Otty Widasari and Manshur Zikri

B. 1973 in Balikpapan | B. Pekanbaru 1991.

We interviewed Forum Lenteng members Otty Widasari and Manshur Zikri at the Goethe Institut in Jakarta. They discussed how they became collaborators and the origins of Akumassa, a Forum Lenteng project that involves partnerships with other organizations, like the Pasirputih collective in Pemenang. Listen to their discussion below.

Contents

1. Philippa’s introduction | 2. How Otty and Zikri met | 3. Starting Akumassa | 4. The challenge of the Akumassa project | 5. Akumassa as method and framework | 6. The shifting team | 7. Zikri comes to Jakarta 8. Site-specificity and local events | 9. Experience as knowledge | 10. Roles and collaboration | 11. The role of theory | 12. Poetic science | 13. Isin Angsat | 14. Private, semi-public, and public spaces | 15. Local histories | 16. Bangsal Menggawe and the local | 17. Documenting on video | 18. Collaborating with collectives | 19. The meaning of “Akumassa” | 20. Dimming stars | 21. Tourism and changing local culture | 22. Ecological and environmental effects | 23. Local governments | 24. Returning to the harbor
Above: A scene from Bangsal Menggawe (Image: Harry Burke) [source]. Below: Zikri and Otty.
01 1. Philippa’s introduction.m4a

1. Philippa's introduction.

02 2. How Otty and Zikri met.m4a

2. How Otty and Zikri met.

Otty describes when she met Zikri and her beginnings as a director. She was working in the film industry as a director and began working as an artist by herself. Zikri is Hafiz’s nephew; Otty and Zikri first met when Otty and Hafiz were preparing for their wedding in Hafiz’s hometown in 2002. At the time, Otty was 28, and Zikri was 10 or 11. Zikri lived with his grandmother, Hafiz’s mother. Otty stayed for over a week, and Zikri attracted her attention, because he was a very serious and curious kid. He asked many questions, and she could talk to him for a long time. She sensed that someday he would work with her; however, it wasn’t planned.
03 3. Starting Akumassa.m4a

3. Starting Akumassa.

Otty started Akumassa in 2008. She worked with people who became community facilitators for workshops. While most of her friends who worked with her saw it as a task, Otty always took the work personally.
After about two or three years, Otty was frustrated. She didn’t have a partner to discuss the programs with. The project needed ongoing discussion, because it was not a fixed set of programs.
04 4. The challenges of the Akumassa project.m4a

4. The challenges of the Akumassa project.

Otty discusses the challenges of working on the Akumassa project. She says that one challenge is that people expect a “desk job,” and she can’t work that way, so she always chooses to work in her own way, in the style of Forum Lenteng.
In 2010, after Zikri studied Criminology at the University of Indonesia, he began to stay in Forum Lenteng. He read the books kept there, and Otty began to discuss ideas with him--music, for example, though not films. He was always asking serious questions. Akumassa became a topic of discussion organically. She felt that she had a partner to discuss the project with.
Some of Zikri’s friends joined, 3 or 4 people his age. She began to discuss the idea of training the younger generation. They began intensive discussions that took hours. It was hard, and some people left. But others who felt connected to that intensity stayed.
Mira was put in charge of the website and started writing the articles. She and Otty worked closely together. Over the course of several months, Akumassa had become a new program.
05 5. Akumassa as method and framework.m4a

5. Akumassa as method and framework.

Before this period, Akumassa had been in decline. Zikri describes that people would only come temporarily, for the interest of the workshop. They wouldn’t have discussions to develop the ideas, to develop Akumassa as a way of evolving a method, thinking about Forum Lenteng as a whole. So, every day they would talk about Akumassa not just as a project, but as a framework. It became a way to expand one’s vision.
Image from Zikri’s essay, “What is Empowerment?” published on the Akumassa website in the framework of the ‘Darivisual.’ [source]
06 6. Teamwork.m4a

6. The shifting team.

Otty describes Akumassa as having a reinvigorated spirit and energy with this new team. They continued the workshop with the other collective they worked with, with the new facilitator and team.
Eventually some of them would leave, because after University, they had to work. Parents sometimes don’t think of Forum Lenteng as a serious job. After graduating from Akumassa, Mira became a reporter for Beat Magazine. They don'’t always have time to continue with Forum Lenteng while working in media companies.
Otty continues with just Zikri, which is also hard, as he has graduated and has started his own profession as a researcher and writer. He often travels to be a speaker, or he writes in journals.
In 2014, they decided they didn’t need to physically meet any more. They had to find other ways to work together.
Otty also encourages Zikri to continue his studies, as he is now 28 years old. Otty discusses a new Akumassa team with Duha and Maria.
07 7. Zikri comes to Jakarta.m4a

