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Book your story: Of comics, cityscapes and urban nature

Katrin Figge

The Jakarta Post

Berlin, Germany  /  Sat, January 4, 2020  /  02:30 pm
Book your story: Of comics, cityscapes and urban nature

Introducing Jakarta: During the project, Sheila introduced her hometown Jakarta to the German students, many of whom had never heard of the city before. (Courtesy of Sheila Rooswitha Putri/-)

As “Fridays for Future” rapidly turns into a global movement, it is first and foremost today’s younger generation that is urging governments around the world to tackle the most pressing challenges and impacts that climate change will have on our daily lives.

While it is of utmost importance to not lose sight of the big picture, change can only begin with ourselves: how can we live more sustainably and reconnect with nature?

Over the years, urbanization has led to fragmentation and urban decline, but a growing number of regeneration projects in big cities worldwide have started to gain traction in their efforts to restore some of the damage.

Group effort: German students participate in a drawing workshop led by Indonesian comic artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri (far left). Group effort: German students participate in a drawing workshop led by Indonesian comic artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri (far left). (Courtesy of Joerg Huhmann/-)

Urban nature was also at the heart of a recent workshop for high school students in Berlin, which was organized and held by Indonesian comic artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri and German book artist Gudrun Fenna Ingratubun.

Gudrun and Sheila first met at the London Book Fair in March where Indonesia was the Market Focus. Introduced by Joerg Huhmann, founder and editor-in-chief of Indonesien Magazin Online, they quickly bonded and decided to create a project as part of the event series that takes place this year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jakarta and Berlin as sister cities. The workshop was supported by the Senate Chancellery of Berlin, Projektfonds Kulturelle Bildung and Kulturamt Reinickendorf.

“The project had two different components, namely the comic and bookbinding workshop with the students and Sheila’s comic reportage, which chronicles her time in Berlin and was exhibited at the end of her stay,” explained Gudrun, who is the founder of Book Your Story, a creative project for children and young adults focusing on storytelling, illustration and bookbinding.

“We started to have intense discussions afterward, while I was still in Jakarta and Gudrun in Berlin,” Sheila added. “We decided to include various elements into the workshop: comic storytelling, which was my part, and eco print, natural plant coloring and bookbinding, which was taught by Gudrun.”

In black and white: The workshop was held over several days in various gardens and parks across Berlin with the aim of reconnecting students with nature.In black and white: The workshop was held over several days in various gardens and parks across Berlin with the aim of reconnecting students with nature. (Courtesy of Sheila Rooswitha Putri/-)

Sheila and Gudrun collaborated with 13 students from the art class of Berlin school Evangelische Schule Frohnau, and the workshop took place over four days in different gardens around the city: the contemplative garden of religions Remise Gatow, the vegetable garden Havelmathen, where Berliners rent a piece of a garden circle to grow vegetables, Tempelhof, a former airport turned public park and recreation area, and Prinzessinnengarten, perhaps the city’s best known urban gardening project.

At each location, Sheila encouraged them to create their own stories using different methods.

“We began with the associative method, where you have to find inspiration from whatever is surrounding you,” Sheila explained. “I asked them to look for three things, for example, a leaf, a straw hat and an abandoned building, and to then combine it into one story.”

She said she just let them practice, draw and basically and go wild – after initial reluctance, the students began to enjoy themselves and had so much fun that even their art teacher Wolfgang Prehm joined the activities.

“The idea and the storytelling is the most important thing as opposed to the execution,” Sheila said. “Everybody can draw, and it didn’t matter so much to me what kind of drawings they’d come up with as long as they conveyed a clear and nice message.”

Afterward, she continued, Sheila taught the group the character-based method, for which she provided a formula: “who?” meaning who is the main character in the story? “Why?” meaning what is the character’s goal? And “why not?” meaning what are the character’s obstacles?

The third method Sheila used was the graphic-diary method, for which the students had to list the routine of their day and then visualize it.

The last part of the workshop took place at the school.

“The students’ drawings and stories were in black and white,” Gudrun said. “I taught them about natural coloring plants, such as parsley, carrots and blackberries, mainly ingredients that are easy to find in Germany. It’s a bit of a trend right now to go back to nature and create your own colors.”

Once the students had finished coloring their stories, Sheila held a short presentation about her hometown.

“I had the opportunity to share a bit more about Jakarta based on my comics and afterward asked them to draw something based on my presentation, how they imagined the city to be like,” she said.

“They came up with lots of creative drawings, and whether or not they were accurate, I thought it’s important that at least now they know that there is a city called Jakarta thousands of miles away, and they had their first introduction to it.”

To color their stories about Jakarta, the students used natural plants that Sheila had brought from Indonesia.

“I asked Sheila to bring the ingredients from Jakarta, like pandan, kunyit [turmeric] and sappan wood – she was surprised because she didn’t even know about some of them,” Gudrun laughed.

From Jakarta to Berlin: Comic artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri chronicles her journey from Indonesia to Germany. From Jakarta to Berlin: Comic artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri chronicles her journey from Indonesia to Germany. (Courtesy of Sheila Rooswitha Putri/-)

The workshop continued with eco print and bookbinding, also taught by Gudrun, which allowed the students to take home their own storybook, created from scratch.

In addition to the school project, Sheila created a comic reportage chronicling her work with the students, which was exhibited at Prinzessinnengarten shortly before she went back to Indonesia.

“It was a challenge for me because I started working on the reportage when the workshop ended, and I actually broke a new record, because I created 20 pages in one week, all drawn in ink,” she said.

Even though Sheila has returned to Indonesia by now, the project is still ongoing, as the creative duo is currently busy turning the comic panels into a booklet for publication. Gudrun and Sheila also hope to be able to organize a follow-up project.

“I hope that we were able to instill the students here in Berlin with a fresh and unique perspective on nature by visiting gardens with different concepts,” Gudrun said. “It would be wonderful if we could do the same in Jakarta with Indonesian students.” (ste)

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