something or someone you’re always afraid of!”, and recently I remembered how afraid I was to eat something still living – but, for once, I thought “It’s OK, I’m human.”

Killing things right on the spot is just not my thing. I’m not sure that will change, and that’s probably good. As human beings, we need a little fear.
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“As human beings, we need a little fear.”

 

What self-limiting beliefs did you have to change to become the person you are today?

 

Several years ago, I had a huge life change due to a break up from a long term relationship. I really was in a comfortable time in my life, but it made me realize that not everything I thought was “good” for me was actually good. From that moment, I’ve really learnt acceptance and to go with the flow.

 

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“I’ve really learnt acceptance and to go with the flow.”

 

What’s one thing right now you wish you could be better at?

 

Managing myself! I’m really good at managing people, but not myself. I was also the type of person to always say “Yes” to any offer. I’m now learning to sometimes say “No”.

I always try to please and help others, but I learnt that sometimes you can’t. How can you help others when you can’t even help yourself? If you don’t have time for yourself, how would you have time for others? That’s something I can be better at.

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

 

Something you don’t have to pursue. I don’t pursue happiness. I don’t pursue anything. It’s all about process. Looking for happiness – you might get there – and it can turn out to be something you weren’t even looking for. I don’t really have goals, and that means things often come as a surprise.

I’m easily pleased, and if I find something that makes me happy, I simply embrace it, because tomorrow it might not be there.   

 

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“I don’t really have goals, and that means things often come as a surprise.”

 

You seem to have the drive to create projects or vocations from the things you’re passionate about most, whether that be in music or food. Where does that drive come from?

 

I’m a bipolar type 2 – it’s a little crazy somehow, my brain just can’t stop thinking, and that’s how I get a lot of ideas. Sometimes I close my eyes to sleep, but then I get an idea which I just have to type out and send to people.  

I meet a variety of different people and like actually giving them all my ideas. I love it when they take them; I don’t feel bothered, I feel proud. I think it started around when I was in my early 20’s –  I used to take a lot of drugs, maybe it came from that!

 

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In a digital age of quickly digested life experiences that are easily forgotten, what do you think are ways we can explore the things we love in a more meaningful and richer way?

 

So, with Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia – a community I am involved as the PR, we’ve been working with a travel agent to do these culinary trips – a multidimensional culinary experience. We take you to the markets to see what they have, and I invite the vendors to tell stories of their produce.

We then go to the farms and fields, see how farmers harvest and forage for crops, and teach you how to do it. We then head over to watch the villagers cook in a hands-on demo. You can try the food, and then we eat together.

It’s something you won’t forget easily, because you’ve experienced the process. You can’t get these in big cities, and too many places nowadays open just for aesthetics, but they have no story about the food or drink they serve.

So I would love for others to take that kind of mindset and do it themselves; to go deep in whatever they do, whether that’s exploring culture or food. From that deep experience you will develop an appreciation for places and cultures and will naturally want to share them.

 

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Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

“I would love for others to take that kind of mindset and do it themselves; to go deep in whatever they do.”

 

When you hear the word “Home”, what comes to mind?

 

I rented this small room in Jakarta; it’s more of a cocoon. I love being there because it’s like a sanctuary where I can just do nothing. I’m a person who loves meeting people, but sometimes I just need to turn off everything and be by myself without people telling me what to do.

This room even feels more homey to me than my own mother’s home! It’s very messy. My son told me that messy rooms are a sign that you have too many things on your mind, and I say “Yeah! I’m twisted somehow!”

 

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Ade’s Sanctuary| Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

“Sometimes I just need to turn off everything and be by myself without people telling me what to do.”

 

When you hear the word “Home”, what dish comes to mind?

 

Any form of Balinese nasi campur. There are a lot of spices, but they’re always balanced with plenty of meat and vegetables. You have spicy, salty, umami, and sometimes sweetness too. It’s an organized mess that you want to pour yourself into. Most even come with their own broths!  

