Indonesia is unique – with over 17,000 islands, it is the largest archipelago country in the world. It has over 580 languages and dialects, nearly 140 volcanoes and is home to the only dragon in the world (the Komodo dragon). Jo Verrent, Senior Producer for Unlimited (UK), compares her 2019 visit in relation to promoting the work of disabled artists and access in the arts to the first visit she made in 2016.
WRITTEN BY JO VERRENT
I last visited Indonesia in 2016 and was impressed, not just by the heat of the food! Since then, the speed of change in Indonesia in arts and disability is remarkable, and can clearly be seen in the confidence and activity when compared to my visit 4 years ago. Driven by the British Council and achieved through a process of the genuine involvement of disabled artists in several British Council run projects and programmes, the process has included clear strategy and considerable investment. Together, they have created a number of small steps which taken together, have covered much ground.
I’ve watched from the UK as different projects took shape – Ballet.id (Indonesia) and Candoco (UK), helping to develop a new Indonesian company of disabled and non-disabled dancers, Padepokan Seni Bagong Kussudiardja (Indonesia) and Caglar Kimyoncu (UK) creating What Makes You Who You Are, a collaborative transmedia installation exploring what shapes our identity, disabled models on the runway at Jakarta Fashion Week, Hana Madness (Indonesia) and the vacuum cleaner (UK) creating an artistic response to the voices of people with mental health disabilities, including In Chains, a film with VICE media, and seen the growth and rapid development of Festival Babas Batas.
Whilst visiting in 2019 I saw the moving results of a Corali (UK) collaboration with GIGI Art of Dance (Jakarta), at Studio TOM FFTV Jakarta Art Institute, experienced the inclusion elements put in place as part of We The Fest (or WTF in its cheeky abbreviated form!) which included viewing platforms, rest areas, mental health support and the direct programming of disabled artists, took part in the Indonesia Development Forum where arts and culture were noted as a strong force for change, and met many more disabled artists and organisations interested in more – more projects, more exchanges, more access and more inclusion.
Back in the UK, I got to see Hana Madness’s work again as part of St Helen’s Heart of Glass annual 'TakeOver' festival. Again, working with the Vacuum Cleaner, she was part of the 'Madlove TakeOver', engaging with themes of mental health, care and suicide in response to St. Helens having the highest suicide rate in England and Wales. It’s a real testament to the pace of development that Hana is now an in-demand international artist, working with a wide range of partners across the world. Her work – large and small scale ‘pop’ cartoons inspired by her mental health experiences – is modern, humorous and playful, and her public advocacy hard hitting, direct and extremely powerful.