Grealy & Sinaga Collaboration Project

When I was living in Jogjakarta, Indonesia in 2013 I worked on some collaborations with beat-maker, producer and rapper Alex Sinaga.

Here’s one of the songs we worked on during this time. More to come soon ūüôā

Sukumaran’s last painting and final words from those likely to be executed tonight at Nusakambangan


The last painting by Myuran Sukumaran, ‘Satu Hati, Satu Rasa di Dalam Cinta (One heart, one feeling in love),’ also signed by other prisoners facing likely facing execution tonight at Nusakambangan, around four hours from here (which really gives me a chill):

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, the sole woman in the group of nine, wrote: ‚ÄúJesus always love us until the eternal life. Mary Jane. Keep smiling.‚ÄĚ Okwudile says: ‚ÄúGod Bless Indonesia.‚ÄĚ And Sylvester Nwolise wrote: ‚ÄúAm covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.‚ÄĚ
Steven wrote: ‚ÄúOne love‚ÄĚ. Todung Mulya Lubis said Sukumaran‚Äôs final words to him were: ‚ÄúThank you for believing in us and please fight for abolition of the death penalty.‚ÄĚ

As Camus said, “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.” And it has been proven not to prevent drug crimes. What a terrible waste of human life this will prove to be, and to kill them by firing squad, what a terribly inhumane and undignified way to end another human’s life.

May they all remain steadfast and strong until the very final second of their lives.

Indonesia’s Presidential Election and the Battle Between Campaign Strategists

Joko Widodo greets supporters on Wednesday after an early vote count put him in the lead in Indonesia. Zuma Press
Joko Widodo greets supporters on Wednesday after an early vote count put him in the lead in Indonesia. Image Zuma Press

“I would not be willing to promote a win by making the culture of discrimination in Indonesia worse. That would be a poison that would continue to undermine the public even though the election is over. A mature political consultant should also concerned with the growth of democracy and the rights of the nation” – Denny JA

A Presidential election is not only a battle between¬†two presidential candidates and two political machines, it is also a battle between strategists. This was also true in the case of the Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential campaign, where we saw the playing out of¬† a battle between campaign strategies prepared by an American PR consultant in camp Prabowo, and those of an Indonesian expert in public opinion and voting behavior in camp Jokowi.

Rob Allyn joined the Prabowo campaign team this year and is a political consultant who studied under Henry Kissinger at Georgetown, helped George W. Bush become governor of Texas in 1994 and consults for large corporations like Coca Cola. Denny JA at camp Jokowi is an anti-discrimination campaigner and also known as the founder of the tradition of political consultancy to Indonesia.

It has been widely reported in Indonesian media that Prabowo hired the American political consultant who is a well-known expert in negative and smear campaigning, with¬† confirming¬†the fact with Prabowo’s¬†Gerindra Party on July 5, 2014.

Negative Vs Positive Campaign Tactics

The Prabowo versus Jokowi battle became increasingly colourful in it’s last weeks, as it also involved a battle between two political consultant types: between “black” or smear campaign tactics, and “positive grassroots and targeted” campaigning.

The most decisive part of the battle between Prabowo and Jokowi really happened in the last 20 days. Based on an LSI survey (Indonesian Survey Foundation) done in early June 2014, the margin to victory in the Jokowi camp was at 6.3%. But at the end of June 2014 it plunged again to only 0.5%, below the margin of error. Under these conditions, losing and winning became dependent on penetrating the intelligence of the voters until the final days before the election.

The Black Campaign

The alleged “Black Campaign” involved the spreading of lies about Jokowi’s ethnic and religious identity and, according to Denny JA, saw a marked drop in Jokowi’s popularity throughout the period in which they were employed.

These stories described Jokowi as a non-indigenous Indonesian, from a religious minority (some described him as begin a “secret “Chinese Christian”), and later accused him of having a PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) background.

Stories about Jokowi were circulated to remote villages. Even small children in slum alleys¬† were heard shouting:” Jokowi hasn’t been circumcised yet.” And false news like this is enough to influence voters who come from conservative Muslim backgrounds, regional voters, and those from middle to lower socio-economic groups, according Denny JA and the LSI.

Based on the LSI survey between January – June 2014, support to Jokowi in the segment of voters was down from 50 percent to below 40%. Not surprisingly, there was a shift of support from Jokowi to Prabowo.

The black campaign against Jokowi was systematic, and could only be carried out by leaders who understand the behaviour of voters.

