Crafting Awareness of Indonesian Culture
Exhibitions of some sort occur every day in Jakarta. Some of these exhibitions are informative and well-organized. Others, however, are just a jumble of products arrayed in nondescript booths in large halls.
In most cases, these booths are staffed by salespeople that may not really understand the products featured. Customers often end up bargaining for the lowest prices for items while still unsure of their quality or value.
Three years ago, a group of artisans, craftspeople and designers met to change things. They initiated a unique and interactive showcase called Meet the Makers. Since 2009, the event has been held twice a year in Jakarta and Bali.
“The idea is to present crafts as art and showcase them in an environment where their cultural context, integrity and workmanship can be fully appreciated,” said American anthropologist Sharon Lumbantobing, who is organizing the event.
Lumbantobing has lived and worked among Indonesian artisans for more than two decades. The 6th Meet the Makers, which will be held in the Koi Gallery in Kemang, South Jakarta, from Nov. 1 to 3, will feature a fine selection of traditionally patterned ceramics, batiks and housewares from all over the archipelago.
Cultural performances, such as angklung, a West Javanese bamboo percussion instrument, Dayak tribal dance from Kalimantan, and wayang kulit (leather puppet) shows, will also be highlights of the exhibition.
The Riak Bumi Foundation from West Kalimantan will also launch its new book, “Koleksi Motif Tikar Dayak Iban” (“Dayak Iban Woven Mat Motifs”) at the event.
“It will be a book of photographs of the beautiful motifs of woven-mats produced by weavers in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan,” Lumbantobing said.
There will also be an array of demonstrations aimed at helping customers understand the crafts, as well as the complex techniques involved in creating the objects.
“Visitors can also try to weave, do batik or make ceramics,” Lumbantobing said. “People need access to the makers. The crafts are all made by hand, so it’ll be interesting to know how to make them and who actually makes them.”
But the focus of the event will certainly be “the makers” — the artisans themselves. Fourteen artisans, including those highlighted below, from West Java, Yogyakarta, Central Java, West Timor and Kalimantan will personally meet and greet their customers, as well as demonstrate their crafts in the event.
Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam, Brahma Tirta Sari Studio, Yogyakarta (www.brahmatirtasari.org)
Agus Ismoyo descended from a family of batik artisans in the royal courts of Surakarta (Solo), Central Java. He was studying at the Institute of Science and Technology (Akprind) in Yogyakarta in 1983, when he met his future wife, American scholar Nia Fliam. She completed her fine arts degree at Pratt Institute in New York, before she came to Yogyakarta to study batik.
The couple then explored batik motifs and studied their significance in today’s lifestyle. In 1985, they set up the Brahma Tirta Sari Studio in Yogyakarta.
In this studio, Agus and Fliam produce fine-art batik, such as paintings and wall-hangings, as well as fashion and interior art — all with beautifully surrealistic batik designs that combine traditional batik patterns and contemporary styles.
“Each [motif] is the result of a long and complicated creative process,” Agus said. “As an artist, I have to absorb the essence of traditional batik motifs and marry them with today’s contemporary lifestyle.”
The pair also helped come up with the idea for Meet the Makers.
“In the old days, artisans were patronized by the kingdoms,” said Agus. “Thus, traditional arts grew and developed. But today, it’s different — each artisan has to survive on their own. And it’s not easy to find a market for their creativity and idealism. Thus, Meet the Makers will become a cultural infrastructure that connects the artisans and their customers.”
At the event, Brahma Tirta Sari will display a new collection of silk batik shawls, sarongs, table runners and wall hangings that are entirely made by hand.
“The event will help artisans like us stay true to our life dedications,” said Agus.
Herculana Ersinta (Erni), executive director of Dian Tama Foundation in West Kalimantan and co-founder of Borneo Chic (www.borneochic.com)
Borneo Chic is a brand of fashionable cases, handbags and wallets, which are all handwoven by traditional weavers in Kalimantan. It was established by a group of nongovernmental organizations in Kalimantan in 2010 to perpetuate the unique crafts of Kalimantan’s women.
