My Jakarta: Khairani ‘Okka’ Barokka, Writer-Performer
Denny F. Halim
Khairani Barokka, or Okka, is an inspirational example of the ‘do what you love and the rest will follow’ way of life. With her passion and love for poetry and the performing arts, she created and organized the first live-streamed spoken word event in Indonesia. The same spirit also motivates her advocacy work in inclusive arts, so that people with and without disabilities can work together and create amazing art.
Last year, she became the first Indonesian writer accepted into the Vermont Studio Center, the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States. Okka, 27, spoke with My Jakarta about spoken word, her experiences as an artist and a writer, and her work for inclusive arts.
What is spoken word?
Spoken word is a form of poetry that originated from the Harlem Renaissance and blues music. Last month I created an event, ‘So They Say You Hate Poetry’, where I collaborated with world-class performance poets Beau Sia, Mayda Del Valle and Gill Sotu. They performed from Los Angeles, live via Polycom video streaming, for audiences in Jakarta. I hope that from this event, people will start to appreciate the art of poetry and spoken word.
Do people like it?
A lot of people came and said that they had started to like poetry or wanted to perform their own poems. Many people also went to YouTube for spoken word performances. I also got a lot of new contacts from poets around the world. Not only did they offer me opportunities to collaborate on art projects, but I’m also learning a lot about developing a spoken word community in Indonesia. I hope that someday, spoken word in Indonesia can be spoken as loudly as it in Malaysia or Australia.
Not everyone can understand poetry.
If my poetry reaches you in some way, it’s wonderful. If it’s not, one poet said, ‘I understand if you do not understand my poetry.’ Many people claim they don’t like poetry but have never seen any spoken word performances. I challenge you to watch our videos and have your mind changed. Picasso said that every child is born an artist, the problem is to remain one once they grow up. If they don’t get the message, they can still feel what I want them to feel through the performance, and that is the idea of performing arts.
What about the ‘inclusive arts’?
This is a cause and organization that helps people with disabilities or chronic diseases to create art or to be artists. There are many of these in the US and the UK. However, such organizations are far fewer in Asia, especially in Indonesia.
How did you get into in inclusive arts?
Last year, I was so sick that I had to stay home for seven and a half months with a neuromuscular illness. I did a lot of research on people with disabilities who are working in arts. I decided to work on inclusive arts. I hope that people with disabilities and chronic illnesses can have a chance to work and choose art as a career, but also to work with people without disabilities.
This is the first time you performed in Indonesia. What was the challenge?
It’s the language. Most of the poems are in English, while the audience was mostly Indonesian. I feel guilty that I rarely write in Indonesian. That’s why in the first poem that I performed, titled ‘hate =/= poetry’, or hate does not equal poetry, I included some Indonesian slang such as ‘sumpeeh loo?’ and sang the traditional song ‘Cublak Cublak Suweng’.
Talking in public makes many people break out in a cold sweat. How did you start?
I wrote my first poem when I was 5 and have liked to talk since [laughs]. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but sharing the poems with the world through performance only began around two years ago. I think one of the reasons is because people around me are so encouraging with positive feedback. Last year, I got accepted to the Vermont Studio Center and stayed there for a month. I met a book critic from NPR [National Public Radio], professors from Stanford University, the University of California, and other artists and writers. They said they liked my poetry and I was so happy, because I was so exhausted from my health problems. People were very appreciative.
Any recommended performances to jump-start our interest in poetry?
Check the video at the @America website titled ‘They Say You Hate Poetry!’ Also Sarah Kay’s TED talk ‘If I Should Have a Daughter’ and Luka Lesson’s performance ‘The Confluence’ on YouTube.
Khairani Barokka was talking to Denny F. Halim. See Okka’s website at khairanibarokka.com and her Twitter account @mailbykite.