Denny JA Joins Team Jokowi

Denny JA spoke by phone with Jokowi on Saturday April 26 around 20:30, and it was at this time that Jokowi accepted his offer to join his team to prepare a strategy outside the official campaign team.

The next day, on Sunday, April 27, 2014, Denny JA met face with Jokowi in Luhut Pandjaitan. At that time they discussed how the Jokowi team would utilise the strength of civil society and volunteers, rather than relying on political parties and the media.

As support for Jokowi continued to decline, opinions had formed amongst Indonesia’s elite that Jokowi was going to lose the election. At this point, the team strategized a positive campaign against “black campaign” devised by Rob Allyn. This campaign was targeted at grassroots voters and the upper middle class.

The Strategy of Team jokowi

The strategy employed by Team Jokowi and Denny JA utilised networks in 11 provinces of Indonesia, more than 70% of the Indonesian population. Thousands of trained volunteers engaged voters in door-to-door campaigning. Through this strategy, Denny JA says millions were reached. Concentrated effort were also focussed on Indonesia’s 3 largest provinces: West Java, Central Java and East Java.

To program this strategy, Denny JA cooperated with Timses Volunteers under Eriko. Denny asked Eriko provide 30 volunteer groups in every province. Focus was also made on the campaign trail.

The first strategy was the Jokowi “First 100 Days” Promise.¬†During this period Jokowi promised to focus on addressing three major issues: economic, political/legal and cultural.

These election promises were then advertised. First through Kompas Media and then extended to mainstream media advertising, including billboards, banners and flyers. The team also engaged social media.

Second, ¬†Jokowi’s 5 point political contract with the “small folk” (orang kecil) was¬†made concrete with the pledge of providing one million rupiah per month to poor families, increasing the salaries of civil servants, teachers, police and military, and the promise of creating 10 million new jobs. This contract was also widely advertised.

Black Campaigning “A Poison” in a Country with a History¬†of ¬†Ethnic and Religious Discrimination

Denny JA countered the Allyn orchestrated “black campaign” with positive campaign to attract grassroots and upper middle class engagement in the Jokowi campaign. As Denny JA explained, ” I could have also used a black campaign style to detract from Prabowo’s edge. However, I was not willing to do so. I have been a long time campaigner for an Indonesia Without Discrimination,” he said.

Denny JA denounced the use of religion and ethnicity in political campaigning, although these tactics can engage voters through the politics of fear. As he explained, “I would not be willing to promote a win by making the culture of discrimination in Indonesia worse. That would be a poison that would continue to undermine the public even though the election is over. A mature political consultant should also concerned with the growth of democracy and the rights of the nation,” he said.

Denny JA claims he joined the Jokowi camp “without any official request” but out of a personal wish “to help Jokowi. Willing to spend from his own pocket if needs be, this was a matter of ideals”, he said.

Exit Poll counts show Mr. Widodo with a lead of 3-6 percentage points.

More commentary on the Jokowi strategy, see

The ‘Military Strongman’ Vs ‘The Man of the People’ – A Tired Narrative

In reading foreign coverage of¬†the presidential election campaign I’ve increasingly¬†seen descriptions of potentially two very different Indonesia’s emerging under two “very different” leaders. Coverage from expat journalists out of Jakarta is¬†inevitably¬†following the same tired narrative of an election between the¬†‘Military Strongman’ and¬†the ‘Man of the People’, images that have, in fact, been¬†constructed and exploited by strategists and marketeers from each candidate’s¬†election campaign team.

At the moment, polls are showing an increase in the popularity of Prabowo, whose controversial human rights record from his years as a general has not seemed to be a major problem in the election race.

As Asia Sentinel reported, “with very few policy differences between the two campaigns, the more potent factor in Prabowo‚Äôs favor seems to be a rising perception that he looks more like a ‚Äúleader‚ÄĚ than Joko”. Or as Dr Dave McRae pointed out on¬†Election Watch:

“At a fundamental level, Indonesians face a choice between a president who promises to govern with them, and one who would govern over them. Neither candidate is concealing this choice – it is fundamental to their respective image and appeal.

Whereas Jokowi¬†is a product of Indonesia’s democratic era, springboarded to his current position by his popularity as a small-town mayor and Jakarta governor,¬†Prabowo is firmly part of the authoritarian-era establishment”.