 

What would you like to change about the world for the better?

 

People nowadays just look for more money for a living – they don’t do things that make them happy. There’s too much greed, and I would want that to change.  

 

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People nowadays just look for more money for a living – they don’t do things that make them happy.”

 

What is your most treasured possession?

 

My bicycle. It was given to me by my ex boyfriend! After we broke up, I decided to sell my car and use the bike to go to as many places as I could.

I was followed on it by some muggers one early morning, and I told my friend who was in a car behind me, “Let’s go face them!” I wasn’t about to let my bike go, so I got off and tried to fight them off! This bike is like my own kid!      

 

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Image Credit: Ade Putri Paramadita

 

What is the most unlikely cross-cultural dish you’ve tried and loved?

 

Gohu Tuna, from Ternate in Maluku. It’s one of Indonesia’s 3 ceviche dishes and came about because the Spanish were there, and it was inspired by their cuisine.

People think its like sushi, but the raw tuna is cooked with the acidity of lemon cui (key lime) and mixed with chillies, red onions, coriander and coconut oil to give it fragrance. It’s so so good. It’s surprisingly more well known in northern Maluku.

 

 

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Gohu Tuna | Image Credit: Prima Rasa

 


 

If you would like to get in touch with Ade, you can email her at

hello@adeputri.com

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

https://adeputri.com/

Aleix Oriol

“I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable.”

Aleix Oriol

Photojournalist & Writer
On finding relationship to suffering, confronting truth, and his idea of perfect happiness.

 

You and I are bound by fundamental undercurrents of the human experience; building blocks of reality have been arduously meditated on over the centuries by philosophers, artists, poets and presidents, and surpass that of our own human species. What binds you and I, and everyone else is the reality that, however subtle or monumental, we all find happiness, and all suffer together.

From the violent moment of our birth into this world, we cry. As blossoming children, we begin to laugh and smile; this cycle spins – to the moment of our last breath – without cessation.

What is your relationship to suffering – of your own, and of others? And how can you find meaning in the midst of it? These are answers that each person – each generation – must discover for themselves.

One man’s decision to follow his calling has brought him face to face with some of the worst suffering known in recent times. Having travelled to over 60 countries, humbly plying his trade as a photojournalist and writer, Aleix Oriol has witnessed and documented one of the tragic consequences of war; the refugee crises that has spilled into Iraq, Syria, Greece and Lebanon to name a few.

Exposure to such distraught and loss to may lead one to question, is suffering necessary to life? Necessary or not, it exists – and yet, as Aleix has been made to understand, there is a duality to such an inescapable facet of our existence; within the rugged ruins of a devastated city, the beauty of the ordinary, everyday joys were held closer to his heart – yet – his deeply profound moments of self transcendence abroad were counterbalanced by the drudgery of everyday life back home.

Despite the tidal waves of emotion, Aleix took up the responsibility to tell the stories of those whose voices cannot be heard – truths that many of us are unwilling to face – acknowledging, in the process, that life is not about avoiding suffering, but in deciding what is worth suffering for.

Now, based in Bali, he aims to continue this calling wherever it may lead him. he is honest and true to his work – a man not concerned with grand recognition or awards. In our compelling interview, he calmly revisits his experiences and how they have seen him relate to his own suffering; leaving room to meditate on his perfect idea of happiness, his most memorable photographic moment, and how he overcame a prejudiced childhood environment.

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Aleix, for those who aren’t too familiar with Photojournalism, tell us, what does a photojournalist do and why you think are they important.

 

A photojournalist documents what many people are not willing to document. They go the extra mile to photograph conflict and situations that aren’t really suitable for conventional journalists.

What they do is really important, especially now when so many photojournalists are being threatened by governments. Some have been killed or kidnapped. Some had their freedom taken away from them just because they wanted to inform and report on the situations. Now more than ever, they are really important.

