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.
Contents1. 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
1. Philippa's introduction.
2. How Otty and Zikri met.
3. Starting Akumassa.
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.
4. The challenges of the Akumassa project.
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.
5. Akumassa as method and framework.
6. The shifting 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.
7. Zikri comes to Jakarta.
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.
8. Site-specificity and local events.
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.
9. Experience as knowledge.
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. Roles and collaboration.
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. The role of theory.
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. Poetic 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.
13. 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. Private, semi-public, and public spaces.
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.
15. Local histories.
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. Bangsal Menggawe and the local.
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.
17. Documenting on video.
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.
18. Collaborating with collectives.
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. The meaning of “Akumassa.”
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. Dimming stars.
21. Tourism and changing local culture.
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.
22. Ecological and environmental effects.
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. Local governments.
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.
24. Returning to 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.