Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The beauty in the tragedy

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 03/16/2009 4:27 PM | Lifestyle

Undak Langit, Drepung Monastery, Tibet, by Krish SuharnokoUndak Langit, Drepung Monastery, Tibet, by Krish Suharnoko

It is rather ironic that a photography exhibition about Tibet and Dharamsala is being held in Jakarta.

It is ironic because Indonesia is guilty of having done the same thing that China is still doing to Tibet. And it is ironic because even as the world professes to care about the plight of Tibet, it clutches more and more tightly at China's economic and political power.

The exhibition, titled "Heaven in Exile", displays the works of four Indonesian photographers - Enrico Soekarno, Jay Subyakto, Krish Suharnoko and Yori Antar - who visited the Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2003, and then the Dalai Lama and his followers in exile in Dharamsala and Ladakh in India in 2006.

"We have held several events as a show of solidarity for the Tibetan people several times but this time is special because it is held around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising that began on March 10, 1959," Enrico Soekarno told The Jakarta Post.

"We mean for the exhibition to tell our people that freedom is the right of every nation, as stipulated in our own Constitution. We have been accused by many as being agents for Tibet or anti-China. That's not true. We are only trying to be on the side of the oppressed."

What makes these pictures stand out is that they were taken by four different people from different backgrounds who have all caught the spiritualism and intangible exotic heritage of Tibet in their photography.

The images by Yori Antar, an architect and photographer whose major concerns revolve around the preservation of heritage buildings, for example, capture the magnificent Potala Palace from a beautiful angle without sacrificing the impression that the palace has been infected by the Chinese government's modern constructions.

Yori succeeds in capturing the deathly quiet of scenes around various monasteries in Ladakh or mountains, all with nothing but Tibetan religious attributes and flags. The shots send a message about the prettiness of Tibet, while at the same time standing witness to the absence of the Dalai Lama from his land.

Yori's images of life in Ladakh, India, which mostly portray children, clearly hint at the enduring hope in exile, even though nobody knows how long it will last.

In his work, noted director Jay Subyakto plays with black and white, focusing mostly on the presence of people, but still managing to powerfully convey the cold and sunny sights of the land known as "the roof of the world".

Tarian Gunung, Shanti Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, by Enrico SoekarnoTarian Gunung, Shanti Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, by Enrico Soekarno

Enrico Soekarno also plays with black and white but with a stronger political flavor. Included among his shots are the barbed wire surrounding the Potala Palace, a military building with a Chinese star and a child in the street holding a picture of the Dalai Lama.

The journey to Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal and Dharamsala was originally planned for more than 20 people, Enrico said, but in the end only the four of them made it there.

The sophisticated setting and the installation of the photographs adds to the exhibition, thanks to the members of the Antara team that decided the size and installation of each picture.

In the doorway of the gallery, a poster covered with transparent cloth reads "China's record in Tibet. More than a million killed! More than 6,000 monasteries destroyed! Thousand in prison! Hundred still missing! China, get out of Tibet!"

"The oppression of Tibet was caught in a very subtle way by the young Indonesian photographers," said Mudji Sutrisno during a talk on "Visual power in moral movement" on Tuesday, held in line with the exhibition.

"The language of photography leads us to silence and contemplation that in the 21st century, there is still much oppression in many parts of the world," he later told the Post. "These pictures of Tibet as taken by the four photographers are pictures of a dying culture."

The pictures, Mudji said, succeeding in conveying the inner voice of the Tibetan. "It appears in the emptiness and striking silence, which makes the sky seem to be endlessly crying."

However, he said, the pictures still caught the beauty in the tragedy. "These photographs reveal that one civilization can injure another civilization, but they still caught the beauty inside every part of them."

The weakness of the works, according to Mudji, is that they are not accompanied by enough narration.

"They will not become a bridge for those who know little about Tibet, or could become a barrier for those who are skeptical about the issue, especially young people. They might say *Why not look at the nearby problem we have with the mudflow in Sidoardjo instead of Tibet?'"

On each Saturday during the exhibition, eight documentaries on Tibet provided by Yayasan Atap Dunia (Roof of the World Foundation) were screened.

