By Azarine Arinta, Programme Officer, UK/Indonesia 2016-18

28 November 2016 - 13:07

Hand-drawn pamphlet created especially for the poetry performance in Pasar Santa.  ©

Azarine Kyla Arinta

Scottish poetry collective Neu!Reekie! has performed in many places, from churches to museums, and everything inbetween. But the Indonesian city of Jakarta, ever full of surprises, gave them a change to perform in a brand new place as part of a poetry take-over performance - in a unqiue Indonesian market called Pasar Santa.

After their performances in Ubud and Medan, Neu!Reekie! headed to the most populous city in Indonesia, Jakarta. Unlike their other events in two previous cities, in Jakarta Neu!Reekie! collaborated with four talented Jakarta poets from a very assorted background and poetry style: Farhanah, Yoshi Fe, Sinar Ayu Massie, and Benk Riyadi. Farhanah’s poetry combines acute observations of urban life with surreal lyricism, Yoshi specializes in writing senryu – the more urban cousin of haiku, Sinar Ayu Massie is a renowned scriptwriter and Benk is an activist who plays the trombone and combines theatrical work with his trombone playing.

They undertook a short two-day long residency hosted by Maesy Angelina and Teddy W. Kusuma, founder of POST, an independent book shop and literature heaven situated in Santa Modern Market (Pasar Santa). The residency programme was curated by renowned poet and literature critic Mikael Johani. From the very first meeting during dinner, the chemistry could be felt. Every Jakarta poet brought their own unique style of poetry which embodies their daily life as a Jakarta urban and suburban dweller and through that, Kevin and Michael of Neu!Reekie! learned little by little the beautiful tragedy that is Jakarta. 

“I feel like I can learn more about how it is to live in Jakarta and how I might feel about Jakarta by reading poems from people who actually live here rather than watching it from the fabricated news by the media. It’s amazing how literature can tell you so much about something.” – Kevin Williamson

Mikael Johani has established a loyal literature enthusiast community through the events in their book shop. Mikael is also a part of a collective, and similar to Kevin and Michael, he’s used to working with many poets with different styles and has conducted many poetry events in public places. Mikael is intrigued by the post-hipster scene of Santa Modern Market, calling it a 'hipster apocalyptic scene' – the market which used to be cramped by young people opening up their business two years ago is now left deserted with only several stores still open.

During the residency Mikael brought up themes revolving around failed-gentrification, supply and demands in the market, clean water supply and the circulation of money around the market. He encouraged the poets to dig deeper into the issues surrounding the market and voicing out the issues in the form of poetry performance. In order to better understand the market, Mikael brought Kevin, Michael, Farhanah, Yoshi Fe, Sinar Ayu Massie around Pasar Santa in a short tour with Maesy and Teddy who acted as a guide. On their first day, Maesy and Teddy introduced them to many different vendors of the market, exploring every corner of the market – from the deserted second floor, the wet market in the basement, to the basement area which used to be a toy-district area – while scouting for potential spot to do the poetry performance. 

“It’s interesting to see how Pasar Santa has changed in two years. It used to be a hipster hang out and now it’s deserted. We’d like to know what’s going on behind this phenomenon and poured out what we found into a poetry.” – Mikael Johani

As a part of the residency, they had a 'rujak' battle. Rujak is Indonesia’s delicacy, a fruits salad topped with spicy and sweet nut sauce. Rujak serves as a metaphor of Indonesia’s diverse society, assorted fruits topped with a biting spicy but sweet flavour. During the rujak battle, all poets were also researching about some of the theme explored in this residency, including money circulation and supply and demand in the market. All the poets also had a conversation with one of the oldest vendors in Pasar Santa and learned about gentrification through another metaphor – by talking to the owner of a new coffee shop in Pasar Santa about how the coffee is produced and has become one of the reasons young people still come to Pasar Santa. 

Poetry take-over: Tour de Pasar Santa

Despite the heat and humidity after the rain poured rather heavily in Jakarta, audiences started to flock the meeting point for the poerty performance. Upon their arrival, they were asked to write what comes into their mind when they heard the word ‘Pasar Santa’. Mikael then acted as a ‘tour guide’ of the poetry take-over, holding up a flag which said 'Neu!Reekie! x AKAMSI'. Akamsi means Anak Kampung Sini or 'the local kids', consisting of the Jakarta poets. Mikael opened up the tour with the first performance by Farhanah followed by Michael Pedersen. Michael read his poetry: “Hello, I am Pasar Santa”, a beautiful observation of his many stories while he’s in Jakarta. They performed in the middle of the market’s staircase while audiences watched from above. 

