AND.M: Socially-responsible fashion handmade in Java

Matilda Morgan grew up in rural Victoria, surrounded by the bright colours and bold patterns of Southeast Asian textiles. Her well-travelled grandmother – an expert in Cambodian ceramics – would return from her adventures laden with beautiful fabrics, which she would then sew into curtains and pillows. Said Matilda (Tillie for short), “Since I was young I’ve had a special fondness for the colours, textures and stories found in traditional fabrics from cultures across the world. So it was always at the back of my mind that I would love to do something with fashion and design, and use these bright colours which, in Australia, you don’t see very often.”

For the last year Tillie has been working non-stop to get her socially-responsible fashion label AND.M off the ground and into the wardrobes of those who favour ethical fashion, bright colours and unique prints, and particularly those with a penchant for batik. AND.M stands for ‘Antara Negara Design’ (Between Countries Design). “AND.M refers to our core mission,” explained Tillie, “which is collaboration between countries and working with people who want to do things fairly and creatively.”

Photo: Matilda Morgan

She decided to start her label after five years of studying International Politics at Melbourne Uni and then International Business and Supply Chain Management at RMIT left her feeling uninspired. At the time her parents were living and working on the island of Nias, West Sumatera, and often travelling around Indonesia. “I was at the stage where I hated uni and I had no idea what I wanted to do even if I did finish it, so I just thought, why don’t I just do this? Why not start something where I can work with the local community and source directly from artists on a collaborative basis? I was on the phone to Mum and Dad one night and I said, ‘I want to start my own company and work in Indonesia!’, and they said, ‘That’s a really good idea!’”

One month later Tillie was in Jogjakarta studying at the Indonesian language centre Wisma Bahasa for three months. She returned to Jogja the following March to find artists, develop supply chains, work with seamstresses, and, as she explained, “very slowly get my ahead around how the local industry works. In the beginning I focused specifically on finding artists making the fabric, because it’s all about the fabric.

It’s all about the fabric. Photo: Matilda Morgan

“I was trying to see what’s actually out there, and thinking about the kind of clothes that Westerners would like to wear. I was lucky – I’ve got family in Sydney who own an art gallery and they’d been exhibiting an artist from Jogja, Jumaadi, and so they put us in contact with him and he put us in contact with his friends and family. I was introduced to a lot of different batik artists, I met some of the biggest batik artists in the world who work with European fashion houses. To Westerners Jogja still remains this hidden place, or they might know a tiny little bit about it. But it’s now officially the International City of Batik! There are hundreds and hundreds of producers throughout Central Java. So that was the first step – finding the artists and getting to know them, and finding out what they would be happy to do from a logistical sense. From the get-go it was always supposed to be a very slow process – getting to know the people from the ground up and going from there.”

Photo: Matilda Morgan

The eventual goal for AND.M is to have the clothing produced in the same location as it is sourced – as Tillie wants to ensure “the local supply and production structure is as local as possible.” Currently most of the fabric is sourced from the Bantul regency of southern Jogja and from Cirebon, which is renowned for its magnificent cloud-like motif megamendung. “The grand plan is, if I source the fabric from Central Java, the items will be produced in Central Java. If I source it from Sumatera, the clothing will be sewn in Sumatera. I’ve also been looking into weaving so I want to go to Lombok and look at the weaving to be used in hats. It’s going to take a lot longer to get to that stage, but I’m determined to do it!”

As her business is still in its early stages, currently all AND.M items are produced in Jogjakarta, by two different seamstress businesses. “There’s one which is run by a teacher and works with students who are all girls, while the other owner is one of those cool old Ibus who really knows the ropes. She’s a trained lawyer, has travelled a lot, and gets items produced in Jogja and in Solo. She’s very cool.”

There are two ranges of the label, AND.M and AND.M Tulis. The former is the more affordable cap (printed batik) range, while the latter is made from the coveted hand-drawn batik. “One thing we’ve found is Westerners aren’t doing anything with this kind of fabric, and many have no idea what batik is anyway. Also, this level of production is rare. You either go in and do a multi-million dollar order with a big factory, or you get one or two things made at the local seamstresses’ around the corner. There’s nothing in-between.” Until now.