The Prabowo appeal is causing many Western commentators to wring their hands, and for good reasons. I’ve been following coverage from the¬†Australian National University’s New Mandela website with articles¬†written by very well qualified and respected academics, but¬†all of the articles¬†have also followed¬†the same tired “goodie vs baddie” narrative, with less analysis of the electoral appeal of the leader than I would have liked to have seen.

Whilst I have¬†absolutely¬†no hard data about the reasons behind the emerging poll trends in favour of Prabowo, during¬†this election period I have asked Prabowo many supporters about why they support him, despite his shady past. The reasons they cite¬†are usually the following: A) Whilst they like Jokowi, they¬†feel he¬†is not ready for the role B) Prabowo represents¬†a strong leadership figure C) They don’t like Jokowi’s¬†running mate, former President Megawati¬†D) Indonesia needs a more authoritarian government and E) With the exception of Gus Dur, they¬†are exceedingly¬†dissapointed with Indonesia’s Presidents¬†following the fall of Suharto, and feel that democracy did little to change Indonesia’s situation for the better F) They don’t know “who’s interests” are behind Jokowi.

This discusion of the so-called “interests” behind Jokowi has probably come from some of the smear campaign tactics we have seen emerge of late, claiming Jokowi is a “Secret Christian/Chinese/American lackey”. The conspiracy theories abound, and it will be interesting to eventually see who was behind this election tactic. But back to the point..

Whilst I have not heard one Indonesian say they would like to go back to a military dictatorship, and this is about perception over reality, many Prabowo voters also say that they feel Indonesian democracy has served the interest of the elite more than anyone.

From what I have gathered through everyday conversations, it seems some supporters of the Prabowo camp represent a section of Indonesian society fondly remember the certainty and prosperity of life under a military dictatorship. Whilst other supporters, particularly the younger ones, explain that they look to Prabowo as a leader capable of making hard decisions and leading Indonesia from the top down.

Consequently, the Indonesian people are not choosing¬†between vastly different candidates on a policy basis. There aren’t actually¬†major¬†differences between the two candidates on a policy basis. Indonesians¬†are choosing between two opposing regimes which represent vastly different views¬†on the role of the president and his¬†relationship with the nation. And of late, that appeal is to the leader with a well-constructed-by-the-PR-team “tough man” image. Classic Punk Tribute – The Ramones

Gig Tonight

Tonight I’ll join¬†Eko Ramone (Sneakers – Bali) and Ancaman Kota at Oxen Free in Jogjakarta for the Classic Punk Tribute singing a few of my favourite Ramones songs

For more info see the event page


The Importance of Indonesia’s Art Patrons

This is an article¬†by Djuli¬†Djatiprambudi about the import role of Indonesia’s generous art patrons which I translated from Indonesian to English. The original article in Indonesian is at the bottom of this post

Indonesian Art Minus It’s Patrons

Dr. Oei in an interview with leading Collectors of Asian Art, sitting in front of a magnificent painting by Hendra Gunawan, one of the leading modern artists of Indonesia. Image copyright © 2012 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved.

With the death of former President Sukarno in 1970, the Indonesian art world fell into a period of mourning. This grief was not only caused by the fact that Sukarno was a collector of art, but because he was a great patron and supporter of the Indonesian arts.

As a patron and supporter of Indonesian art throughout his life, Sukarno played an instrumental role in nurturing the development of Indonesian art as well as public art. Not only did he provide financial support through the purchasing works, but he also promoted national pride in Indonesia’s pool of creative talent through the commissioning of public art and sculpture and through the creation of prestigious art institutions such as the Museum of Fine Art.

Sukarno’s role as a patron of Indonesian has been historically documented by a wide variety of Indonesian academics. Research conducted by Mikke Susanto (2014) to be published in a book called Bung Karno tells the story of Sukarno’s significant contribution to Indonesian art. As Mikke explains in the publication, Sukarno supported the arts by exaulting the place of art in society. He also participated in the arts community, supporting exhibitions, engaged in dialogues with artists at the Presidential Palace, regularly visited the studios of artists and also published a book about Indonesian visual art.

Susanto’s research also sows the ways in which Soekarno’s sense of aesthetics and support of art can be seen in the development of Indonesia’s architecture at the time, with sculpture playing a central role in the planning of Jakarta as a city upon independence.

Research by Mikke and his contemporaries shows the importance of patronage and support of the arts in Indonesia. Research by the author of this article titled Arts and Works also confirms Sukarno’s integral role in elevating the prominence of Indonesian art. Not only did Sukarno support the arts, but he promoted it in ways that saw Indonesian art utilised and incorporated into nationalist which helped to firm indonesian national identity. Sukarno¬† also persuasively articulated the importance of Indonesian to international guests, and account of presentation of the works in the Presidential Palace by him are referred to as “mesmerising”.