The films were Leaving Fear Behind by Dhondup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin, Shadow Circus; The CIA in Tibet, A Stranger in My Native Land, Dreaming Lhasa, The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, as well as classics such as Wheel Of Time by German anthropologist Werner Herzog and the award winning documentary Cry of the Snow Lion by Tom Piozet.

One of the films, Leaving Fear Behind, is an undercover movie directed by autodidactic Tibetan filmmakers Dhondup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin. The 25-minute film exploring Tibetan sentiments about China, the relevance and symbolism of the Olympic Games and the return of the Dalai Lama was smuggled out of Tibet before the March 2008 riot. The two filmmakers are still in jail.

Another film Dreaming Lhasa was directed by Tibetans Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. It tells the story of Karma, a female Tibetan director from New York who went to the Dalai Lama's place of exile in Dharamsala in India to make a documentary of political prisoners who fled from Tibet.

One prisoner she interviewed is Dhondup, a former monk who came to India to fulfill his mother's final request to find a long-lost freedom fighter. The journey leads not only into the history of Tibet but also into the discovery of oneself.

It seems that the exhibition, held as it is in a historic building in a busy part of the city, resembles the situation of the Tibetan: Once inside, one can see clearly the loneliness of the Tibetans, while the world outside is too busy to truly care about their plight.

But more or less, the four photographers have brought home the message needed to be shared, as the Dalai Lama once said: "World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the manifestation of human compassion."

- photos Courtesy of Geleri Foto Jurnalistik Antara

Heaven in Exile

Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara No. 59 Pasar Baru, www.jtja.org, Central Jakarta

Until March 21

Traditional massage therapist finds a place with doctors


Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 03/11/2009 2:04 PM | Health
Ten-year-old Bowo was playing with his friends in the schoolyard in East Jakarta when he felt a pain in the lower part of his stomach and could barely move his feet. His parents were called to the school and the boy was taken to hospital.
The doctor could do nothing for the boy other than diagnose a hernia. However, the hospital knew of a health clinic that had a Cimande massage therapist. The desperate parents and grimacing boy saw no other option; they headed straight to the clinic.
"After less than one hour of massage and with pain relief medication, my boy was able to go out and play again," the boy's father, Rasyid, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Like many forms of traditional massage in Indonesia, Cimande massage has developed a reputation for its ability to cure bone-, joint- and muscle-related complaints.
The type of massage is named after the village in Bogor, West Java, where many of the massage therapists come from. The skills have been handed down from generation to generation, a tradition accompanied by a kind of mystic aura.
Muhammad Si In, a 48-year-old massage therapist from Cimande, said he had received training in the technique from his grandfather, Abah Emang, from when he was 20 years old, but he was not allowed to practice it until he had his own family in 1987.
"We promised him that we would only practice it when we got married and had children of our own. I don't know why, but I obeyed."
Si In, who is popularly known as Bang Mamat, said that he received the training together with 12 other children, but he was the only one who passed the test allowing him to treat the public.
The preparation his grandfather gave him, Si In said, went for nearly a year and involved numerous rituals, prohibitions and taboos, including 40 days of fasting and not being allowed to eat rice or any vine fruit.
He has since come to be the therapist at a certified health clinic in East Jakarta, after beginning in 1987 practicing at his own house in Bogor, before becoming a therapist in Indramayu, West Java, for one year. From 2000, he was the therapist for the Bogor regent.
Since 2006 he has been working for a Gran Ananda clinic in East Jakarta, where he works alongside doctors helping treat complaints ranging from sore muscles and stiff tendons to more serious bone and muscle problems such as fractures, sprains and hernias. He treats patients in a simple room, with nothing but a thin mat and pillow.
Si In said between five and 10 patients visit the clinic for massage therapy during the week, and 10 to 15 during the weekend. The clinic also gets some patients from abroad.
Adi, the coordinator of Gran Ananda clinic, said that initially doctors at the clinic were reluctant to work with Si In, but after he succeeded with several patients, they started to cooperate with him.
After all, Si In does also hold a license from the East Jakarta health service agency permitting him to practice his traditional skill.
The therapist, who never finished high school, said he had no interest in learning about muscles, bones or human anatomy or to enrich his skills from books or other modern sources - he believes the knowledge gained during that year of training with his grandfather is enough.
"I just have to learn from the patients that come to me," said Si In, who has been part of the health team for Bogor municipality's regional sports week (Porda) contingent since 2000.
Even professional massage therapist Sugiat Mulyosudarmo admires the Cimande traditional therapists. He said he often visits them to "steal" their skills.
"They have the talent, even though they might know nothing about muscles or bones. I always learn from them and never underestimate them," said Sugiat, who holds several licenses for sports massage, including from the International Olympics Commission in 1998 and 2002.
Sugiat, who has been a massage therapist for the Indonesian badminton team for many national and international events since 1987, said that if traditional massage therapists had their own institution to update their skills and promote them, they would be as widely accepted as professional therapists.
"They have the knowledge; they just don't know how to explain it. They are smart because they never stop learning."
This lack of knowledge about human anatomy, said Sugiat, is the traditional therapists' only Achilles heel.
"Sometimes, they treat different illnesses with the same treatment. We can feel pain in the same part of our body but the cause could be different so the treatment should be different."
However, Si In said that passing his grandfather's rigorous selection process was enough for him to become a therapist.
"We can feel it in our hand if we have the skills and in time we can also know the problem just by looking at the patient," he said. "Even if someone had done something with it already, we will know if it is totally fixed."