Photo: Matilda Morgan

Tillie, who will be completing a Diploma of Dressmaking in Jakarta this year, designs all the items herself. “A lot of it is a take on classic designs that I like. I’ve developed all the designs as a baseline, because a lot of them are quite different to what the seamstresses normally make – so they’re more tailored to fit Western bodies. It’s been a lot of work to get it to a standard of understanding about the sizes and the different fit. Even just the hip placements, and you know, we have shoulders! So this is my baseline that can be built on in the future. I also didn’t want to make them too busy because it’s all about the fabric anyway.”

Continued Tillie, “They’re all unique products – it’s a real sample of what kind of fabrics are out there. There’s only a very limited number of each print. You can feel really special because no one else is going to have that skirt! One thing with the supply chain is, you can’t just ask one person to make another 100 pieces of this fabric because it would take three years! Everything I’ve gone for is quality – from the fabric to developing the relationships – so I understand the product and its entire process. It’s been a very interesting journey for the last year.

Photo: Matilda Morgan

“Once I began my travels in Indonesia, Tillie enthused, “I was stunned by the beauty, complexity and depth of batik and other handmade textiles found throughout the archipelago.

“I am constantly inspired by the artists and the motifs they produce through their innate sense of creativity and views of the world around them.

“AND.M is my way of showing my appreciation of this art form and taking it to an audience that otherwise may not be introduced to it.”

Introduce yourself to AND.M and its kaleidoscopic colour, dizzying diversity and stunning fashion statements at the website, and follow on Facebook here. Instagram: @and.mdesign.

Cry Jailolo and Balabala: Q&A with Eko Supriyanto

Internationally renowned dancer-choreographer Eko Supriyanto is originally from Solo, Central Java. His credits run from The Lion King on Broadway and Madonna’s World Tour to Peter Sellar’s Le Grand Macabre and John Adam’s Flowering Tree. Over four nights at Sydney Festival next month, EkosDance Company will present the companion pieces Cry Jailolo and Balabala, both of which were conceived in the small coastal town of Jailolo, on the island of Halmahera, Maluku. We spoke to the extremely eloquent Eko about this little-known region of Indonesia, and the power of dance vocabularies to encompass both tradition and contemporary realities.

What was it about Halmahera and Jailolo that compelled you to create Cry Jailolo and Balabala?

I like challenges – it’s part of the way I work. When I returned from the US to Solo I was continuously working with Solonese dancers, Javanese themes, etc. By 2011 I was looking for new challenges, new ways of thinking, new ways of creating work beyond the context of Java. It was at this point that the regent of West Halmahera extended this great invitation to create a piece for Jailolo Bay Festival in May 2013. I was grateful and privileged to be given time to research and work with 350 local youth in Jailolo between 2012-2013 for the Festival. It was during this time that I discovered the new world of diving. From this time, research and the subsequent connections, Cry Jailolo was born in 2013 and in 2016, Balabala. These works are new contemporary dance pieces based on local movement vocabulary arts. The works and processes have formed my discourse of Silent Tourism.

Cry Jailolo. Photo: BNG Bernie Ng, courtesy of Esplanade Theatre on the Bay

Dynamite fishing is a common problem in Eastern Indonesia, a region which is relatively neglected in terms of infrastructure development and legal regulation. How does Cry Jailolo explore the problem?

Cry Jailolo is partly my reflection on the destruction of the underwater world in West Halmahera, including dynamite fishing. It is also about the military history and social conflict between Muslims and Christians in the area. Perhaps it’s something of a social reconciliation that focuses on youth and the community. I believe it is time now for the Indonesian government to look towards a holistic approach to the development of Eastern Indonesia.

How does your love of diving influence your choreography?

Diving is now part of my dance vision and exploration. For the last two years I have been researching this new world. The state of anti-gravity, a new space for intelligence of body movement. A space for new exploration and challenges. This will be reflected in my new solo dance – to conclude the trilogy of dancing Jailolo – titled SALT, which will be premiered in Europe at the end of 2017.

While the Cry Jailolo ensemble is male, the Balabala ensemble is female. How did your working practices differ between the two groups, and the two works? What is most different about the companion pieces, and how do they complement each other?

Cry Jailolo is more community-based, the social encounter of the underwater world, the communal rave and the optimism of Jailolo youth. Balabala is more individual. It is a gender-based work and has a more philosophical approach. The piece addresses the space held by women in Eastern Indonesia; the young girls take on the dominantly male war dance of the Cakelele – deconstructing gendered hierarchies.

How are the multiple roles of women in Indonesia explored in Balabala?