So when Sukarno died, Indonesia lost its most dedicated arts patron. The art world post Sukarno of course continued to develop, but the socio-historical relationship between art and society has since changed. The reciprocal relationship between artist and patron is also a story which has been rarely heard of in Indonesia, and Indonesian artists are no longer recorded in the history books as significant contributors to the nation’s development.

Sukarno has not been the only patron of the arts in Indonesian however. Prominent collectors with who Sukarno also associated with and who share an equal passion for the arts include Adam Malik , Oei Hong Djien , Ciputra , Jusuf Wanandi, Raka Sumichan , Deddy Kusuma, Rudy Akili , Sunarjo Sampoerna , Tossin Hima, Budi Setiadharma , Gunarsa , Suteja Neka , and Agung Rai . These collectors have also played a key role in the development and maintenance of art in Susanto. However it is imoprtantto note that just because one is a collector, this does not necessarily make one a patron. Conversely, the social and historical relationship of collectors and patrons to the art world differ between the two.

The motive of a collector is often only a love of the art works in their collection. Whereas with patrons, the aim is to collect works, restore them, protect them from the damage of ageing as well as disseminating information to the public about the artists in their collections and opening those collections to the public. The role as a patron as ” foster fathers” of the development of art itself through their collections make them protectors of the legacy civilisation through the arts. .

Indonesian collectors Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka and Agung Rai, are examples of incredibly dedicated patrons of Indonesian art. Through the Museum of art they have built an incredible public gallery showing the contributions of Indonesia’s great artists to the world of art. Through the museum, the development of Indonesian art history can be easily tracked because it holds important¬† artifacts of Indonesian art and maintains their documentation. The collection is also open to the public. Because of this, these collectors actually truly deserve the honour of the prestigious title of patron of the arts.

Although these men are not as prominent or powerful as Sukarno, if they were not around and did not support Indonesian art in the way they do, we would not have access to the great collections as we do now, and Indonesian art would face a very serious crisis. Presently, Indonesian art is only be preserved through the dedication of its patrons.

In other words , it is impossible that Indonesian art could have developed in the way it has without its’ patrons. As we can see from the Western history of art in history, behind the preservation and the story of art lie its’ patrons. Their role is essential in determining the preservation of the continuity of history and social development as presented through the arts.

Therefore , when we consider the position of Indonesian art today and it’s rise in the context of Asian and Global Art, we cannot underestimate the role of its’ dedicated and passionate patrons.

Djuli  Djatiprambudi is a researcher & lecturer at the  Faculty of Art at Unesa, Surabaya.

The OHD Museum of Modern art is located in Magelang in Central Java in Indonesia. For more information see their website 


Oleh Djuli Djatiprambudi

KETIKA mantan Presiden Soekarno wafat pada 1970, dunia seni rupa Indonesia ikut berduka sangat mendalam. Kedukaan itu tidak lain karena Soekarno dikenal sebagai kolektor seni rupa yang berwibawa. Lebih dari sekadar kolektor, Soekarno merupakan sosok patron seni rupa Indonesia.

Sebagai seorang patron dalam konteks sejarah seni rupa Indonesia, berarti mengacu pada dukungan seorang presiden yang diberikan kepada pelukis dan pematung. Dukungan itu tidak hanya berupa dukungan finansial dengan membeli karya-karya seniman Indonesia, tetapi lebih dari itu, yaitu dukungan moral, spirit berkarya, hingga kebanggaan nasional. Bahkan juga sebagai pelindung seni rupa yang militan dengan menempatkan karya seni rupa di tempat yang amat prestisius, yaitu Istana Presiden. Dengan cara itu, Istana Presiden tak ubahnya sebagai museum seni rupa.

Peran Soekarno sebagai patron seni rupa Indonesia telah menjadi fakta sejarah. Penelitian Mikke Susanto (2014) yang telah dipublikasikan menjadi buku bertajuk Bung Karno Kolektor dan Patron Seni Rupa Indonesia membuktikan peran Soekarno yang sangat signifikan dalam perkembangan seni rupa. Mikke membuktikan sejumlah fakta kepatronan Soekarno. Antara lain, membatu pembentukan organisasi seni, mengunjungi studio seniman, membuka pameran seni rupa, mengangkat pelukis istana, membeli lukisan atau patung, berdialog intensif dengan para seniman di Istana Presiden, dan menginspirasi pembuatan patung monumen. Juga menerbitkan buku koleksi seni rupa dan masih banyak lagi.