Of course, there are many types of photojournalists, and some have their own specific focuses; refugees, injustice, or the environment for example. They shed light on any situation where people can’t really speak for themselves and don’t have a voice. It’s very important for a photojournalist to be there.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

They often travel with someone who is a natural writer or a journalist, who writes the articles, while the photojournalists take the images that really strike the people. I feel that you can read an article, but without the powerful images to go with it, something will feel missing.

There are many situations today where people need to be informed and we have all these platforms that are outside mass media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – we have everything we need. It’s important to have people out there to tell the unbiased truth. Sometimes that’s impossible because their company heavily edits the content, but a reliable media source will tell the story as it is. That’s our goal as photojournalists – to show reality as it is.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“That’s our goal as photojournalists – to show reality as it is.”

It can sometimes be very precarious. Journalism now is not as respected or valued as before, and the money paid to freelancers today is ridiculously bad. Therefore, a lot of journalists unite and create associations so that they can promote their work together and sell their projects in a more collaborative way.

Photojournalism is also fine line to walk in terms of ethics. There are some who have no ethics at all because the pressure is so high on them to get that perfect shot without respecting the people. For example, at any given arrival spot for refugee boats, you can have up to 20 photojournalists waiting.

I saw that in Greece, where we waited for boats that were coming from Turkey. They arrived with people having spent days at sea. They were hungry, freezing and thirsty. When they arrived, some people were already pointing their huge cameras right in front of their faces to get their initial reaction upon landing.

I felt disgusted and I didn’t like that. Many were complaining about it too. It’s important to know, in any situation, that you are first a human being, then you are a photographer. These are human beings you’re documenting, not “subjects” for you to get awards or recognition.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

You started as a travel photographer, what made you want to dive into photojournalism? Was there a certain key moment?

 

It was a coincidence actually, and it felt like a natural evolution. I was selling some articles for travel magazines at the time, and during one of the trips, I found myself in Iraq. I knew there were refugee camps around the area that I was staying in, and thought “Wow, I have to see this.”

I was already into activism and politics because I wanted to understand how and why the world works the way it does. This was an opportunity to know, first hand, what was going on in a refugee camp. I didn’t want to read anymore newspapers and see statistics because at the end of the day, these events get turned into numbers, and you feel numb after a while. All you read is “100 dead here,” or “100,000 refugees are there.” I wanted to see faces, names, families and feel their feelings.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I wanted to see faces, names, families and feel their feelings.”

 

My path in photojournalism started from there, and it just took off. I spent my own money going to different places, and I wasn’t even sure that I was going to sell my work. But I found a magazine in Spain that was publishing sensitive issues like immigration in an open manner. I felt comfortable working with them and started doing it more and more.

I still do some travel photography, but I lose touch sometimes because it’s a bit too “light”, especially after doing photojournalism. I want to do something a bit more meaningful to me. Of course, if you go the extra mile, you can make amazing travel photography, but for me, it just felt like I wasn’t helping people.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

As you mentioned, the transition seems pretty natural. Is that something that often happens to travel photographers?

 
Yes! It does. Many photojournalists are travelers first, then make the transition to focus on different issues to cover. Every year I want to go deeper and deeper into more intense environments or situations – you almost become an adrenaline junkie and want more and more!

It’s actually an interesting issue about this job – if you do it full time, you can never go back to doing anything else. The “rush” is impossible to get anywhere else, and you can end up becoming a war photographer.

 

Has that ever tempted you?

 

It did! I’m not a war photographer, but my first contact with a war zone was in Syria and that was by chance also! As always, when you start a trip, it’s very organic and you never know what’s going to happen. You evolve as your trip is evolving.

I was in Turkey, right on the border with Syria, and ended up in a community center ran by Kurdish people who were helping smuggle journalists into Syria. They were so generous, as they would just give you accommodation and tell you when it’s safe to cross. There, I met a lot of photographers and journalists; it was my first contact with real professionals working for huge agencies and media outlets.