7. Zikri comes to Jakarta.

Zikri discusses meeting Otty at age 10 and starting to come to Forum Lenteng.
When he was a child, he admired Hafiz for being an artist. His grandfather was also an artist. He wanted to be an artist as well, but he had just one uncle who was a practicing artist. When Otty came to his grandmother’s house, he thought that because she was his uncle’s girlfriend, it was easier to talk to her, rather than Hafiz.
When he was in 6th grade, Otty gave him a a notebook as a gift. She instructed him to write and draw in it, saying that this would lead to making those ideas a reality. When he went to Jakarta, he wanted to meet the person who gave him this present. He went to Hafiz’s house to meet Otty.
Zikri's alma mater, the University of Indonesia. [source]
08 8. Site-specificity and local events.m4a

8. Site-specificity and local events.

For Zikri, the interesting point is that Otty has a unique perspective on how to frame your environment. She has a perspective of little things, as with Akumassa’s projects. She knows how to frame the small narratives and site-specific events and to not really think about the grand narrative.
She always shares what music she likes with Zikri and what her grandfather taught her about short stories. Zikri explains that the difference between Otty and Hafiz is that Otty shares her experience, while Hafiz teaches something that you must learn. It’s different, and for Zikri, it’s more comfortable to talk about something through your experience. Experience is one of the basics of Akumassa, and Otty is the person who developed this approach.
09 9. Experience as knowledge.m4a

9. Experience as knowledge.

Zikri expands on the importance of experience in Akumassa. In the context of Akumassa, they encourage people to produce their own information: to become writers, researchers, or media producers, and to produce information based on their experience.
Akumassa is trying to form a counterpoint to mainstream media. Mainstream media have their own framework, based on the owner’s interests, to construct public opinion. What local people need isn’t covered by the media. There is also a gap between professional journalism and the story of the people.
While the journalistic article is based on the rigid writing methods, they feel they need to find another way. In a journalistic article, you must write what happened, why: there is a kind of structure in communication studies. Ws and one H.
With Akumassa, they try to counter this established knowledge with the idea that people can create this information based on their own experience. They are the primary source of events, of the story; their experience is a main focus of Akumassa.
10 10. Roles and collaboration.m4a

10. Roles and collaboration.

Zikri and Otty discuss how they work together and the different roles that they take on when working with other communities.
Because there are two of them, the roles aren’t strict, wherein she’s the chief editor and he’s the secretary. It’s not like that. Zikri explains that Otty is the main lecturer on the history of the media, as well as the connection between media, arts, and films. She also helps explain the films they watch in the workshop.
Zikri coordinates participants to collect their articles and writings to publish on the website. Outside of the workshop itself, as a program as a whole, they work together to develop the idea of the Akumassa. The concept of Akumassa doesn’t just come from Otty, but from a collaborative discussion.
11 11. The role of theory.m4a

11. The role of theory.

Otty explains that in this collaboration, Zikri is more theoretical and academic, while her approach is “softer.” The idea behind Akumassa is to decentralize the information first, and to decentralize the central reference—modernity and postmodernity.
Zikri has a background as a student of society at the University of Indonesia. As he sees it, theory helps understanding. To discuss these theoretical issues, he provides them to the team.
But in the context of Akumassa, the facilitators have to communicate the concepts smoothly, not theoretically. So, Otty’s role is to communicate serious concepts to the participants in Akumassa subtly. Zikri gives the reference, and Otty makes it less intimidating.
Otty describes this approach as a way to counter hegemonic theories and references that were taken from the west. Local people forget that they also have their own perspectives. The first idea is to counter the information in the mass media. In terms of knowledge, they did it the same way—they decentralize the knowledge, the hegemonic western knowledge of the modern era.
12 12. Poetic science.m4a

12. Poetic science.

Philippa asks if this is a practice of generating knowledge from below. Zikri and Otty describe their approach as a poetic science to counter rigid science.
Zikri gives an example from their North Lombok project. Otty, Maria, Ingkan, and Pingkan conducted a project with Ghazali, part of the Pasirputih collective in Pemenang. Pasirputih (white sand) is a local organization, part of the Bangsal Menggawe festival.
The project involved Otty as well as Pingkan and Anna, who is the wife of Bosalee. Both are theater actors, and Pingkan is a performance artist. Their experimental theater project was conducted not on a stage but rather in their friend’s house or public space.
Pingkan Polla, PONG PANG KELINTI CAPUNG. 2019. Teater Isin Angsat (Martini Supiana, Muhammad Gozali, Pingkan Polla). Performance in Semi Private Space. Karang Desa, Pemenang, North Lombok. [source]
12 12. Poetic science.m4a

