By UK/Indonesia 2016-18 team

11 April 2019 - 14:54


Doc. by PSBK Jogja

Conversing with Caglar Kimyoncu is akin to coming across an oasis in a barren desert: cool, calming and replenishing. The London-based artist has spent the last two years traversing Indonesia for his What Makes You Who You Are project, which began last year in Yogyakarta, where he was hosted by the artists community PSBK.

“I really loved that experience. It was an eye-opener for me. I just wanted to learn more and meet more people, so when the opportunity to do this in other cities came about, I went for it,”

he explained during his artist’s talk session at Festival Bebas Batas, where the project was displayed during the week-long event.

People have always been a central theme to Kimyoncu’s work, and true to its title, What Makes You Who You Are tackles it from a visceral angle. “Because we change all the time,” he reasoned, when asked about the inspiration behind the project. “We pretend we know or like ourselves. But sometimes we don’t. I claimed to be open-minded, sensitive and easy to notice things, but apparently not really. So I need to work on that. I tell people not to assume things, but I also make a lot of assumptions,” he examined. “So I suppose this project is about being courageous to ask ourselves, “Who’s this person?”, and stop assuming that you know people,” he continued. “It’s also about creating a space to talk.”


To Kimyoncu, talking is an integral activity to the creative process, and this is precisely what makes What Makes You Who You Are compelling: this project is less about his own vision, but more about the life stories of its participants, which, for this year’s installment, included artists from Jakarta and Makassar. “Although this is my second time doing the project in Indonesia, each city offered a different experience,” he said, while recounting his experience of seeing children go to school in the morning during his stay in Makassar. “I would have missed that had I just stayed in my hotel room. To me, wherever you go, whatever you do, you will experience something new if you’re open to it,” he philosophised.




Doc. by PSBK Jogja

The genesis of What Makes You Who You Are had, in fact, been planted earlier in Kimyoncu’s nomadic childhood, thanks to his father’s job as a professional army. “There are two things I remember about my childhood: I was constantly at the hospital even before entering primary school, and I moved around a lot. So my identity was always changing wherever my family was,” he reminisced. As a result, his formative years were laden with feelings of statelessness. “I always had a feeling like I never belonged. By the time I started to learn the dialect of a place, it would be time to move on to the next one. So maybe my curiosity about who we are and what we’re doing with our lives comes from that.”


Even with a strong concept in tow, defining the project still proved to be a challenge for all parties involved. “We can’t even agree on the translation of it, which is beautiful. And we’re not talking about other languages! Even in English we can’t agree on what What Makes You Who You Are means,” he admitted. “Different people answer differently, and sometimes people lie about what they say. But it’s okay, because we learn from our lies. And sometimes we’re very open, and that makes us very vulnerable. And that’s okay too,” he observed. “So I came to the conclusion that what makes us who we are is what we make of it.”


Ultimately, Kimyoncu also believes that the makings of oneself is an ongoing process. “It’s about our day-to-day life. It’s about how we face challenges,” he declared. “But as a community, I also believe that we need to look out for each other. When we push certain boundaries, you negotiate the same space with other people. You don’t push away people from that space,” he added. Above it all, his modus operandi remains resolute: “Stay curious. Always ask questions. Listen.”