Stefano Bollani: Taking risks for jazz

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Sat, 03/07/2009 12:58 PM | People

(JP/J.Adiguna)(JP/J.Adiguna)

Not everyone can make their childhood dream come true, but Italian pianist Stefano Bollani certainly has.

“My childhood dream is to be exactly what I am now,” Bollani says, “a musician who can also sing and write a novel.”

When he was only six, Bollani was accompanying himself on the family keyboard, and at 10, he recorded a cassette of his performance. He sent it to his childhood idol Renato Carosone, along with a letter explaining his dream. To his delight, Carosone replied advising him to listen to a lot of blues and jazz, and so the little boy from Milan did.

“I think he was very surprised receiving a letter from a very younger fan,” Bollani says. “He was very famous in Italy in the 1950s and had been retired for about 20 years but surprisingly he had a 10-year-old fan.”

At age 11, he enrolled at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory of Florence, and at 15, he started performing professionally, playing mostly pop music while studying jazz at Siena Jazz.

“Jazz is not a kind of music but it’s a language of improvisation. It’s good for me to talk about jazz because I feel it’s a great big thing and you can have a lot of things inside,” says Bollani, now 37. “Reggae, rock ‘n’ rolls or blues are genres of music but jazz is a language and you can use it to say whatever you want.”

The first thing about jazz, says Bollani, is improvisation, which means a musician has to be ready to expect the worst to happen in any performance.

“This also means that the main thing is changing and you have to be yourself. If you are tired, angry or fall in love, the music is going to change.”

Pop music is predictable, classical music is always seeking perfection, but jazz is always changing and challenging, says Bollani, who made it to the cover of the May 2008 edition of the weekly magazine Topolino for his ingenious and sparkling character, and his natural gifts as an entertainer.

The decisive moment in Bollani’s career was meeting Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava at the Teatro Metastasio in Prato in 1996.

“I played with him and at the end he asked for my phone number. It was like a love affair really. He was a very famous musician at that time and I was like a desperate little girl.”

Enrico invited him to play in Paris with him, saying, “You’re young. Take a risk, give up pop and devote yourself full-time to the music you love.”

Bollani took the advice and threw himself into jazz, with dynamic success, triggering a career that has included no less than 80 collaborative albums and 18 solo albums, performances on the world’s most prestigious stages, and awards and critical acclaim across Europe, Japan and North America.

His music often reflects irony, an evident characteristic of all of his work, some of which is quite bizarre and offbeat. Consider “Gnosi delle fanfole”, a recording in which, along with songwriter Massimo Altomare, he set to music the surreal poetry of Fosco Maraini in 1998, or “Cantata dei pastori immobili”, a sort of musical comedy for four voices, narrator and piano, based on texts by David Riondino, published in 2004.