Penelitian Mikke itu tidak hanya mendukung,¬†tetapi juga memperkuat, melengkapi, dan¬†memperkaya penelitian Yuke Ardhiati (2005)¬†yang berjudul Bung Karno sang Arsitek: Kajian¬†Artistik Karya Arsitektur, Tata Ruang Kota,¬†Interior, Kria, Simbol, Mode Busana, dan Teks¬†Pidato 1926‚Äď1965. Penelitian itu membuktikan¬†kekuatan sense of aesthetic Soekarno yang¬†terepresentasikan secara visual ke dalam¬†arsitektur, tata ruang kota, interior, kriya, simbol,¬†busana, hingga teks pidatonya yang memukau.

Dua penelitian itu menegaskan pentingnya¬†seorang patron hadir dalam gerak sejarah seni¬†rupa Indonesia. Fakta tersebut juga dibuktikan¬†dalam sejarah seni rupa di mana pun bahwa¬†perkembangan seni rupa amat ditentukan oleh¬†kehadiran patron, baik formal maupun nonformal.¬†Penelitian pendahuluan yang saya lakukan¬†‚Äďbertajuk Bung Karno: Seni Rupa dan Karya¬†Lukisnya (2001)‚Äď juga menegaskan bahwa¬†Soekarno tampil sebagai seorang presiden dengan¬†‚ÄĚP‚ÄĚ besar. Artinya, Soekarno bukan hanya presiden¬†yang memiliki tugas sebagaimana lazimnya¬†seorang presiden dari suatu negara. Tetapi,¬†Soekarno lebih dari itu, sebagai seorang yang¬†tampil di depan untuk mengayomi seni rupa¬†dengan tindakan nyata dan fenomenal.

Kisah Soekarno dengan sejumlah seniman yang sering diajak ngobrol di istana, dikunjungi studionya, dan dibantu aktivitas keseniannya memperlihatkan kecintaan serta tindakan nyata Soekarno yang total terhadap kemajuan karya seni rupa anak bangsa. Dalam posisi itulah

Soekarno benar-benar menjadi patron seni rupa yang setiap saat di berbagai agenda kenegaraan selalu mempromosikan seni rupa Indonesia, termasuk karya seni Indonesia lainnya. Soekarno dengan persuasif dan artikulatif mampu menjelaskan dengan memesona semua koleksi istana yang menjadi kebanggaannya kepada tamu-tamu negara.

Akan tetapi, sekali lagi, sejak Soekarno wafat, dunia seni rupa Indonesia seperti berhenti berdetak karena kehilangan seorang patron yang disegani. Seni rupa Indonesia pasca-Soekarno memang tetap berkembang, tetapi makna sosio-historisnya menjadi berbeda. Cerita hubungan resiprokal antara patron dan seniman (klien) nyaris tidak terdengar lagi. Cerita hubungan persahabatan seorang presiden dengan seniman tidak tercatat lagi dalam sejarah seni rupa Indonesia.

Memang sosok patron bukan hanya presiden. Seni rupa Indonesia pasca-Soekarno juga dipenuhi banyak kolektor. Di antaranya, Adam Malik, Oei Hong Djien, Ciputra, Jusuf Wanandi, Raka Sumichan, Deddy Kusuma, Rudy Akili, Sunarjo Sampoerna, Tossin Himawan, Budi Setiadharma, Nyoman Gunarsa, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai. Harus diakui mereka memiliki peran yang cukup signifikan dalam perkembangan seni rupa Indonesia. Namun, harus disadari, tidak setiap kolektor otomatis menjadi patron. Sebaliknya, tidak demikian. Sebab, makna sosio-historis kolektor dan patron seni rupa amat berbeda.

Seorang kolektor biasanya sekadar memiliki¬†motif kecintaan pada karya seni. Karena itu, dia¬†mengoleksi karya tersebut. Lain halnya dengan¬†seorang patron. Selain mengoleksi karya seni,¬†dia melindungi, merawat, juga¬†menyebarluaskan informasi koleksinya dalam¬†berbagai media dan agenda yang berskala luas¬†serta penting. Seorang patron seakan berperan¬†sebagai ‚ÄĚbapak asuh‚ÄĚ perkembangan seni rupa¬†itu sendiri dan menempatkan koleksinya¬†sebagai warisan peradaban bangsa.

