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Cultural Diversities East and West: Postcommunism, Postcolonialism and Ethnicity

Central European University, 22 July-2 August 2002

Fellow profile

Name

Farah WARDANI

Country INDONESIA
Residence Tangerang, Indonesia
Nationality  
Sex Female
Age 27
Educational background M.A. in History of Arts (20th century), Goldsmiths College University, London UK (2001)
B.A. (Ssn.) in Visual Communication Design, Faculty of Art and Design, Trisakti University Jakarta (1998)
Present position Administrator
Employer Cemeti Art House Yogyakarta - art gallery
Research interests Reexamining postcolonial identities in Indonesia through arts and media.
Current research  
Conferences, workshops...
  • 1996  Bali, Indonesia  National Art & Design Conference
  • 2002, Jan.  Lampung, Indonesia  Workshop on Forrestry Management and Indigenous Peoples, held by Walhi (Indonesian Environmental NGO) and AMAN (national association of indigenous peoples).
Civic activities Acted as a mediator and interpreter between the indigenous people of Indonesia and the foreign researchers who were invited to the WALHI-AMAN workshop in Jan. 2002. Profit-oriented capitalistic mega-corporations (both national and international) have been conductiong brutal agroforestry operations in many Indonesian regions without any concern for the life of the indigenuous people who inhabit these area, causing them to lose their culture, prosperity, land, forest, family and even identity.
Professional affiliation  
Publications
  • Setip Magazine, official magazine of the Faculty of Art and Design, Trisakti University, Academic year 1996-7.
  • "Kata Merangkai Hati" (Words that Bind the Heart), final project at the Faculty of Art and Design, Trisakti University, 1998.
  • "Kami Tak Akan Pernah Lupa (We Will Never Forget), Picture book dedicated tto the memory of the Trisakti tragedy, Trisakti University Publication, 1999.
  • A Path to take off, and article for the British Chevening Programme website.
Excerpts from publications Unbinding Prometheus: Reflections on the Aftermath of Mind Repression in Indonesia during the New Order Era (excerpts)

Before I began to start writing, I found myself asking these questions:

How much have I been free to know and how much I know of how to be free? [...]

Here I am speaking as a part of the new Indonesian generation that was born and raised in the era where the word 'development' was practised within an environment where knowledge and ideas were intensely suppressed, often brutalyy. This era is known as the New Order regime (1966-1998).

The New Order Era was an age of darkness in Indonesian history, which history itself remained distorted through many series of erasures, exclusions, annihilations and fraudulence. The profit-oriented ruling power  led by the country's second president Suharto  attempted to develop modern Indonesian society with an unbalanced set of practices. On the one hand, it opened up the country for globalization, capitalistic industries and foreign investments. On the other hand, the educational system sector was not developed enough to cope with this influx and the circulation of new ideas concerning social, cultural and political issues was heavily restrained. The practices of coercion by the ruling power were often delivered with violence, both mentally and physically. [...]

The sudden end of repression has brought a euphoria of freedom, especially freedom of speech  and military force relatively less hostile than it used to be. What I am now concerned with is how we are startled with this new newfound freedom and how we are to deal with this. We, the children of history, and expected to breed a new future  we have been freed, but are we really free in the true sense? The problem is whether we are ready to face that freedom and makeuse of it, for we may be free physically but not mentally. Three decades living in an autocratic system of control are long enough to form the mindset of the people.

This situation reminds me of the Greek legend of Prometheus, the titan who is bound to a rock by the Gods as a punishment for giving fire to the humans, where an eagle comes to mutilate his flesh endlessly. In thsi case, the fire is the freedom of repression, and the question is whether our mind is still chained  like Prometheus, bound to wait for the eagle to come again and repeat the torture.

One of the reasons why I am writing this is because I no longer trust my old primary school books. Reading them again, I feel there have always been questions left unanswered. [...] There are too many gaps, and there is a feeling of being told what I should know. Full stop. After that, there is no more information.

[...]

What startled me more was the way I was brought back to the feeling of being treated as a child again. I came to see that for decades, the whole nation has been treated like children. It is just as when we were children, there were always some forbidden things which were kept hidden or detached from us, since we were expected either to stai naïve or be obedient. That is what happened to the Indonesian people. The knowledge of what was provided should be taken as it was. No other perspectives, ideas, or way of thinking will contaminate the people's innocence. Or, in other words, no other perspectives, ideas, or way of thinking, except their own, will take away the people's ignorance.

I do not remember when I started to become conscious to put an end to my ignorance. Perhaps it wa in my undergraduate years, as an art student in Jakarta. I realized that I was no longer willing to be treated as a child anymore. At the same time, I also realized, neither were my people. It was about time for us to grow up. "It is not what happened in the past and what the past really was, but uncertainty about whether the past is really over and concluded or whether it continues, albeit in different forms", says Edward Said. And with that statement, I end my personal pilgrimage of history lessons.[...] In the case of Indonesia, it is the fire of freedom that has been discovered, after the dark 32 years of restraint. Even though it seems that we have not learned to use it yet. The good sign is that, at present it has opened the door to press freedom and military repression is sharply declining. The people can now speak and criticize more freely than before. Nevertheless, it is stilla big question for me whether this is also balanced with an openness in to new perceptions and a degree of tolerance  freedom to speak as well as freedom to listen, for critical-mindedness is not just a matter of being able to criticize.

The fire has been given, and Prometheus is still bound.

Of course, in the process of transition, it is unlikely we can expect a major change in one day. There is still a lack of development in the socio-cultural discourse, mainly perhaps because it is still considered as less of a priority than political and economical reformation. Even though the present situation appears to be more promising for the people to actualize a genuine democratic society, it will not be accomplished without reevaluating the tern 'democracy' itself. 32 years have been more than enough to form the mindset of the people under the regime of absolutism and uniformity supported by capitalist banalization. Long enough to devaluate words such as 'democracy', 'identity', and Indonesia's national motto, 'unity in diversity', until they became meaningless jargon. Democracy has become 'demo-crazy', while diversity turns into a multidimensional crisis of csociety containing people with lost identities. It is our choice at this moment whether to try to rdefine our being on the basis of plurality, or to hand on to absolutism, in order to have something concrete to hold on while standing on unstable platforms.

Case study for the summer course  
Statement of interest
Since I read the course rationale I have been very eager to be able to participate in the course "Cultural Diversities East and West: Postcommunism, Postcolonialism and Ethnicity". Currently I have just completed my MA course in Goldsmiths College, London,. I was able to continue my study in England because I was awarded a scholarship by the British government. The inspirational academic environment in Goldsmiths College has enabled me to gain more knowledge and insights about art and culture, as well as presenting works which are creative in their own right. Most of my academic projects address issues of postmodernism, postcolonialism, politics, gender and freedom of expression in Indonesian culture  all of them which are then analyzed in my dissertation that attempts to reexamine Indonesian culture through cases of censorship in Indonesian arts, media and politics.

There is a lack of attention paid to the issues of postcolonialism, postcommunism and ethnicity in Indonesia, which I consider as very important issues to be explored, regarding my country's history of nation building. Presently my country suffers cultural and socio-political problems such as the threat of disintegration, ethnic clashes, religious disputes and lost identities.

Personal message  
Plans for the future Planning to teach courses on: Art and Cultural History, Philosophy of Art.
Skills I am a highly qualified as a professional copywriter and illustrator, as well as well-experienced as a graphic designer and scriptwriter; a strong passionate painter, photographer and literature lover.
Contact E-mail to: farah_wardani@yahoo.com or farahwardani@hotmail.com

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