Above all, he says, his music is “an attempt to take inside and as soon as you come inside I will try to escape.”

But it’s not all music — he has books to his credit also. In 2004 he published L’america di Renato Carosone, a tribute to the history of swing and jazz in Italy and, especially, to his idol Carosone. He followed this up in September 2006 with his first novel, La sindrome di Brontolo, which he had been working on for four years.

“I write because I have lots of free time while I am traveling. I write because I have no musical instruments with me. If I had a piano in my hotel room, I would play all the time.” Or reading: He confesses he brought eight books on his six-day visit to Jakarta.

September 2006 also marked the release of Piano Solo, Bollani’s first CD for the famous German jazz label ECM. The album went straight to the top of the jazz charts, landing in 31st place in the Sorrisi e Canzoni chart. In 2007, he made another album for ECM with Enrico Rava, called The Third Man.

That year, even more accolades poured in across the world, as his musical risks paid off. American magazine Downbeat ranked him eighth among the world’s new jazz talents and third among the young pianists. The New York magazine All About Jazz named him one of the five most important musicians of 2007, alongside monstres sacrés such as Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. And in Vienna, he was awarded the Europe Jazz Prize, as European musician of the year.

His philosophy about unexpectedness and change means he has great admiration for legend Miles Davis’ attitude, if not always his
music.

“He was always trying to change all the time. He once made a masterpiece and then one year later he made a record that is not a masterpiece at all just because he was trying to improvise. I don’t like all of his records. I like the idea of taking the risk of changing every time. I don’t believe in evolution,” he says.

“I’m not sure that musicians get better. They simply do different things.”

His most recent work defined his vision. An incursion into popular Brazilian music, Bollani carioca was recorded in the slums of Rio de Janeiro with prominent local artists, making Bollani the second international musician to play a grand piano in a slum area in Rio (the first was Antonio Carlos Jobim).

The concert itself has great memories for Bollani. “If you have ever seen the movie City of God, that’s what the area looked like where we performed,” he says. “We could even hear shooting guns when we performed.”

Stefano Bollani is appearing at the Java Jazz Festival 2009 with his quintet I Visionari, with Mirko Guerrini on sax, Nico Gori on clarinet, Stefano Senni on double bass and Cristiano Calcagnile on drums.

The little known prime minister

The Jakarta Post | Tue, 03/10/2009 12:26 PM | People

It’s official: Sjahrir (left) is shown signing Linggadjati Agreement documents in Jakarta on Nov. 15, 1946, while Dutch-appointed special commissioner general leading the negotiations, Willem Schermerhorn, looks on. Courtesy of Rushdy HoeseinIt’s official: Sjahrir (left) is shown signing Linggadjati Agreement documents in Jakarta on Nov. 15, 1946, while Dutch-appointed special commissioner general leading the negotiations, Willem Schermerhorn, looks on. Courtesy of Rushdy Hoesein

Surprisingly enough for a nation’s first prime minister, Sutan Sjahrir receives few mentions in Indonesia’s history book – even though his diplomatic skills were responsible for the nation being recognized by the international community.

“Sjahrir, who became prime minister at the age of 36, is little known by the public,” Sjahrir’s daughter Siti Rabyah Parvati Sjahrir said at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Sjahrir’s birth at Balai Agung in Jakarta on Thursday.

“Sometimes he has been misidentified as [literary critic] Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana or Sjahrir the [late] economist.”

Sjahrir was born in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, on March 5, 1909, the son of an adviser to the Sultan of Deli. He studied in Medan and Bandung, before moving to Leiden in The Netherlands around 1929 to study law.

In Holland, he gained an appreciation for socialist principles, and joined several labor unions as he worked to support himself. He was briefly the secretary of the Indonesian Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia), an organization of Indonesian students in the Netherlands.

He returned to Indonesia in 1931 without completing his law degree, and helped set up the Indonesian National Party (PNI). Around this time, he became a close associate of future vice president Mohammad Hatta.