Kolektor semacam Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai, misalnya. Museum seni rupa yang mereka bangun mengesankan upaya ideal untuk memaknai seni rupa Indonesia di tengah seni rupa dunia. Melalui museum itu, perkembangan sejarah seni rupa Indonesia menjadi mudah dilacak. Sebab, di tempat itulah berbagai artefak penting seni rupa Indonesia terdokumentasikan dengan baik. Karena itu, mereka sesungguhnya juga patron seni rupa yang patut mendapatkan tempat terhormat.

Bayangkan, sekalipun tidak sebesar Soekarno, apa jadinya andai Oei Hong Djien, Suteja Neka, dan Agung Rai tidak menempatkan diri sebagai patron seni rupa Indonesia. Maka, mudah diduga, seni rupa Indonesia akan memiliki krisis historiografis yang amat serius. Sebab, sejarah seni rupa Indonesia akan bisa ditulis dengan baik jika tersedia artefak seni rupa yang beragam, lengkap, dan terawat dengan baik.

Dengan kata lain, tidak mungkin seni rupa Indonesia berkembang dengan baik dan memiliki historiografi yang meyakinkan jika minus patron seni rupa. Seperti yang ditunjukkan dalam sejarah seni rupa Barat, semua capaian puncak yang akhirnya diakui menjadi kanon seni rupa dunia, di balik semua itu tidak lain ada peran patron yang amat menentukan keberlangsungan sejarah. Karena itu, bila seni rupa Indonesia hari ini diproyeksikan akan mengambil peran penting dalam seni rupa Asia, peran patron tidak mungkin dipandang sebelah mata. (*)

Peneliti dan pengajar seni rupa Unesa, Surabaya


The Imagined Romance of Halima

A chat with¬†Indonesian academic, writer & activist Novriantoni Kahar about his book ‘The Imagined Romance of Halima: Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle’ – a¬†collection¬†of poetic essays which seeks to highlight the spiritual and emotional effects¬†of discriminatory practices against Muslim Women

Novriantoni Kahar : Cinta Dalam Lima Tangkai Sastra AdvokasiNovri, author of Imaji Cinta Halima Рimage 

Within Indonesia there are a number number of people, both male and female, working hard to reform misogynous discourse to make Islamic practices more woman-friendly. With many voices also in contradiction to such trends, never has the issue of women in Islam been so widely debated in Indonesian public life. Contradictions within the movements of contemporary Indonesian Islam indeed reflect the ferment of democratic transformations occurring in Indonesia.  From movements calling for the reinstatement of the Khilifa to genuine progressive reflections on problems within doctrinal approaches to Islam, these movements reflect the diversity that has unfolded since the collapse of since the New Order regime.

Novriantoni Kahar is¬†writer and activist who explores problems of discrimination. In his book¬†“The Imagined Romance of Halima:¬†Five Acts of Love in Religious Struggle” (Imaji Cinta Halima: Lima Kisah Kasih dalam Pergumulan Agama), he hopes to highlight the spiritual and emotional effect of discriminatory practices against women in the Muslim world.

Novri is a¬†santri¬†Muslim who gained his primary Islamic education at Pondok Modern Gontor Ponorogo (one of the most well-respected Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia). He is also a graduate of al-Azhar University in Egypt. His’ academic approach to Islam is one of co-mingling Islamic knowledge with social sciences like sociology and political science. In this way, Novri “does not accept Islam as a¬†das solen¬†as such, but tries to study it as as a¬†das sein, as a factual phenomenon”.

Novri was inspired to write The Imagined Romance of Halima by his work in anti-discrimination campaigning in Indonesia as well as by his experiences gained whilst living abroad in the Middle-East and Europe.. The stories are set in Indonesia as well as other Muslim-majority countries. All express different facets of the impact of religion on the major life choices of women.

The book’s title story, “Imaji¬†Cinta¬†Halima” tells of a love affair between an Indonesian driver and a Saudi woman. Their illicit engagement ironically being facilitated by the policy of gender segregation practiced in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. Another tale also set outside Indonesia tells of a love story between a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. Set in Egypt, the story comes to a sad end, with traditions and bigotries within the two communities deciding the young couple’s fate.

