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Bandung Design Residency: Travelogue #2

 © Sarah Colson

© Sarah Colson

 © Sarah Colson

© Sarah Colson

 © Sarah Colson

© Sarah Colson

4 November 2014
by Sarah Colson

 As Sarah Colson prepares for her final weeks in Indonesia and to unveil the outcomes of her residency, she sends the second report from Bandung, giving a very personal account of her experiences in the city.

Sarah Colson has been selected through an open call for the Bandung Design Residency 2014, organised in partnership between the British Council and Bandung Creative City Forum. 

It’s all about the chat… 

I spent my first week meeting people and developing relationships within the community. Although it’s only a few weeks in, I feel very accepted and made to feel part of the team. I have come to learn that Rumah Cemara is a place where you leave your prejudices outside the door. Whatever hang-ups you have before you enter, everyone is welcome and discriminations should be left outside. Many of the Rumah Cemara team are practical thinkers and have clearly stated on many occasions they do not want pity.  They know their past is something they cannot escape; HIV, drug addiction or sexual discrimination, but they have a positive vision for their future and take it a day at a time.  Pity only depresses their outlook and suffocates their future vision.

Given this time to openly discuss the variety of issue many people in Rumah Cemara face has really made me re-evaluate my position as a designer and what approach I should be taking.

Am I an anthropologists or a designer?

Speaking with a friend who is an anthropologist over skype made me realise that I am not simply trying to create something from my observations, but from personal experiences and from understanding gained from people’s stories.‘Observing culture never gets you anywhere, sitting with people and talking is the best way to understand where people are coming from.’

Turning this on its head and realising I will never completely understand this culture fully - I am not Indonesian, I do not work in the city, I was not educated here and social rituals do not bind me - has made me appreciate that my western perspective, and perhaps naivety, to all the given areas are my advantage in this situation.

I felt this overwhelming lack of control and I am now looking towards my personal limits and knowledge to be influenced by my surroundings.  By becoming the anthropologist, I can be sensitive to cultural identity, but also a narrator in the process.

East meets West…

Panca (the Indonesian artist I work alongside) explained that in the past he has experienced problems with the western mentality and  approaches to projects. He explained that Eastern mentality is much more about the process and the journey with no real idea to the end destination. So when you arrive you simply know it’s the end. He saw the western mentality as a journey towards an end gold that was an inflexible target.

He felt this was possibly why stress and anxiety seemed to get in the way of creative thinking: if you know your end destination, where is the creative process in between?  This quote was given to me to consider while we journeyed through this project:

'If you are depressed, you are living in the past.

If you are anxious, you are living in your future.

If you are at peace. you are living in your present.'

Lao Tzu

Panca has suggested I remove the emotion from my approach at this stage. I felt overwhelmed by the stories I have heard and started to feel completely helpless in the possibility of change I could make. With this approach in mind I have come to realise it’s perhaps not dramatic change I can make, but perhaps giving people the opportunity to be heard.

I have now taken time on my own to experience Bandung. For the best way to me to experience a place is to get completely lost!

Walking the city…

This is not an easy pastime, as pavements are not always installed when you need them.  You contend with scooters, cars and the many street food vans roaming the streets banging a drum for attention. But on my walks I have discovered this is a city of intense industry. It’s often to come into a district that specifically caters for one craft. Digging deep behind industrial doors you find workshops with sewing machines making leather goods.  Open metal workshops welding large beams together, with not one consideration for health and safety. Polished silver turrets of mosque temples glimmer in the sun and small children entertain with monkeys on a string.  I speed past self-built food houses, stationary shops, wooden furniture sellers and tea stands. Bamboo birdcages hang from every tree, with sweet little birds singing their tuneful songs.

It’s still an intense assault on the senses.

I was walking across a bridge when I came across this little workforce of men. I was pulled down to the riverside by the banging tunes they were working to and welcomed with big smiles. They were working as a small production line making Janur, a traditional wedding symbol that hangs at the entrance of a wedding venue. I sat and watched them work, delicately cutting and folding leaves before weaving them together.


Having finally gained my independence, I’m learning the best way to travel the city is on Ojex. This is a man on a scooter. I have also learnt that most people can suddenly become an Ojex driver once they see a British girl, with potentially lots of cash! 

The normal routine is they borrow a bike from their mate, exchange a driver licence and drive me across the city. When the journey ends, I ask how much and they always reply ‘what you like’ (loving eyes included). I pull out a colourful note and they smile. 

Note to self:  Do not get on a bike with someone looking under the age of 18, not wearing a helmet or not knowing the address destination.  That really is illegal.