His nationalist activities saw him imprisoned by the Dutch in November 1934 for many years, first in Boven Digul, then on Banda. In 1941, just before the area fell to the Japanese, he was moved to Sukabumi.

At the time when Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta were compromising with the occupying Japanese forces, Sjahrir was involved in a clandestine movement that he believed would help prepare the nation for independence when the time was right.

In November 1945, then president Sukarno appointed him prime minister, a position he held until June 1947, during which time he worked on winning international recognition for the newly independent country.

Sjahrir is shown during the campaign for the 1955 general election.Sjahrir is shown during the campaign for the 1955 general election.

Sjahrir founded the Indonesian Socialist Party in 1948, which, although small, proved to be influential in the early years after independence because of the expertise and high education levels of its leaders.

But after January 1950 Sjahrir no longer held any government positions, and his party performed poorly during the 1955 elections.

After a 1958 revolt known as PRRI or “Revolutionary Government of Indonesian Republic” in 1958, his relationship with Sukarno deteriorated, and the president banned his party two years later.

At 4 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1962, Sjahrir was arrested at his house in Jakarta. Three months later, he was sent with other political prisoners to Madiun, Central Java, before being moved back to Jakarta in 1965.

Despite his long and fervent political career, Sjahrir was always devoted to his family — he had two children, Kriya Arsyah and Parvati. He wrote in his prison diary on June 3, 1963, “My thoughts and my memories again and again turn to home, to my children. I want them to grow up to be happier and have a better life than me. … I want them to be honest, upright and loving, and not be obsessed with titles and stars.”

Sjahrir’s daughter, Parvati, was just two years old when her father was arrested. “I had to take a train back and forth from Solo to Madiun just to meet Papa,” she recalled. “When my father was moved to Jakarta, it was not easy for my mother to get a permit letter to visit Papa.”

The imprisonment, she said, was unjust. “Ironically, after Independence, he was detained without facing trial. He was accused without verification.”

As he was ill, Sjahrir was allowed to go to Zurich, Switzerland, for treatment. He died there on April 9, 1966, “far away from the country he co-founded, from the country he dearly loved, from family members and friends”, Parvati said. “Sjahrir went to Zurich as a political prisoner and returned to his homeland as a hero.”

He was a hero for his daughter as well.

“For me, Sjahrir, Papa, was a moral character who deserves to be emulated,” she said. “He was honest, brave and consistent with what he fought for. He did not fight for his own interest or for power or wealth. He fought for the freedom and the maturity of people to be free from oppression and the exploitation of others.”

—JP/Matheos V. Messakh

Sutan Sjahrir: Teacher of the nation

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Tue, 03/10/2009 12:09 PM | People

The leaders: Sjahrir (left) is pictured with Sukarno (center) and Mohammad Hatta.

It has been said that if Indonesia had paid greater attention to the wisdom and lessons of its first prime minister, it might have avoided decades of authoritarian rule and human rights abuses.

A closer look at Sutan Sjahrir’s life and thoughts, and at the testimonies of those around him, reveals that Sjahrir was more than the first prime minister of Indonesia — he was a defender of humanity and rationality.

Sjahrir is many things in this nation’s history — a national hero, founder of the Socialist Party of Indonesia, the first prime minister — but perhaps his greatest contribution to the nation lay not in the titles conferred or the positions held, but in his thinking about nationalism and humanism.

Only two months after Indonesia gained independence, Sjahrir felt the importance of emphasizing what freedom meant to the nation, Kamala Chandrakirana, chairwoman of the National Commission

on Violence against Women, said at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Sjahrir’s birth on Thursday.

He did this in an article in October 1945 titled Perdjoeangan Kita (Our Struggle).

“Freedom does not only mean that Indonesia has become an independent state, but also is now free from tyranny, hunger and misery,” Kamala said, quoting Sjahrir’s article. “A national revolution is only the result of a democratic revolution, and nationalism should be second to democracy. The State of Indonesia is only a name we give to the essence we intend and aim for.”

Sjahrir’s article, said Kamala, was a response to the public’s desire at that time to take part in the building of the nation — a desire still evident 64 years after Independence.