'Hello, I am Pasar Santa' by Michael Pedersen

“So, with

the petals of imported flowers

we bid adieu, bury old ambitions

up San Diego Hill, crown and comfort

what’s new. Remember, the best dishes 

BOOM with ginger, garlic, chili, sugar, 

all sweet and salt at once, remember 

eyes off this stall or I shall fall 

and land somewhere far away 

from home; there’s plenty to be 

had upstairs and it’s time 

the mosquitos weren’t so lonely, 

come now, let’s jump without 

parachutes, feast, I am Pasar Santa

and you, are most welcome.”

During one of the residency activity, making Indonesia traditional fruit salad – 'Rujak'. 'Rujak' stood as a metaphor for Indonesia's diversity. Mikael Johani as the curator used this metaphor to introduce Indonesia's 'flavor', identity, and character to Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson of Neu!Reekie!  ©

Azarine Kyla Arinta

Benk Riyadi read a poem by the late Widji Tukul accompanied by his drawing. ©

Azarine Kyla Arinta

The audience then moved to the outdoor area, in a ramp overseeing the parking lot, where Kevin Williamson and Yoshi Fe collaborated with one another, reading poetry they had created together, with Kevin reading aloud in English and Yoshi in Bahasa Indonesia. Accompanied by the blazing dangdut music (Indonesia’s traditional folk music) that blares the market with liveliness, the tour took a route to the wet market with Sinar Ayu Massie reading her poetry work titled ‘Kulo Nuwun Nggih – a Javanese language which is used to ask for permission when you enter someone’s territory.

Kulo Nuwun Nggih’ was a perfect courtesy to the vendors of the wet market, the original inhabitants of Pasar Santa. It was a homage to them and a reminder that the new inhabitants occupying the ‘hipster’ area on the second floor along with the new audiences that they’ve brought are ‘guests’ and thus must pay respect to the original inhabitants of the market.

The tour ended in a euphoric performance on the second floor. Benk Riyadi started his performance with a poem titled ‘Apa yang berharga dari puisiku (What’s the value of my poetry) written by the late Wiji Thukul whilst an illustration created by him played in the background. Yoshi Fe also performed his fusion poetry performance – a mix of poetry accompanied by a visual presentation and up-beat music, which talked about the rows of closing doors at the deserted stores of Pasar Santa. 

The performance in Pasar Santa by Neu!Reekie!, Farhanah, Yoshi Fe, Sinar Ayu Massie, and Benk Riyadi was the embodiment of the spirit of collaboration that UK/ID Festival 2016 would like to showcase – an evidence that Indonesia and the UK have many interrelated issues and that issues can be raised in an exciting way through art performance. It also showed that literature gives us a detailed preview of human experiences, allowing us to connect on basic levels of desire and emotion.

The Jakarta Poets

Yoshi Fe, poet.
Yoshi Fe is a poet, stand-up tragedian and video artist. His poems have appeared in Antologi BungaMatahari and his videos in OK.Video and for a while he held down a weekly poetry/stand-up tragedy residency at the Hard Rock Cafe in Jakarta. He specializes in writing senryu, the more urban cousin of haiku.

Farhanah, poet.
Farhanah is a poet based in Bogor on the outskirts of Jakarta. She graduated from the University of Indonesia with a degree in Communications in 2010. Since then her non-fiction writing about new media, the internet, gender and sexuality has been featured in, Asia-Pacific Resource & Research Centre’s Women’s Bulletin, Change, Urbanesia and others. Her poetry, which combines acute observations of urban life with surreal lyricism has appeared in

Sinar Ayu Massie, poet.
Sinar Ayu Massie is a scriptwriter. Her 2007 road movie-cum-bildungsroman “3 Hari Untuk Selamanya” has turned into a cult classic. She’s working on her first novel.

Benk Riyadi, poet. 
Benk Riyadi is a poet and activist involved in Sebumi (Serikat Kebudayaan Masyarakat Indonesia) community. He did a theatrical act during a peaceful demonstration on President Joko Widodo's 100 days in the office.