Traditionally, the Dayak (indigenous group in Kalimantan) women wove bemban (water reed) mats and rattan baskets in the afternoon, after tending to their lands and families.
“But the craftsmanship is going extinct at an alarming pace,” said Erni, adding that the younger generation prefers to study and work in the cities.
Traditional crafts are losing their charms, too. People in the cities and villages in Kalimantan prefer to buy modern products, such as plastic mats, bags and baskets, which are cheaper and have more modern designs than bemban mats or rattan baskets. Traditional crafts are slowly becoming seen as obsolete.
“They’re something that their mothers and grandmothers used in the old days. They’re no longer cool these days,” Erni said.
Moreover, the materials with which to create these traditional crafts are also decreasing. The widespread industrialization in Kalimantan has led to deforestation that slowly erases indigenous plants, like rattans and bemban reeds.
This worrisome phenomenon has prompted several NGOs in West, East and Central Kalimantan to join hands and create Borneo Chic as a brand to showcase these traditional crafts.
They encouraged the people to plant rattan and bemban reeds in their own villages. They also encouraged the women to weave bemban mats and rattan baskets and sell them to Borneo Chic at good prices.
These products are then transported to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, and made into beautiful cases, handbags and wallets by another group of artisans.
The end products are then offered on Borneo Chic’s website and in boutiques in Ke’ku:n Cafe, on Jalan Bangka Raya, South Jakarta, and Mal Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta.
At Meet the Makers, Borneo Chic will present a new collection of notebook cases, handphone cases, handbags and wallets.
“With the sales of their products, the people will realize that the traditional craftsmanship is indeed valuable and rewarding,” Erni said.
Marie Pang, Totem Atelier, Yogyakarta (email@example.com)
Marie started fashion jewelry business Totem Atelier during a major economic crisis in Indonesia in 1998. Her electronics company was devastated by the poor economy, which led her to sell all of her assets. She and her husband moved to Yogyakarta to restart their lives, and inspiration soon came in the form of a jewelry shop in a mall.
“I felt that it was something that I could do myself to generate cash,” she said.
Marie, who had never even sewn a button on a blouse, then learned to make jewelry to sell.
“Nobody believed that I could actually do it,” she said, with a laugh.
But she did — Marie’s debut collection was showcased in a large handicraft exhibition in Yogyakarta in 2000. Her husband labeled them “Totem Atelier” as a reminder of the ancient beading traditions of Indonesia’s indigenous tribes. The debut collection was entirely sold-out at her first exhibition. The success gave her confidence to continue the business.
She soon developed her products by using beautiful glass beads imported from China, India and Thailand.
“Then, one day it struck me that I can actually make my own beads,” she said. “They’d be uniquely Indonesian and different from what’s already in the market.”
With a group of homemakers in her neighborhood in Sewon, Yogyakarta, Marie started the Beading for Life community. In this group, housewives are taught how to create beads out of old batik pieces. These colorful beads are then arranged on a string, which is also made of batik, to make beaded necklaces and bracelets. They can then sell their finished products to Marie to gain extra income for their families. There are five groups of housewives in Sewon that have joined the Beading for Life community.
At Meet the Makers, Marie is going to showcase a new collection of bracelets, brooches, earrings and necklaces.
Marie has also been invited to present her collections in Textile Art Berlin next year. To finance her travel to Berlin, Marie has made 100 limited edition batik necklaces with one-of-a-kind designs. This collection will also be available at Meet the Makers.
“We shouldn’t depend on government funds or donations,” she said. “With our crafts, we can sustain ourselves and be independent.”
Meet the Makers
Nov. 1 to 3
Jalan Kemang Raya No. 72,
Tel. 021 719 5668