FAMILY PORTRAIT #1 : PULOSARI, BANDUNG
Bandung, West Java, Indonesia 2015
The Family Portraits Project started in 2011. I took on a voluntary job at an organization working with HIV/AIDS issues, and this job led me to work with various communities in Bandung. One of the communities that I worked with is in Pulosari. Pulosari is the name of the area in Bandung right under the Pasupati bridge, one of the iconic modern architecture in Bandung.
Around Pulosari there are malls, universities, zoo, and new public spaces that was built by the government. The peoples that live in Pulosari mostly come from middle to low income families in terms of social-economic status. The problems in the area include gangsters, drugs, human trafficking, sanitation, and unemployment. These problems exclude the community as the area is considered a dangerous place, especially because there are many drug users and gangsters. The development of the area also excluded the community. In contrast to their living conditions, just five minutes away from their settlement, they can see malls, universities, and advertisements on the billboards. Trapped within their economic situation, somehow they caught in the middle, and they are compelled, especially the youth, to be consumptive by having the latest gadget or to have an expensive lifestyle in order to feel that they fit in and are successful. The lack of education, employment opportunities and supoirt is the one of the reasons why there are a lot of gangsters, crimininal activities and human trafficking in the Pulosari area. The low education level is clearly a problem for this community as it is the cause for rampant unemployment amongst the people.
At my first few visits to Pulosari in 2011 I did not consider have any projects in mind. I was only involved in social activities held by the organization, or just visited one of my friend’s home located in the area. I also helped the community by becoming a photographer for birthday parties, or local events with the community. I helped them with my skills in photography among things. In 2014 I quit my regular job as an art teacher, because I wanted to chase my dream as an artist. After I quit my job I started to conceptualise a project and I choose the Pulosari area because I had been there for quite a long time and was familiar with the people who live in the area. My idea was to introduce art and the artist himself to the community step by step, by bringing in the artwork and me as an artist.
I started the project by creating an independent residency project. I moved to my friend’s living room and stayed there for 3 months. From the beginning until the end f this project, I used my own funding that I got from selling my motorbike. I was supported by a youth organization in the Pulosari area. During my residency at Pulosari I tried to live as normally as I could, not as an artist or researcher. I tried to immerse myself with the community by hanging out with the people in the area. I started to hang out with the mothers in the morning, with the youth and the fathers in the afternoon. Then after a few weeks, I started the home visits. I visited 80 houses in the space of 4 weeks. From these home visits, I came up with my idea about family portraits and also spaces. I chose to explore more about the family portrait because I realized that I didn't see any ideal family portrait inside the houses. The idea about an ideal family portrait was the main concept that I wanted to pursue with the Family Portraits Project.
The project started with me inviting the families to the public spaces near their settlement. Initially, no one responded to the invitation. I then worked with the youth from the community to gather information about why they did not want to come. We found out that most of them were shy to go as one family to the public space to be photographed. I met one family and asked the same question, and the mom said that “what if I don't have husband? Or I don't even know who is the father of this child? Do my picture can you consider as a family portrait?” These questions are shocked me, and I asked myself “what is the ideal family portrait? Is it the one that I always see on people’s living room?” It took me three days to think about these questions and it changed my perspective toward the idea of family portrait. After three days of thinking I decided to change the method with the home visits to the families houses so that they can be photographed by me with anyone that they are comfortable with or anyone that they consider as family.
During the art-making process, I talked with a lot of people within the community. There were a few artists before me who did a photography projects about the river or the people in the area, but the community never knew where their pictures went. If the exhibition was held at the gallery, they never got the invitation. This information convinced me to create the exhibition with them and in their area so they are the ones who were going to enjoy the pictures. The display process was the process that I was really afraid of, because I was afraid that the family would not be comfortable with the photos and would want the photo to be taken down. I never told them about that the photographs were going to be big. To my surprise, it turned out that the people were excited when they saw the size of the photos. Somehow they felt it to be important, because they never thought that their photos could be that big. To them, only politicians, actors, actresses, or models had the opportunity to printed big, like in the billboards near their settlement.
During the display process, it was the youth who decided where is the photographs were going to be displayed. This was because they understood the area better then me, and so they knew the ideal place for the photograph because they knew where the families lived or worked. During this process they also asked me about the medium that I used for the photographs, which is HVS paper and the printing technique that used the photocopy machine. They always think that art should always make of sophisticated or expensive material. They did not know that paper that they only used for documents or to wrap the food on the street can be used as art materials. Also, the printing technique is easy to access and cheap because there were a lot printing and photocopy shops near their settlement that are used by the students in the university nearby. These exchanges of knowledge and questions that happened during the process of the art making was one of the unexpected outcomes for my project. It taught me that art can be understood in a very basic way through conversation.
Back to the display process, this process started with me, my friends and the youth, but in the middle of the process, because of the excitement of the community, it turned out to be everybody’s business. Everyone started to help and other people from outside the community got involved with the conversation about the photographs. This moment of togetherness and happiness of the community made me understand that the existence and significance of my artwork was decided not only by me as the artist, but also a by a communal will.
I consider the Family Portraits Project as a successful project. There were challenges that I faced. For example, the time frame for this project was a bit too long because of the lack of funding and also, I worked only by myself so sometimes I took a day off for too long because I did not have any organization that I needed to report about the progress of the work. Also, I learnt that inviting people for the opening of the exhibition on the same day as the completion of the display process is not a good idea, because the community was still new with the artwork in their area and they need at least two or three days to adapt to the artwork before being open for the public. Because for the opening, the community was shocked at the number of visitors from outside of the area who came to see the artwork, with some of them choosing to stay inside the house. The community was initially not comfortable with the visitors. This is not what I wanted, because I wanted the community to feel comfortable. However, everything changed after two days. People became more comfortable as they even greeted and guided the visitors to view the artwork.
This project became a starting point for me for other projects, like the museum project. The community is now starting to understand a bit more about the possibility of artwork that does not reside solely inside the gallery. They are more ready for another art project from which we can learn one or two new things from their lives. After the Family Portraits Project, I made another project called “Moving Museum Project” and I invited my anthropologist friends and an artist to start an Inter-disciplinary project in 2016. Now this community is facing a new problem, which is its eviction. The government wants to evict the community from the area to build vertical houses and some public spaces in Pulosari.
Go To FILM section to see the video documentation of this project
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