While at the community center, on the border with Syria, we waited for a week, doing nothing but just wait, and wait. That’s the life of a journalist too. It requires a lot of patience because of the negotiations involved and the political issues. There are plenty of hours to fill.

Suddenly, we got the call and we managed to get smuggled into Syria. We were in an area that was recently liberated from ISIS and stayed there for a week. I felt bad – really, really bad. It was a shock to me because everything was devastated.

(more on the story later on the interview)

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I felt bad – really, really bad. It was a shock to me because everything was devastated.”

 

Every project is different, but are there certain things you always look for within yourself in every photography project?

 

I listen a lot to what people say when they see my work, because when you’re always looking at your own stuff, you lose perspective. I can see my work 100 times but then can’t seem to remember what my point was.

But if you ask people, they would point out one common thing, and that is that I capture feelings and emotions. The eyes of the people I capture tell a story. Even though you don’t know their story, there’s enough shown for your mind to create your own ideas about what that person is telling you. It can be pain, fear, or joy. If you don’t know how to capture that, then I think your photos will be empty.

So what I aspire to do is to simply capture emotion. I want the photos to have a voice. If there wasn’t any text, I want the photos to speak for themselves.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“The eyes of the people I capture tell a story.”

 

In your own opinion, what do you hope your photographs can contribute to society as a whole?

 

I just want people to know the unbiased truth. I’ve done conferences in small community centers – in neighborhoods with a lot of working class people who sometimes can’t afford go to an exhibition, which can cost a bit of money to go to. These are humble conferences where I want people to see the whole picture.

99% of where they get their information is from the mainstream media, and so in the exhibitions, they realize many things that are actually happening in different countries.

I also did exhibitions with the local town council with official money involved. This meant that some politicians came into my conferences. I try not to be too politically correct in front of them and I tell it as it is. It can be uncomfortable.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

“I try not to be too politically correct in front of them and I tell it as it is. It can be uncomfortable.”

Ultimately, my responsibility as a person going to these places is to show where we can be doing more. I’m just trying to get people to think outside of the box.

The current system we live in makes reality become more uniform, where we have to think the same way, watch the same things, eat the same things. There’s so much more out there.

You have to think for yourself, and if you see something wrong, say it. Don’t be afraid.

 

What is one of your most memorable photographic moments?

 

For the simplicity of it, it is the photo of the girl looking right at the camera from the tent. I was walking around a camp in Iraq and there was a little girl. She was silent but she was following me around and I was talking to her. She would just smile.

When it came to that moment when I saw her looking out her tent and the lighting was good, I prepared the camera. But then, she stopped smiling for the picture. There was suddenly a slight intensity to her look – one of a kid who has been through a lot.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

That’s one of the moments that stuck to my mind. It was so simple, yet the deep connection was there, despite her being someone who I couldn’t communicate with. It was a humbling experience.

We all have our inner child inside of us. As you can see in my pictures, kids are a very important part of my photography. For some reason, children can move you more so than an adult would.

Children are so pure, and people become deeply touched when seeing children go through horrible situations like that because they haven’t developed the tools to cope with them.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

“We all have our inner child inside of us. As you can see in my pictures, kids are a very important part of my photography.”

 

You’ve travelled to over 60 countries and there’s a lot information to process when travelling and photographing in environments outside your comfort zone. Is this adaptability something you’ve always naturally had? 

 

 

I was very fearful as a kid; very shy and always afraid. That’s why I started travelling – to get out of my comfort zone. I started travelling when I was really young like any other backpacker from Europe who wanted to see the world.

I had then developed the urge to go off the beaten path and explore places that were away from the mainstream spots. At some point, I knew that I had to somehow use these skills that I’ve developed travelling for my photography projects.

But as a photojournalist, sometimes you get to a place where you have no idea what to do or where to go, which is why it’s crucial to find a “fixer” or a local who is more knowledgeable, and that helps you to adapt.

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“I was very fearful as a kid; very shy and always afraid.”

What are some of the self-limiting beliefs you had to change over the years to become the person you are today?