As a Muslim, Novri wonders how people can be “so incredibly sensitive in protecting ‘Islam’s reputation”, yet so completely desensitised to some of the discriminatory acts committed in the name of religion. In the post September 11 political landscape, we have become accustomed to seeing the image of ¬†a middle-class Muslim woman, dressed in fashionable Islamic attire talking adamantly about how Islam has “liberated” her and how acts of violence and bigotry towards women could never happen in Islam’s true name, putting the causes down to being a product of “culture”. Simultaneously, there are Muslim women who are experiencing acts of abuse at the hands of men acting within their own religious rights through interpretations of particular Islamic discourses. The experience of both women is real.

Islam can indeed ¬†‘liberate’ a woman if she is empowered to interpret the practice of Islamic teachings through the works of progressive scholars. On the other hand, doctrinal interpretations within Islam can justify acts which destroy, even end, a woman’s life. This is the reason Muslim’s like Novri call for a “genuine recognition of the problems within Islam” when it comes to discrimination against women and other minorities.

As Novri explains, “if we really pay close attention to the issue of discrimination toward women in Islamic or Muslim-dominated countries, the fact is, it is happening.¬†We must not be frightened to hold issues within the Muslim community to the light where they can be examined and aired. Denial only compounds these problems”.

Novri sees some of the reasons for such hypersensitivity at criticism in Muslim communities as being driven by certain political and psychological factors: “Politically, Islamic ideology affects many aspects of Muslim thoughts and practices, in every aspect of life, whilst psychologically, Muslim-majority societies find it difficult to accept the gulf between their imaginary ideal Islam and the actual manifestation of it in their daily life. Perhaps if we began to see the effects of the harsh treatment of women for how they are, we can begin to address some of the problems within our communities”.

Through the stories in Imaji Cinta¬†Halima, Novri hopes to help promote an awareness of the ways in which religion and tradition is used to discriminate against women in both subtle and overt ways, and the ways in which this affects their daily lives. “Denial is a common defence mechanism in Muslim societies everywhere however we Muslims need genuine recognition that many of the problems rampant in our societies are coming from within. There are real problems within Muslim societies and we need to stop attributing our them to some outside force or conspiracy. Islam should not be exempt from being be examined and criticised honestly from within. It is as simple as that”.

‘Imaji¬†Cinta Halima’¬†is published by¬†Renebook, Novri tweets at @novri75

May Day in Jakarta


Protests in downtown Jakarta (image courtesy Asia Foundation)

More than 100,000 workers are expected to fill the streets of Jakarta today to demand an increase to the minimum wage, workplace protections, and basic healthcare as Indonesia marks May Day as a public holiday for the first time.

Workers¬†will march¬†from several areas across Jakarta from the Pulogadung Industrial Area, KBN & Cakung converging at HI roundabout before¬†heading towards the Presidential¬†Palace in Central Jakarta, and will probably shut down the city – as May Day protests did last year. And I won’t be going into the city until later, so I should be spared the chaos.

US university dumps adidas: first-ever contract loss over sweatshop abuse

Yup! Pay up, pricks!

Ex-Adidas workers¬†who continue to protest their mistreatment will also march alongside unions. Women¬†who worked at the Adidas factory in Jakarta reportedly earned around 50 cents an hour making shoes until they were sacked without severance pay. Adidas still hasn’t paid them.

For one day of of protest, Indonesia’s workers are not asking for all that much¬†

The minimum wage in Jakarta is 2,441 Rupiah or $209.00 USD per month, and is highest in the country. It is calculated as a workweek comprised of 7 hour days at 40 hours a week as a 6 day workweek, or as 8 hour a days at 5 a days a week. But most at the minimum wage end of the labour market do not receive the minimum, particularly in the informal and unskilled sectors. Those that do receive the minimum wage still struggle find it hard to survive with the cost of living in Jakarta rising each month.

Selamat hari buruh kawan-kawan!


Indonesia’s Aspirationals

The world seems to be placing it’s hopes for the development and democratisation of Indonesia on the shoulders of¬†the growth of the country’s growing middle class. But within some members of this emerging group there lingers an inegalitarian culture reflective of¬†New Order and late-colonial notions of elitism, a patronising classism¬†antipathetic to democratic values, and¬†a burning desire to own a sedan and a live-in $150 a-month maid.¬†


Jakarta’s slums and the place of residence of many of Jakarta’s poor¬†working class. Photo

Those that live in Jakarta will have noticed the occasional snobbery and anti-egalitarianism of some of the middle class and¬†orang kaya baru crowd (the new rich, who aren’t actually “rich” at all). As Indonesia’s middle class emerged in the 1990s, some hoped that the issues of the redistribution of wealth in society would become a point of interest for the class. It clearly hasn’t. In fact the markers of inequality¬†are ironically more distinct than ever.

