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UWRF: Writers, artists push creative boundaries

Sebastian Partogi and I Wayan Juniarta
Sebastian Partogi and I Wayan Juniarta

The Jakarta Post

Ubud | Sat, October 27, 2018 | 10:54 am
UWRF: Writers, artists push creative boundaries

The opening ceremony of the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) (Ubud Writers & Readers Festival/Wayan Martino)

Stories of how writers and artists strive to push creative boundaries through their own works to evolve as creators were a central issue in discussions during the 2018 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) on Friday.

Whether venturing into a new medium or tackling contentious issues in their writings to enrich and stimulate their minds, these writers and artists are always eager to explore the unknown.

Indonesian visual artist Emte, for instance, discussed his latest work, a graphic novel called Gugug!, which explores how human behavior is not that much different from that of other animals.

Emte’s first graphic novel was published this year, the same year that the Man Booker Prize longlisted for the first time ever a graphic novel: Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, a thriller about a girl who mysteriously disappears.

On the same panel with Emte, who has designed book covers and illustrations, were graphic designer duo Genta Shimaoka and Sekar Wulandari Yogaster. They said they aimed to “make books cool again” in an age in which reading habits had been eroded by the distractions of online media by designing beautiful, Instagrammable book covers for their clients.

On a different panel, writer and filmmaker Djenar Maesa Ayu, who addresses sexual violence through her works, as well as writers Nuril Basri and Norman Erikson Pasaribu, both of whom have written about the gay 
experience, and Feby Indirani, who challenges Islamic orthodoxy through her short stories, talked about defying society’s power structure and supporting marginalized communities through their works.

Nuril, for instance, said his novel Bukan Perjaka (Not a Virgin) was about a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) graduate who became a gay waiter.

Feby said fiction was a suitable format to write about controversial issues because people did not perceive it to be as threatening as news due to literature’s subtle power of persuasion. “For instance, I wrote a story about a pig — an animal Muslims consider filthy — that wants to convert to Islam. Some of the readers actually empathize with the pig,” she said.

Unfortunately, Feby said, she faced backlash from some of her Muslim family members who were more conservative than she was.

Djenar, meanwhile, asserted that, as a female writer, she experienced backlash from a patriarchal society that despised powerful and creative women.

“Instead of criticizing me for my work, they criticize my personality; they criticize me for smoking and drinking beer. Some people even accused me of sleeping with my mentors [who are senior male writers],” she said.

Norman, meanwhile, said he lost his job when his envious colleague, a male heterosexual writer, outed him in the office and “exposed” his poetry, which discusses homosexuality.

“I care only about the opinions of my children and grandchildren — these people matter to me. I don’t give a [expletive] about what other people outside my family think about me. So I empathize with writers who might not enjoy this kind of support,” Djenar said.

“Silence is never a form of support. Speak up and defend your friends,” Norman said, pleading for people to stand up against the harassment of gay people.

Italian writer Giuseppe Catozzella, who wrote Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid, a novel on the conflict in Somalia, said writers needed to experience life in another country to feel the life of the “other” — a stranger in strangers’ land.

“When I say the ‘other’ I don’t just mean being a foreigner, but being unreachable by other people,” Catozzella explained.

In the evening, scores of Indonesian writers and artists paid tribute to legendary poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. The poet was honored with the UWRF Lifetime Achievement Award during the festival’s gala opening on Wednesday.

Famed mime artist Wanggi Hoed, indie musician Jovan Yudistira and Jember-based band Resonansi Ruang teamed up with rising Balinese theater company Teater Kalangan to create a multidisciplinary performance to honor the frail 78-year-old poet, whose love poems have touched innumerable hearts and inspired songs and movies.

Named after one of Sapardi’s most famous poems, Hujan Bulan Juni (Rain in June), the evening also saw a moving performance by French spoken word artist Kwal.

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