 

We all are defined by our environment to some degree. I was born and raised in Spain – a catholic country. My parents and grandparents lived through a dictatorship in a very tight regime. This defined them and their beliefs that they passed on to me. That means that I was brought into this world with beliefs that are already engrained in me without even knowing that they were there.

Spain was not as cosmopolitan as it is today. 30 or 40 years ago, all you saw were Spanish people of different origin. There was no diversity, and that limits you because you never see anything different.

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So growing up in that environment can make a little bit discriminatory, especially as a kid soaking it all in. In Spain, for example, gypsies were looked down upon.

When I started developing myself as a young adult, I saw a lot of prejudice within that way of life, and so I started to remove myself from it. Travelling opened my mind and perspectives. My prejudice and preconceptions about social class and social status were blown away. I thank migration because it managed to turn Spain into a multicultural place.


And what about your current perspective on Fear?

Fear is the key to everything when developing yourself as a person. It can limit you and prevent you from doing what you love. Fearing that you’re not good enough, and that you’re not special in any way – for me I’m still struggling with that! Even when I travel to new places, I’m still scared in some way.

The truth is, all these insecurities will always be there. But you have to learn to use that to your benefit. It’s about acknowledging, “Yes, I am very scared, but I will go.” And when you’re there, it becomes, “I’m still scared, but I’m here.” It’s a difficult process to go through, but if you can do it, you will be liberated. You work hard, but then welcome the results that come.

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“It’s a difficult process to go through, but if you can do it, you will be liberated.”

Suffering is something we all share on different levels. How has confronting the suffering you’ve seen during your time in Iraq, Syria and other places changed your relationship with it?

 

As you’ve said, we all suffer in different ways in life. But when you’ve witnessed the kind of suffering that is life threatening – situations where people have lost everything (as I have seen), then you’re forced to find a healthy way to integrate it into your life.

It’s really tough, especially in times where you can’t do anything directly about it. I didn’t know how to deal with it back then; I was taking photos and talking to people – soaking everything in like a sponge.

I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable. Despite losing everything, they had the will to persevere and continue to survive and rebuild their cities.

So there’s always a duality. Despite the situation, they were very welcoming and grateful that we were there. But they were also wondering why we came, and why we weren’t at our homes. My heart was mixed with pain and joy.

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“I saw people who have lost everything; children who have lost their parents. But I also saw that the human spirit can be unbreakable.”

I felt very anxious a lot of the time. You don’t know how safe it is. There could be an attack at any moment because there were still a lot of hidden ISIS members around the city even after it was liberated, and they didn’t know how to find them.

There were emotional moments where people would break down in front of you, and you can’t help but do the same if you really connect to them on an emotional level, instead of just being a person there asking questions. I’ve seen journalists who do that and just go. For me, however, it was about being with the people.

I’ve had my moments, and in the end of the day, I learned that if you want to be in photojournalism, you have to have some strength and skills to process these situations, because there is a price to pay. Your heart can grow cold like a rock, but it can break down to make a new one. That’s what happened to me at least. But for some people, it can be the other way around.

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“Your heart can grow cold like a rock, but it can break down to make a new one.”

Since then, I try my best to be more grateful and make everything relative; not to get stuck on petty issues that I shouldn’t really care about. Not being able to afford the latest shoes, or buying a new motorcycle – they don’t really matter to me. What matters is having people that truly care about you, doing things that you love, and being kind to others.

I like to think that I have always been compassionate, but there were times where I’ve turned my head and looked the other way, because it’s easier, and you don’t want to suffer. But when you’ve seen real suffering, you can’t help but notice the small ways in which we suffer in our every day life. It made me want to help people more.


So, when heading out to these places, there is an acceptance you have to carry – that these things happen and you will see them?
 

 

Totally. Sometimes it’s a selfless thing to do. I’m going to put my life and my mental health in jeopardy so that other people’s voices are heard. I was willing to pay the price, and I did. But looking back, I was just doing my little part.

