Indonesia blog post #1: Introduction and R&D in Semarang, Indonesia.

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CBC’s Creative Producer, Liam Smyth, has been selected for a residency with the British Council in Indonesia as part of the three-year UK/Indonesia season which aims to build new relationships and collaboration between the two countries. Liam will be working with his host organisation, Grobak Hysteria, for four weeks; learning about the region and working in collaboration to develop community art projects.  

The overwhelming 35˚C temperature I met on arrival in Semarang Achmad Yani International Airport was matched only by the extremely warm welcome I received from members of my host organisation, Grobak Hysteria. The 26 hour journey from Birmingham, UK had a crippling effect on me both mentally and physically. Luckily, Hysteria had kindly arranged a bedsit for myself and took me for streetfood that evening.

My first day started with a brief tour of the local area, trying some of the local food and meeting more of the team at Grobak Hysteria, including their inspirational director, Mas Adin. I was tasked with simultaneously taking in my phenomenal surroundings whilst learning to balance on the back of a high octane motorcycle. The feeling of being so far from home was oddly in balance with how much I found in common with people at Grobak Hysteria.

Motorcycle is the preferred mode of transport across Indonesia

Grobak Hysteria are a multidiscipline collective, interested in social activism and offering agency to communities in the local area. They often engage with local kampungs (villages) through the arts but are not limited to being a solely creative organisation, as they map coordinates of areas affected by natural disaster and offer young people an opportunity to participate in change. Fearless in their need to educate and inform, they have previously had altercations with police and politicians when they invited a researcher to speak about communism, something that is outlawed in Indonesia. Despite this, they have a fantastic reputation nationally and locally, displaying diplomacy and cooperating with many different organisations. Their members are a mix of postgraduates, community ambassadors, artists and a wide range of professionals that collaborate to challenge authority, tackle social issues and empower local people.

Indonesia was engaged in a long and bloody battle against communism following independence.

By the end of my first week I had delivered a presentation explaining the work that I do in the UK with Creative Black Country, explored local kampungs where we are hoping to create more work, made a plan of action for the next few weeks and tried lots of amazing food. It was probably a bad idea to visit as many galleries and musems as I did; such edifying institutions pale in comparison to the lavish cultural offerings in the surrounding streets. I often found myself timing how long was acceptable for me to feign interest in a painting, all the while thinking about what I will find walking down the next alleyway or what I will learn about the next person I meet.

Villagers in a local Kampung. 55 people live on this small street, each with a story to tell.

The kampungs are steeped in culture and historical significance but there are worries that gentrification and pressures to conform to Western values mean that residents will forget or reject their Indonesian heritage. Hysteria have been responsible for creating artwork in several kampungs including Malang, Bustaman and Petemesan that remind people of significant moments in regional and national history and improve the lives of those living there. They’ve had a tumultuous relationship with local authorities who, inspired by Hysteria’s work, decided to paint an entire village multi-coloured in an effort to bring in tourism. Although immediately captivating­, Kampung Pelangi has failed to incorporate its communities and stories into the artwork which makes the whole place feel artificial and crude in comparison to the neighbouring villages that work with Hysteria.

Kampung Pelangi

At our meetings in Hysteria’s headquarters, I introduced members to various Black Country projects. There was a lot of interest in ‘Desi Pubs’ and ‘100 Masters’. I was relieved that my tutorial and example of augmented reality software translated well. Once the initial buzz of using the AR app, ‘Aurasma’ subsided we began thinking about how we could use this technology to develop work in the kampungs. Before I arrived, I was concerned that the software might not be as accessible as it is in the UK. Luckily, smart phones are very popular in Indonesia as I learned from the countless selfies I was asked to take whilst out and about.

Members of Grobak Hysteria learning about CBC and the UK Creative Economy

The next few weeks will be spent responding to the stories of the kampung to develop a heritage trail using augmented reality to bring the walls of the villages to life. For daily updates you can follow me on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/liams_myth

I will keep this blog semi regularly updated so please do check in for my eagerly awaited second contribution, which critics are already calling ‘Indonesia blog post #2’.

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