I sometimes chat¬†with the pembantu (housemaids) of the apartment complex where I live in Jakarta as I get breakfast on my way out into Jakarta’s mind boggling traffic in the morning (made worse daily by the increasing numbers of sedans on the raod). They gather in the sun to nurse the babies of their middle-class employees downstairs while their boss sits idly nearby playing with their¬†smartphone, probably tweeting about politics, poverty, environmentalism or democracy.

I asked one of the young¬†pembantu¬†what she thought about the upcoming last week, to which she replied “I voted for the party my boss asked me to vote for because I don’t undestand”, at which I choked a little on my gorengan and replied with a polite but loaded “good”. Another said her boss said it wasn’t important for her to vote and that they needed her to stay at home to look after their (overpampered brat of a) child.

People pay their¬†pembantu¬†between $50 and $200 a month here. They are a symbol of status and as having made it as a middle-class Indonesian. They are live in maids, who usually¬†live a converted laundry-like room at the back of the house or on the floor of the ‘loungeroom’ of the box-like apartments Jakarta’s middle class increasingly favour.

The apartment complex where I live is chock full of middle class Indonesians who perceive themselves to have made it, simply because they live in an ‘apartment’ which is actually more like a broom closet. But hey., they can say they live in an apartment with a pembantu to trail behind the while they wander aimlessly around the mall downstairs.

Meet Indonesia’s aspirational middle class. Indonesia is big, but it’s growing economy is bigger. Indonesia is the world’s 16th largest economy (Australia is 12th), and the transition of millions of Indonesians out of poverty into a middle or ‘consuming class’ is a big part of that growth story.

But, the reality is, this emerging middle class is actually still very poor. But this class cherish the class markers that distinguish them from their “lower class” fellow Indonesians.

The so-called consuming class commentators are getting so excited about is comprised of households with earnings of just US$7500 per year at purchasing power parity rates. But that’s still enough to afford a broom closet apartment and a live in maid (God knows where these poor girls sleep. Sometimes they go home to the slum areas of Jakarta each night by the rivers or under the highway toll bridges).

The world is cheering on Indonesia’s emerging middle class as the potential flagbearers of Indonesia’s democracy, but this society still has a long way to go with it’s dated notions of elitism and the illusions of prosperity propped up by an atrocious lack of economic equality and a class of working poor living on less than $2 a day.

This post has also appeared as an article in The Stand


Indonesia’s 2014 Elections – Ready, Set, Go!

Well here we are. Today the world’s third-largest democracy, Indonesia, will hold its’ parliamentary elections as precursor to the country’s third direct presidential vote in July

As¬†those living in Indonesia may have noticed,¬†parties here will employ incredible, sometimes ridiculous tactics to gain votes. For this year‚Äôs elections there are some pretty¬†colourful candidates¬†including a former Miss Indonesia, five former models, at least eight actresses, and nine dangut singers. Googling their names may bring up ‚Äúleaked‚ÄĚ nude photos, swimsuit or lingerie ads, and softcore sex scenes.¬†Parties that recruit these sexy celebrity women as their candidates believe that their famous faces and public notoriety will win votes in a country where name recognition is low and campaign posters remain the best way of reaching voters.

Joko Widodo, expected by many to be Indonesia’s next president, is current governor of Jakarta, a former furniture salesman, former mayor of the central Javan city of Solo or Surakarta and heavy metal fan. His main contendor from the Gerindra Party (Greater Indonesia Party) is businessman, politician and  ex-special forces commander Prabowo.

For most people I talk to, many aren’t overly impressed with the quality of candidates on offer, even when it comes to the most popular. Some feel that Jokowi hasn’t finished his duties as Governor of Jakarta and should have waited until the next elections and for this reason, feel that he is too much of a career politician. For Prabowo, his’ past as a commander under the Suharto regime continues to haunt him.

Initial results from the parliamentary race will most likely be released tonight or tomorrow and after that, the formation of the presidential candidate line-up will move into full motion, and the presidential campaigns will really begin.

To all my Indonesian friends in politics, Good luck!

PS. To my Indonesian friends, kalau Anda gak tahu apa-apa tentang calon-calonnya pemilu ikut link ini untuk data lengkap ūüôā¬†