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Jakarta Post

The Bersama Project: A creative intervention for gender equality

  • Yuliasri Perdani

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Sun, August 23, 2015   /  08:25 am
The Bersama Project: A creative intervention for gender equality

Wonderbra - JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

Having faced pressures from the commercial music industry, some popular singers aim to twist things around with the Bersama Project.

Working from the theme #1Voice4Women, Tika and the Dissidents, Bonita & the husBAND, Wonderbra and singer Yacko have released music video clips of their songs to promote gender equality in Indonesia.

Directed by Flo Hadjon, the four video clips feature performances and interviews about their views and sour experiences relating to the subject of gender inequality. Their songs and their words are equally bold and resonating.

'€œIni milikku, '€˜tuk ku buka atau kututupi (This is mine, I can show or cover it),'€ Tika sings in '€œTubuhku, Otoritasku'€ (My Body, My Authority) alongside music from the Dissidents in the video entitled '€œBukan parameter moralitas dan harga diri (Not a parameter of morality and dignity).'€

Tika recalls an experience a few years ago when a recording label tried to sign her up. The label'€™s officials perceived her body weight as belonging in an unattractive middle zone; neither sufficiently skinny nor sufficiently fat.

'€œYou'€™d better gain some weight or slim down. I can market you as a fat singer or a beautiful singer, but not as something in the middle'€ a label official once remarked.

In another video, Teraya, Wonderbra'€™s vocalist, recalls the experience of troglodyte audience members yelling degrading comments at her while the band performed at a music concert.  '€œThat happened a couple of times,'€ she said.

The commercial music industry'€™s narrow perspective of what it takes to be a female musician, and the exploitation, sexism, harassment that have followed on from this frame of mind, have prevented women from experiencing equal opportunity in this field.

'€œIf we want equality in the arts for men and women, we should not only encourage women to step up,'€ Tika says, '€œbut rather, we must foster a culture that creates a friendly environment for women to create art.'€

In essence, the #1Voice4Women video clips are not aimed solely at creating a better environment for female artists, but also to promote gender equality in the broader society.

Tika and the Dissidents - JP/Wendra AjistyatamaTika and the Dissidents - JP/Wendra Ajistyatama

The videos, which can be found on Youtube, are part of the pilot campaign of the Bersama Project, a movement to eradicate violence against women and promote gender equality through music and the arts.

The Bersama Project was initiated by Tika and public ethnomusicologist Rebekah E. Moore. Music video director and visual artist Flo Hadjon and Search for Common Ground also offered their help to coordinate the campaign.  

During the Bersama Project'€™s launch in early July, visual artists, journalists, musicians and activists gathered for a roundtable discussion to share their views and ideas on promoting gender equality in the creative industry.

Some people and some media outlets, Tika and Teraya argued, judged female musicians not by their skills, but instead primarily by their beautiful appearance or simply their gender. '€œAs if women who can play music is such a rare thing,'€ Tika said.

Believing that men play a pivotal role in promoting gender equality, the Bersama Project also invited Syaldi Sahude, the founder of Aliansi Laki-laki Baru (New Male Alliance), to join the campaign.

Using music to bring change is not something new. From the 1960s to early 1970s, John Lennon wrote songs to protest the Vietnam War and countercultural icon Bob Dylan discussed war, racism and poverty on at least two of his albums, including The Freewheelin'€™ Bob Dylan.  

But can music bring change to Indonesia?

Rebekah, who has spent more than five years observing music activism, is upbeat about the prospect. '€œBased on my research and the suggestions offered by participants in the roundtable discussion, it can be an effective way to shift people'€™s perceptions, particularly if the music is played frequently,'€ she said.

Having lived in the country for years, Rebekah has witnessed some Indonesian bands, such as grunge band Navicula, Bali-based punk rock band Superman is Dead and Jakarta-based punk band Marjinal, change the mindset of their listeners.  

'€œIn the 90s, all Navicula'€™s fans cared about was grunge and depressive things. They liked to quote Kurt Cobain: I hate myself and I want to die.'€

All that changed when Navicula spoke about deforestation in a song titled Bubur Kayu (Paper Pulp) and river cleanliness in Kali Mati (Dead River), among other songs.

'€œNow, the fans prefer words, like Go Green, Go Grunge.'€

Another successful movement is Superman is Dead'€™s campaign against reclamation in Bali, in which they garnered the support of significant people.

The Bersama Project will start with music, but Rebekah and Tika plan to incorporate additional art disciplines into the campaign.  

Coinciding with Women'€™s Equality Day on Aug. 26, the Bersama Project will hold a discussion with artists, musicians, photographers and writers to plan creative measures to bring to an end female inequality and violence against women.

In September, the Bersama Project will hold a film screening of The Punk Singer, which follows the life American punk rock feminist activist Kathleen Hanna. And after that a photography exhibition is scheduled for October.