Niniek L. Karim: Actress,
lecturer and advocate of
women's rights, 'green

Niniek L. Karim
Niniek L. Karim

As Niniek L. Karim watches her students conduct a rehearsal for the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the University of Indonesia's Faculty of Psychology, she quickly makes a phone call to a catering company to order ice cream for another meeting.

"I'm often reminded to reduce my activities, but I just can't," senior film actress-cum-lecturer Niniek said in an interview with The Jakarta Post at her campus in Depok, West Java, last week.

The day before the interview, Niniek, who teaches social psychology, was still in Yogyakarta shooting scenes for a film titled Mei, which tells the story of the May 1998 riots.

The riots, which occurred in Jakarta on May 13, 1998, saw the destruction of thousands of buildings belonging to ethnic Chinese-Indonesians. Dozens of Chinese women were reportedly raped during the riots, which eventually led to the downfall of then president Soeharto on May 21.

Niniek, who once received a Citra award (Indonesia's highest film award) for best supporting actress in Ibunda (Mother), is set to perform in a theatrical monologue titled Perempuan Menuntut Malam (Women Seize the Night), which will be staged at Graha Bhakti Budaya in Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) Cultural Center in Central Jakarta from March 8-9.

"The monologue tells the stories of three marginalized women: A politician, a sex worker and a housewife," the 59-year-old said of the play that was produced and co-written by actress-cum-activist Rieke Diah Pitaloka.

Niniek, Rieke and another well known actress, Ria Irawan, will play the three lead female characters in the play, which is to be staged to commemorate International Women's Day on March 8.

Niniek said that although many women in Indonesia were still undermined, many had succeeded in making significant achievements.

"For instance, as the daughter of an amtenaar (civil servant during the Dutch colonial era), I was trained with many skills, especially in the home, but my brothers were not. They were spoiled. It made me more determined to face challenges," she said.

She acknowledged that Indonesian women were currently facing hard challenges, including limited access to education and as victims of domestic violence.

"But I believe the real challenge is with ourselves. If we challenge the obstacles, we could change the situation," the mother of two said.

Born in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Jan. 14, 1949, Niniek began to learn performing arts when she joined a campus theater group.

She won a best actress award in a campus theater festival held at TIM in the 1970s. A noted director, the late Teguh Karya, then asked her to join his theater company.

Since then, Niniek has featured in Teguh's films, including in Ibunda and Pacar Ketinggalan Kereta (Missed-The-Train Lover), which won her a best supporting actress award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1990.

Fame, it seems, has not changed her. Niniek is close to her students, who call her Mbak (older sister) during their rehearsals.

As well as the students, dozens of faculty alumni, including chairman of the National Commission on Child Protection, Seto Mulyadi, also joined the Ketoprak traditional theater performance, which was staged to mark the psychology faculty's anniversary on March 2.

"Actually, I had a packed schedule. But since Mbak Niniek asked me to join, I could not refuse," Seto told the Post during the rehearsal.

"Many students like her. She is beautiful and smart," said Seto, who, along with his twin brother Kresno Mulyadi, performed in the Ketoprak as Nakula and Sadewa, twin knights from the Mahabarata epic.

As well as the theater performance, the anniversary celebration, titled "Green Psychology", also included a bike-a-thon and traditional food bazaar.

"We used a green theme because we believe environmental damage is determined by our behavior toward nature," she said.

Niniek said a change in behavior -- a significant topic in the study of psychology -- could contribute much to environmental conservation efforts.

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