13. Isin Angsat.

The project comes from the idea of “Isin Angsat” a local term to talk about “the remaining.” This isin angsat has a relation to a local song in the common language of the street in North Lombok. It talks about the daily routine of mothers bringing her child to the sawah (the rice fields). This kind of phenomenon is poetic, because everybody on the street knows that song, knows the story of Isin Angsat.
When you go to the beach, and you find a shell, when the tide is high and then goes, the organisms from the ocean sometimes remain in the coastal area. It’s not just a fish or shell or crab, but also other organisms, the snail has to find something. The local people collect the Isin Angsat to sell in the markets, so it’s a strategy for the local people to survive.
14 14. Private, semi-public, and public spaces.m4a

14. Private, semi-public, and public spaces.

Zikri discusses the Isin Angsat phenomenon as a way to think about how local people empower themselves. Through the theatrical project, Akumassa and their partners provoke people to think about their local government to criticize the government, their neighborhood, tourism, their own activity as a collective, and activism itself. The projects provoke people to talk about current issues of the time.
Otty describes how the group would show the play in a private space, in someone’s home, so the theater is like daily life. You’re visiting a friend, and the homeowner becomes involved in a performance. Zikri compares this to a flash mob.
Otty says that the second show was a semi-private space, and a closed public space like a badminton hall. Then at the harbor, a public space. They also performed at a football match; they disrupted the match by three of them becoming a referee or commentator with a sunflower costume. The last show, the eighth, intervened into the festival itself. After the Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist prayers, people would look at the ocean, and there was a small boat with a torch, the passengers singing the Isin Angsak song. They would ignite the torch on the long harbor with the monk and imam of the three religions together. So, they experiment with the space.
Bangsal Menggawe: Museum of Tales. [source]
15 15. Local histories.m4a

15. Local histories.

The project aims to trigger local people to think about the local history, to invite the leaders of each religion in that location and to find tools of communication. Zikri describes that talking theoretically is too complicated, whereas using a local story can connect directly.
For example, in 2016, they conducted the first Bangsal Menggawe, a kind of folk festival. They had a strategy to encourage people to move from their home to the harbor. Together with the local Pasirputih collective, they used the term “meta keke.” Meta keke is the term used to describe the process of searching for shells during the shell season.
The local people have that tradition, which has disappeared since the harbor had appeared there, because of tourism. As Zikri describes, if the groups had told them, “Please come to the harbor to attend the festival,” they would have asked, “What is important about the festival for us?” So, they instead said, “Come to the harbor and we’ll do meta keke together.” That way, they understand the project. This strategy is like a poetic approach, because they use this term to talk about the movement of people.
16 16. Bangsal Menggawe and the local.m4a

16. Bangsal Menggawe and the local.

Otty and Zikri discuss local traditions, which are the focus of Akumassa and the reason why Bangsal Menggawe can develop.
Zikri describes that in 2010, Akumassa held a workshop in North Lombok, and since then, they have been working with Pasirputih. Pasirputih has been creating knowledge and information about local practices—what people do in the harbor, in the hills.
As Otty describes, she always goes to that area, so that the curatorial program avoids arriving with knowledge and thinking that they already know the location. She has stayed there every year for two or three months for six years. She waited to start the curatorial project until all the people knew her.
Zikri describes that reading and watching the material from Akumassa, can be more anthropological, as you can understand the local context of the project.
What is interesting for him is that the data or information is produced by the local people. Otty visits each year, but the local people themselves produce the information about Isin Angsat, meta keke, the harbor. Based on that information, a lot of articles and videos, the groups conduct the Bangsal Menggawe festival. They build the festival contextually.
Bangsal Menggawe Folk Festival (Feburary 28, 2016). [source]
17 17. Documenting on video.m4a

17. Documenting on video.

In 2010 in North Lombok, they produced information, video, articles, and a media center in the location. The members of the Pasirputih collective have the awareness to document everything.
It started with the 2008 workshop, and Pasirputih was started in 2010. Since then, they’ve produced many videos and workshops; some of them they share with Forum Lenteng, some they publish their own website.
So Forum Lenteng doesn’t give instruction; Pasirputih is active by themselves, producing this material.
Pingkan Polla, MENGAYUH KE RAHASIA TAK BERBILANG. 2019. Teater Isin Angsat (Martini Supiana, Muhammad Gozali, Pingkan Polla). Performance in Public Space. Bangsal Harbour, Pemenang, North Lombok. [source]
18 18. Collaborating with collectives.m4a