Now, Kamala said, as the general elections approach, is the appropriate time to reflect on the nation’s “struggle”, as discussed by Sjahrir.

Sjahrir’s notion of struggle is not a narrow and specific construct, but a global and universalone; as he wrote, “only the nationalism carried by justice and humanity can lead us into world history”.

But evidence documented by several human rights bodies has demonstrated that, instead, it was the militaristic and narrow-minded notion of nationalism that Sjahrir so feared that took root in Indonesia for so many years.

Political oppression and political silencing of women during the New Order era and the mass rapes of Chinese women during the May 1998 riots, Kamala said, were evidence that the nation upheld what Sjahrir described as an “attitude of hatred toward alien groups in our population or foreigners and people of foreign descent”.

“Hatred for foreign groups and people,” Sjahrir warned, “is indeed something one finds voiced in every nationalist movement, especially among a movement that intoxicates itself with a passionate hatred … in order to gain power.”

Courtesy of Rushdy HoeseinCourtesy of Rushdy Hoesein

To Sjahrir’s list of “more or less alien groups in our population”, Kamala said we should add Papuans, the Ahmadiyah community and others in the nation whose right to equality has been neglected.

Rocky Gerung of the University of Indonesia also commented on how Sjahrir’s politics were directed more toward greater human freedoms than to mere national freedom.

“The evidence that this nation has never had human freedoms is that people first bring out their primordial identity when dealing with others,” said Gerung.

Sjahrir wrote in “Nationalism and internationalism” in 1953 that nationalism was a source of
new life and strength for less developed peoples. But, he warned,
as soon as a nation achieved freedom, it was confronted with the problem of adapting nationalism to the human needs for peace, progress and prosperity.

“If this fails,” he wrote, “this nationalism will become a negative factor, a factor of conservatism and reaction. Then it will become egocentric and degenerate into intolerance and self-glorification.”

The dangers that accompany the nationalism of a newly independent nation can still be tasted in the air in the current political situation, Gerung said, stating that the deficit in modern Indonesian politics is a deficit of rationality, whose dangers Sjahrir repeatedly noted.

“Democracy should be handled rationally, but we see now that the public is getting more and more irrational. Even a political analyst on the TV screen will say something just plain obvious or something that has already been analyzed by journalists.”

Gerung raised the concern the quality of Indonesia’s current political leaders has strayed from Sjahrir’s ideal of politics as having “complete and tidy ideology and theory”.

“What we have now are people with the tendency to solve problems using articles from sacred books rather than articles from the Constitution,” he said. “We should have political leaders in this country but instead we only have political dealers. Politics is full of advertising.”

As for the current 12,000-odd political candidates, Gerung compares them to the thousands of people seeking a miracle from child “healer” Ponari in Jombang.

“Both are expecting miracles to happen. People with a gamut of health problems are expecting
a miracle from Ponari, and the political candidates are expecting miracles from the next legislative election.”

Political activist Fadjroel Rachman, the editor of Guru Bangsa (Teacher of the Nation), a book dedicated to Sutan Sjahrir, said that if Sukarno were the father of independence and Mohammad Hatta the father of cooperation, then Sutan Sjahrir should be named the father of welfare.

“The program of his Cabinet was the program of a welfare state,” he said “One of his programs was progressive tax, which means that the higher the income, the higher the tax imposed.”

Unfortunately, Rachman said, Sjahrir had no time to implement his programs during his term as he was kept busy defending the nation’s independence and increasing its international legitimacy.

“If he were alive today and still in power, I’m sure he would create programs that directly addressed basic rights, combated poverty and narrowed the social gap — such as free education, providing employment and social security, and free housing and healthcare,” he said. “The money would definitely come from the progressive tax.”