The piece addresses belief in the nine directions of life for women: husband, kids, kitchen, bed, community, mountain, ocean, religion and self. This philosophy is combined with the Pencak Silat approach to nine directions – both the roles and directions are combined to explore what strength means for these young women. I ‘dis-construct’ the male war dancers of West Halmahera dances as a physical approach to movement.

Balabala. Photo: David Fajar

While the traditional dances of Java and Bali are familiar to many Australians, those of Eastern Indonesia are not. How do the traditional dances of Maluku differ to what audiences may be familiar with?

Indonesian culture and arts are so diverse; there are so many dances and traditions to be explored and introduced to the outside world. It’s not so much about introducing Australian audiences to that which they are unfamiliar with, but more about offering an experience through the youth of Jailolo, who embody the history of the region and pave the path for the future. I believe dance is a universal language with thousands of vocabularies – I believe that dance can speak of context, history, tradition and contemporary relations – it creates direct experiences and connections. Thus, traditional dance or movement can be brought into the contemporary context, with understanding of history and traditional practices within a new way of looking – beyond the form itself – opening the ideas and dialogues of understanding.

What are you hoping to stimulate in Sydney Festival audiences? What are you hoping the companion pieces will tell them about the people of Jailolo, about Eastern Indonesia, and about the melding of traditional culture with contemporary realities?

I hope to stimulate a deep discussion on Indonesian contemporary dance and its relation to tradition. To argue that Indonesian contemporary dance is always based on its traditions. What is important is how we define the meaning of tradition. Traditions that encompass a deep conversation on the diversity of Indonesian arts and culture, which includes maritime culture. Not only the classical court dances of Java and Bali and the agricultural societies, but also the world of the ocean and fisherman. I wish to express my views that dance is about movement and physicality. It’s not ornamental nor purely conceptual. For me, body movement is entwined with deep connections to history, tradition and contemporary contexts. It is an expression of lived experience. I hope that with this great opportunity to present at Sydney Festival, my works will stimulate dialogue on Indonesian contemporary dance and the diversity of arts and cultures.

EkosDance Company present Cry Jailolo and Balabala at the Sydney Festival from 7-10 January. For more information and for ticket bookings call 1300 856 876, or head to the Sydney Festival website. For the EkosDance Company’s site, click here

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2016: a feast of Indonesia-focused content

From human rights and politics in Asia to the role of activism and art, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2016 (UWRF16) traversed five days of enthralling panel discussions, dynamic performances, readings, film, poetry, exhibitions, workshops and food, cementing its position as Southeast Asia’s leading festival of words and ideas.

In its 13th year, the UWRF again saw strong attendance figures of over 30,000, and significantly greater diversity in ticket sales, with Indonesian audience numbers up by 31.5% from 2015. Eminent historian and Festival stalwart Ian Burnett remarked during the Festival: “There is no country more diverse – culturally, ethnically, linguistically – than Indonesia.” The following is a wrap-up of the many Indonesia-focused UWRF16 highlights.

Guests arrive at the UWRF Gala Opening. Photo: Anggara Mahendra, UWRF
Guests arrive at the UWRF Gala Opening at Antonio Blanco Museum. Photo: Anggara Mahendra, UWRF

Indonesian literary luminaries Seno Gumira Adjidarma, Dewi Lestari and Eka Kurniawan delighted fans and snared the attention of unfamiliar listeners. Fearless environmental and human rights activists Agustinus Wibowo (East Java), Emmanuela Shinta (East Kalimantan), Bayu Wirayudha (Bali) and Shandra Woworuntu (West Sumatra) shook audiences to the core. The remarkable resilience of human trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntu, whose organisation Mentari helps fellow survivors reintegrate into the community and find meaningful work, brought many to tears. After her in-conversation with revered journalist Janet Steele, an audience member tweeted: “Incredible session, a heartbreaking and inspiring story that needs to be heard.”

Shandra Woworuntu
Shandra Woworuntu. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF

The 16 Emerging Indonesian Writers selected from 894 entrants to be included in the Festival’s annual Bilingual Anthology – a treasure trove of Indonesian writing and essential Festival souvenir – were a prominent force throughout. Many of these rising stars lauded the linguistic diversity of Indonesia – and the urgency to preserve it – writing and speaking in Minang, Madurese and Balinese. Emerging Writer Deasy Tirayoh said at the launch of the Anthology, “Ubud Writers & Readers Festival shows us that Indonesian writers can rightly stand alongside the global greats.”

