Earlier this month, Associate Publisher Saba Ahmed joined five other UK editors on a British Council scouting trip to Indonesia, a brilliant opportunity to showcase our own literary lists and build enduring relationships with our counterparts at Indonesian publishing houses. The arts scene in both Jakarta and Makassar is extremely vibrant, supported by the dynamism of smaller presses and organisations with radical ideals, cool festivals, and cultural spaces focussed around collaboration and community. Here are some photographs from her time there:
Day 1: May Day / International Workers' Day! Labour activists and union members rally on the streets of Jakarta.
Here we are at the beautiful and serene Studio Hanafi, in Depok, a residency centre for young artists working across different mediums and forms, often even in collaboration. We met writers and poets like Heru Joni Putra whose work is concerned with his Minang identity (Minangkabu people are an ethnic group indigenous to the highlands of West Sumatra – the world's largest matrilineal society) and migration.
We return to Kemang in Jakarta where we visit another gallery, Dia.Lo.Gue. Dia means he/she in Indonesian, lo means you, gue means I – #wordplay! Engel Tanzil, founder and curator, gives us a guide to a sensitive exhibition on novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, chronicler of Indonesia's battle for independence against the Dutch colonists. Engel hopes that the recovery of Pram's extensive archives and the resurgence of his work will newly inspire young artists here.
Day 2/3: After a hectic day of speed-dating other publishers, writers and journalists, we fly out to Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi, and home to the Makassar Writers Festival. Our own poet-legend Khairani Barokka performed and workshopped in the sunlit spaces of Fort Rotterdam back in 2014, so MWF holds a special place in our hearts! Our first panel – ably translated by British Council Indonesia Programme Manager Irma – talks forcefully and lucidly on twenty years of freedom following President Suharto's militarised repressive dictatorship. Pictured above: artist and activist Hikmat Darmawan, badass novelist Ayu Utami, translator John McGlynn – also founder of the wonderful Lontar Foundation, the effervescent and Jakarta Art Council prizewinning Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizki, and writer Mark Heyward.
In-between other excellent panels including the likes of renowned critic and scholar Melani Budianta, writer and journalist Lily Yulianti Farid, and feminist publisher Olin Monteiro, we cool down in 30-degree temperatures with sop buah, avocado juice (as delicious as it sounds), very good iced coffee, and pisang epe.
Day 4/5: Before we fly back to Jakarta, we visit two more incredible spaces. The first: Tanah Indie, a small press set up by Anwar Rachman, as well as a research institute slash library slash place for writers and artists to talk and co-conspire. The second: a mobile boat library, which travels to remote islands across South, Central and West Sulawesi in an effort to promote literacy and reading for pleasure.
Day 6: Our last day here (sob!) – we blow the last of our rupiah at POST (a bookshop that doubles as a micro-press) at Pasar Santa, publisher of Mikael Johani's poetry collection We Are Nowhere And It's Wow. Time for one last bear hug with heart-breaking poet Norman Erikson Pasaribu whose verses will break you into pieces, then gently re-assemble you. And a chance to meet our own Han Yujoo, queen of cool and experimental dream-like prose, who is visiting Jakarta as part of the WrICE programme.
We make one last stop at Kota Tua, the old town of Jakarta where we take a peek in the Museum Wayang. Pictured above: details from glass paintings depicting epic tales of goddesses and gift-giving.
With many thanks to Cortina Butler and Harriet Williams at British Council UK, and Adam Pushkin, Irma Chantily, Viandira Athia Mulyono at British Council Indonesia for their heroic efforts organising. And, of course, to the other editors involved: Ka Bradley at Granta and Portobello Books, Paul Engles at Maclehose Press, Juliet Mabey at Oneworld, Shane Rhodes at Wrecking Ball Press, and Ellie Steel at Harvill Secker – a great mix of smaller and larger publishing forces, all spotlighting literature in translation.