18. Collaborating with collectives.

Akumassa, has collaborated with 11 collectives. Most of them have become inactive, but some are very progressive, like Pasirputih in North Lombok, and Gurukopi in West Sumatra, as well as Ciranggon Collective in Jatiwangi.
Working with other collectives in Indonesia, they are responding to the lack of information after Reformation. Their aim is to build a data center that is very easy to access by everybody, common people. That’s the idea, but they still struggle in that goal.
19 19. The meaning of “Akumassa.”.m4a

19. The meaning of “Akumassa.”

Zikri expands on the idea of the meaning of “Akumassa.” Grammatically, you can say “Aku adalah massa.” This means that “I am the public,” or “I am the masses.” But you can cut the “adalah,” in this way positioning yourself in the middle of the mass, not as an individual, but as part of the mass.
That’s also why in their Bangsal Menggawe project, for Otty’s curatorial in the festival in 2016 she challenged the artists she invited. She said that they invited them to be the artists in the festival, but asked if they could put themselves in the background and make the local people the stars. In this way, the idea is to see the artists as only organizers.
20 19. Dimming stars.m4a

20. Dimming stars.

Otty describes that at the time, it was much more difficult to deal with artists, as they’re used to being the star. But for Akumassa, especially in Pemenang, the local stars were dimming because of the tourism industry. But behind the “walls” of the tourism, there are so many stars there—for example, musicians and dancers. But not now.
Tourism image of Gili island [source]
Tourism image from above. [source]
21 20. Tourism and changing local culture.m4a

21. Tourism and changing local culture.

Since tourism came to North Lombok in the mid-1990s, everyone always thinks of tourism. Young people want to be boatmen. It’s big money.
North Lombok, especially the Pemenang district specifically, is the gate to go to the Gili Islands, the main tourism destination in North Lombok. The economy grew very fast through tourism. But as Zikri describes, the cultural wisdom, local wisdom was forgotten. Bangsal Harbor, in previous eras, was like the public square of the district. Everyone goes there, to do meta keke, or eat. The culture and religion grew there. Buddha, Islam, and Hinduism live in harmony in this site of the harbor.
But since tourism, the government and capital have privatized the location. Local people can no longer access it. Tourism built new walls that cut the access of people to their local environment. Even the fishermen can’t fish, because it’s occupied by cottages, and the majority of it is foreign-owned, American or French. Or, othe wners are wealthy people from Jakarta.
A Jakart Post image illustrating the environmental effects of tourism (Tarko Sudiarno) [source]
22 21. Ecological and environmental effects.m4a

22. Ecological and environmental effects.

The Pasirputih collective has researched the coastline, especially in Gili Meno. The researcher, Imran, observed the location and explained the condition of the coastline, because of the new buildings on the beach—restaurants and hostels. It’s detrimental to the environment. Based on that empirical research, Pasirputih developed projects for raising awareness and tried to provoke the governments to consider the coastline’s conditions.
It also has a relation to the Bangsal Menggawe. By conducting the Bangsal Menggawe festival, everyone comes to the harbor and thinks about the condition of the beach. It disrupts the operational schedule of the tourist boats. This was covered in a book, 11 Stories.
23 22. Local governments.m4a

23. Local governments.

The group that has a relation to government or to the company think that what Pasirputih and Forum Lenteng do is provocative, because they disrupt the system. But even so, Pasirputih and Forum Lenteng have a good relation with local governments. Sometimes they don’t agree with what they’ve planned, but when it is successful, the local government claims it—saying that this is a government preservation project, even though it’s conducted by the local people.
Otty and Zikri don’t mind if the governments stake a claim on their projects, because it’s like they have started to think about the project’s issues, and perhaps in the future they’ll give support. The people work with the collectives, but there’s always a big agenda with the government because it’s always related to the central state. For example, currently, the government wants to make a big harbor.
Because Pasirputih is always there, the government “really hates them.” But the people are always with them, even the people who are really connected to the tourism in the area are also with them.
North Lombok Regent, Mr. Najmul Akhyar, and Deputy Governor of West Nusa Tenggara, Muhammad Amin, entered the Bangsal Port area at the Bangsal Menggawe event: Membasaq (28 February 2016). [source]
24 23. Returning to the harbor.m4a

24. Returning to the harbor.

After an earthquake, people were afraid of a tsunami because of what the destruction in Aceh in 2004. Nobody wanted to go to the beach or the harbor.
Pasirputih made a plan to bring the festival to the beach, to pray together. The last festival wasn’t really partying, but praying together. Still afterwards, the people really like singing and dancing, so it was still very festive. They are very religious in Lombok.