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Emerging Indonesian Writers at the launch of the annual UWRF Bilingual Anthology of Emerging Indonesia Writing. Photo: Anggara Mahendra, UWRF

Dalam Bahasa Indonesia was an extremely engaging panel for speakers, and learners, of Indonesian. Moderated by writer, actor and musician Ketut Yuliarsa, it featured much-loved Indonesia commentator Elizabeth Pisani, esteemed literary and academic translator Jennifer Lindsay (the long-time translator of Goenawan Mohamad’s essays), and Gemi Mohawk, a poet from Palembang, and one of the Indonesian Emerging Writers.

The panelists discussed the origin and rapid evolution of Indonesian, with Jennifer Lindsay addressing the marked increase in the number of Indonesians whose first language, or co-first language, is Bahasa Indonesia, rather than the local language of their mother or father. “There is a depth to Indonesian that wasn’t there in the ‘70s,” she remarked.

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Elizabeth Pisani and Jennifer Lindsay. Photo: Keyza Widiatmika, UWRF

Indonesians’ rampant device and social media addiction was unraveled in the panel Screen Addicts. Moderated by writer and journalist Michael Vatikiotis, it also featured Pisani alongside Dewi Lestari and Triyanto Triwikromo, the 2015 Tokoh Seni Pilihan Tempo. Triwikromo was decisively negative about social media, claiming “We are entering a different kind of war. A war of thoughts, of ideas. It’s virtual but we take it literally.”

Dewi Lestari declared that Indonesians’ screen addiction is a “national problem”, lamenting sadly, “I don’t look at the trees and sky anymore. My screen keeps occupying me. It has become the everyday scenery.” She did, however, speak at length about the huge benefits of social media marketing for her books, and that she has witnessed “a lot of positive social communities arising from social media”, even comparing her Twitter communities to arisan [a neighbourhood lottery gathering].

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Screen Addicts panel: Dewi Lestari, Michael Vatikiotis, Triyanto Triwikromo and interpreter, and Elizabeth Pisani. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF
Audience members take notes during Screen Addicts. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF
Audience members take notes during Screen Addicts. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF

Intrepid and incisive independent Indonesian cinema has long been a pillar of UWRF. As well as the Film Program, which was a mini Indonesian film festival in its own right, there were two panel discussions devoted to it – Camera Obscura, which analysed Indonesia’s film industry, and Cinematic Indonesia, addressing cinema’s role in shaping and narrating Indonesian identity. The film screenings and both panels attracted major audiences.

Bringing celebrity status to the Festival were firebrand Indonesian auteurs Slamet Rahardjo, Djenar Maesa Ayu, Richard Oh and Joko Anwar, along with wunderkind filmmaker Wregas Bhanuteja. At just 23 Wregas received the Leica Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film at Cannes for Prenjak (In the Year of Monkey). Wregas was a firm Festival favourite – the showcase of his short films was packed and over the course of the Festival he probably snapped at least 100 selfies with adoring fans!

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Capacity crowd at indie cinema Betelnut for the showcase of Wregas Bhanuteja’s award-winning short films. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja
Wregas meets fans after the screening. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF
Wregas meets fans after the screening. Photo: Wirasathya Darmaja, UWRF

No UWRF wrap-up would be complete without a special mention of the veritable army of 300 volunteers working tirelessly across all areas of the Festival – as MCs, photographers, venue supervisors, technical support and as writers’ liaisons. The vast majority of them hail from across the archipelago, and many return year after year having formed lasting friendships.

UWRF16 volunteers. Photo: Anggara Mahendra, UWRF
UWRF16 volunteers. Photo: Anggara Mahendra, UWRF

At the closing night ceremony Janet DeNeefe noted that the UWRF – at 13 years old – is now a teenager. “It has truly found its feet in the international literary festival environment,” said DeNeefe, “while staying strong to its commitment of raising up regional voices alongside recognised names. This is evident in the increased audience diversity which, in line with the wider goals of Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, to which the UWRF belongs, we’re incredibly proud of, and we look forward to building on this in the future.”

DeNeefe continued, “I applaud the brave artists and speakers who joined us this year, and the audience – from young Indonesian students to our UWRF stalwarts – who helped create the powerful, magical space for which the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has become famous.”

Be sure to keep an eye on the AIYA Blog in the lead-up to UWRF 2017 for special discounts on UWRF tickets for AIYA members, or perhaps you’d even like to volunteer! For more info about the Festival head to the website