Photo Courtesy of Rushdy Hoesein

Lola Amaria: The handmaid’s tale

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Sat, 02/21/2009 10:15 AM | People
Lola Amaria: JP/MATHEOS V. MESSAKHLola Amaria: JP/MATHEOS V. MESSAKH
Actress, director and producer Lola Amaria is happy to explore women’s issues in her films, but hates being called a feminist.
“I don’t like being put into a particular category,” Lola says. “What I did in my films just shows concern with the reality around us.”
Check out her filmography and you will see that all her films concern the struggle of women from a range of backgrounds, with each role – whether stripper, nurse, courtesan, rape victim, postgraduate student or mentally ill woman – demonstrating her genuine concern.
Her latest film The Detour to Paradise, in which she plays an Indonesian maid in Taiwan, opens in Taipei today. The film, produced in Taiwan by director Lee Tsi-Tai, has already been selected as the opening film for the Singapore International Film Festival in April.
“I’m so happy and proud because I’m the only Indonesian who took part in the film,” Lola says. “But at the same time I’m also anxious because none of the crew are Indonesian. I would be more proud if the whole team were Indonesian because the film is about an Indonesian maid.”
Lola says her experience with the film gave her the insight to produce another film with a similar theme – migrant domestic workers – but in a different setting, this time Hong Kong.
“I don’t take potshots at the government or anybody in the movie. It will be purely about the reality of life as a migrant worker in Hong Kong. It’s about the human side of migrant workers, which is totally different from what we usually believe,” she says.
Lola, who has been traveling to and from Hong Kong since early 2007 to conduct research, says strong laws ensured Hong Kong employers treated migrant workers relatively well.
“It would be impossible for us to make a film about migrant workers in Saudi Arabia or in Malaysia, for example, without bringing violence into it. But in Hong Kong you hardly find that,” she says.
Her team is currently working on the script. Lola will direct and star in the film, which is scheduled for release in August.
Lola was born in Jakarta on July 30, 1977. Although she once wanted to be a diplomat, she soon found a place in the entertainment world, as the 1997 winner of Wajah Femina, an annual model contest held by Women Magazine Femina.
Her acting career began in 1998 when she played Sila, a stripper, in Nan Triveni Achnas’ TV movie Penari (Dancer). After five television roles, including in the 1998 Indonesian Sinetron Festival award-nominated sinetron (soap opera) Arjuna Mencari Cinta, Lola turned to the big screen.
“I see a different spirit in big screen movies, in terms of working together with people, the quality requirement and the challenge of the work, which I would not have if I only worked in sinetron,” she says. “With movies I can explore my abilities as an actress, a director, producer or in learning another role. Film has its own challenges so I have to learn. I got nothing from soap opera except instant results and lots of money.”
Not that she doesn’t need money: “I just needed another way to earn money but one that also gave me some experience and knowledge.”
Her first movie role, in Tabir (Curtain) in 2000, was as a victim of the 1998 mass rape in Jakarta; after three years of production, the project was abandoned. In the same year, she starred in a Japanese film Dokuritsu as a nurse struggling between loyalty to her homeland and the Japanese colonial government.
A year later, she played a psychopathic girl, Beth, the title character in an art house movie that the censorship board banned from general cinema release.
Her biggest acclaim came for her performance as Tinung, the wife of a Chinese trader, in Nia Dinata’s award-winning 2002 film Ca Bau Kan, an adaptation of Remy Sylado’s best-selling novel. For Lola, it was a demanding role. “For Ca Bau Kan, I had to learn the Betawi language, which has at least four dialects. I also learned Chinese dance, I learned Chinese history and culture including fashion, furniture, even how people talked.”
Lola, who admires American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and late director Teguh Karya and whose own favorite films are Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, turned to producing and directing in 2004.
Her first effort as producer was for Novel Tanpa Huruf R (Novel Without the Letter R), in which she also played the lead role. In the same year, she directed Betina (Female), which won her a Netpac Award at the 2006 Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival.
Lola, who professes a love of dogs – she once had five sheepdogs – and ice cream, and a hatred of durian, says she wanted to try her hand at directing because it’s a “genius profession”.
“Being a director means you have to visualize all your ideas. All the components, such as sound, music, acting, photography and editing are put into one and the director is the captain.”
Although she has already performed in two foreign Asian movies, Lola is looking for any opportunity to venture outside Indonesian cinema again, although “if possible I would like it not to be an Asian movie”.
Another potential project would be a documentary on Indonesian women, should she find the opportunity to produce one – not that that would make her a “feminist”.

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