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Copyright Aleix Oriol

 

After being in a situation like that for the first time, what did it feel like to then come back?

 

I was supposed to head to Georgia and Armenia after Syria, but the shock from the experience caused me to just return to Turkey and book a flight back home to Barcelona. When I came back to Turkey, I initially thought, “If I knew what I was getting into in the first place, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Looking back at the time doesn’t make me feel “happy,” because nobody can be happy after being in a place like that. But as I said, I feel like I did my little part, and that was worth it.

The issue of coming back happens a lot with war photographers. They have to deal with a lot of mental health issues after absorbing so many things. For me, it was difficult in the weeks after going to Syria. I was still suffering from the experience from a bit of trauma of course. I stayed flat on the sofa for two weeks.

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“It was difficult in the weeks after going to Syria.”

It was bad, not because the entire experience was intense, but it was addicting. As I said before, it can leave you wanting for more. Crossing borders and having tanks pointing their guns at you – how can you possibly find that in your everyday life? How can you find the same emotions while doing something greater than yourself?

I’m not saying I have delusions of grandeur, I’m just a normal person. But in terms of personal development, coming back home felt like nothing made sense anymore. I was in a very intense situation where every experience was life-changing, and now everything was the same.

How do you deal with that when people don’t understand what you’ve been through? Many people enjoyed hearing my stories for about 15 minutes, but then quickly wanted to change the subject after being confronted with this reality.

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“I was in a very intense situation where every experience was life-changing, and now everything was the same.”


Despite coming face to face with suffering on that level, what were some moments of joy that you’ve experienced there?   

 

They were the little moments of normality these people had within very abnormal life circumstances. Nothing is normal living in a refugee camp with all the tents, but you find joy when you share a little moment playing football, being silly with the kids, or playing backgammon with a father, or talking to the women of the family if they are open enough to talk to you.

 

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Having this closeness is the key. It makes us forget that we’re here and what has happened, and I feel happy.

Of course I can’t speak for all of them. Many are still extremely traumatized and don’t want to talk, but there are little “capsules of happiness” that came from those who were so generous and open to foreigners.

 

What have you been more aware of in your own life as a result of your experience?  

 

I’ve been made more aware of how lucky we are to live in a place where there are no bombs falling from the sky or shootings on the street. I have to remind myself of that, because we all can get very spoilt. Sometimes I feel guilty for having all these things, but I need to deal with that properly by just appreciating the little things, like eating or going to the cinema with a friend.

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“Sometimes I feel guilty for having all these things, but I need to deal with that properly by just appreciating the little things.”

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

 

This is tough! But for me, it’s very cliché, and that is that happiness is not a destination, but more of a journey. No one is going to be happy all the time, and for me, happiness a succession of little moments that make me feel grateful and fulfilled. These small moments give you the will to keep going.

Happiness to me, is also accepting what you have, and not demanding for more than you can handle. I’ve had my problems with that; in trying to reach too much too fast.

In this time of social media, there’s always the pressure to be the best at what you do; we are fed the idea that we have to do big and grandiose things. This competitiveness brings misery and frustration because not all of us can be the best – so why not just be who you are, and enjoy it?

 

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“Why not just be who you are, and enjoy it?”

 

What would you like to change about the world for the better?

 

Inequality, injustice and greed. If we can limit those, then we can fix a lot of problems.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to those wanting to go into photojournalism?

 

Don’t do it! But if you decide to anyways, persevere. You have to be really passionate about it because it’s going to give you a lot of challenges; mentally and economically. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a lot of time. Many doors will be closed, but the more you work the more they will open.

 

If you could describe living in Indonesia in one word, what would it be?

 

Comfortable, and stimulating! I know that’s two words, but that’s what I’d use.

 


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

aleixoriol1@gmail.com

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

http://www.aleixoriol.com/

Dicky Senda

With : 

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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

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.

Merayakan Murni

“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