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Interviewing Arif

Interview with Arif Hidayat from Arimba Culture Exchange with Sarito Johnson for Suara Indonesia Radio Show.

Sarito: Arif, perhaps you'd like to tell us a little something about yourself and Arimba Culture Exchange. You're involved with Arimba Culture Exchange?

Arif: Yes I'm involved with Arimba Culture Exchange... the first project I did was in 1992 touring with a group called Entr'Acte Theatre to Indonesia. Entr'Acte is an Australian contemporary theatre group based in Sydney which toured to Solo, Jakarta and Padang Panjang in West Sumatra. Following that later in 1992 I brought Rendra to Australia touring to Sydney, Canberra, Perth and Melbourne. I was also then involved with the Australian National Playwrights' Conference. I've been involved with lots of Australian groups touring to Indonesia. One of them was the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Rock 'n' Roll Circus and Coloured Stone, and Guy Strazullo Trio. There were more groups from Australia than from Indonesia in 1994.

Sarito: What brings you to create such an exchange? How do you see yourself? Are you a promoter or...

Arif: Well my background is as an actor. I trained with Rendra and performed with various groups. Also I trained in Sydney with different theatre groups. Since then I have looked for different ways of how working together is perceived with Australian artists and Indonesian artists. Through the arts I think I can easily connect to the artists.

Sarito: So what would you say is your most major achievement to date?

Arif: It is closer contact - people to people, and then artist to artist and community to community, and to give more information about what Indonesian art is about and Australian art is about, from both sides.

Sarito: Actually, at the moment you're doing a lot of blending with contemporary and ancient music forms in your productions aren't you - how's that been received ?

Arif: It's been received really well. I'm quite pleased to have that response from Australian audiences and also the response from Indonesian audiences as well. One example was working with a performance called 'The Theft of Sita'. It has been performed at the Adelaide Festival and the Melbourne Festival. It's a collaborative work between Indonesian puppeteers and Indonesian musicians with Australian puppeteers and Australian musicians. We are going to perform at the Opera House from 3rd October until 12th October and after that we are going to tour to New York and England with the show.

Sarito: So what sort of cast are we looking at, how many people are involved in this?

Arif: Oh it's about 17 people, five puppeteers, and then we have about twelve musicians.

Sarito: So this is a…in basic words, a puppet show?

Arif: Yes, it's a puppet show.

Sarito: And you are doing this at the Opera House?

Arif: Yes - in the Drama Theatre.

Sarito: And what would you say your personal ambitions are for this?

Arif: I think I'm going to keep working with the Australian artists and Indonesian artists to make more collaborative work…

Sarito: You find it goes well both ways going across to Indonesia and coming back?

Arif: Yes, I do. Yes.

Sarito How do you feel the Indonesians receive Australians at the moment in terms of culture ?

Arif: There are lots of Australians who have been performing in Indonesia and one example which is going to Indonesia soon is NAISDA (National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association). This Aboriginal group is going to Indonesia for the Jakarta Arts Festival at the end of May and also in June the group from Perth called Nova is going to perform in Jakarta as well. Australian arts are quite well received in Indonesia, but in Indonesia and Australia there are other ways of perceiving the political climate apart from the artists of course….

Sarito: The thing is, I was just curious as you were talking…. then is there such a thing as Australian culture or are we sort of a different shade of Western culture?

Arif: Yes there is.

Sarito: You take a lot of Aboriginal groups across to Indonesia?

Arif: Well … a few Aboriginal groups have been to Indonesia. The Utopia group of artists are going to Indonesia as well.

Sarito: And what do they do?

Arif: This Aboriginal group dances and also they're going to exhibit their painting and the batik of Utopia… a few of the artists want to learn how to make batik in Jogja … then they bring it back here.

Sarito: When you take these cultural groups across, you're taking more than just music. You're also taking their culture as well.

Arif: Yes.

Sarito: So it's a full representation of these groups?

Arif: Yes it's a different way of representing them... also theatre groups, not only music.

Sarito: Coming the other way - what do Australians expect from Indonesia in forms of culture? What are they looking to see? How are you surprising them?

Arif: Yes, this is quite a different group. Music and theatre, and also dance are coming. Well I think at the moment not many Australian audiences know much about Indonesian contemporary arts. Most of them know about traditional ways. There is something amazing in the contemporary arts in Indonesia and this is the kind of performance that people in Australia should know about. We know lots about the traditional music of Indonesia but little about contemporary traditions. An example of an amazing contemporary group is Krakatau.

Sarito: Krakatau is quite famous isn' t it? It had quite a marked impact here.

Arif: Yes actually this is one of the examples of collaboration - working with the traditional and the western influence.

Sarito: So what did you bring together, exactly, to make Krakatau work?

Arif: How did I bring it together? I think it's the different way Krakatau themselves see their music. You know we brought them because their music is quite unusual and amazing - blending the music as I know there are quite a few groups overseas doing this kind of music. But I think it's one example of how we can bring these groups to Australia - Krakatau. I know a few groups in Sydney that are doing that sort of collaborative work as well. We first brought Krakatau in 1997 and they were well received at Manly Jazz Festival.

This really gave me the idea of bringing more contemporary music into the country as well as other contemporary arts… because they were successful and especially it's quite nice because there are not many Australian audiences who know about that kind of music. The Australian audience know Gamelan especially, but not rock, pop and jazz music. If you look at it, they are not known as well as other Indonesian music in Australia. But this group Krakatau is a different way of seeing things.

Krakatau at Manly Jazz Festival 1997

Sarito: My understanding of Krakatau is bringing contemporary rhythm with a sort of Sundanese melody. Would that be a fair way to describe it?

Arif: Oh yes they have different melodies you know, for example they had these… I don't know if you call it - Sundanese melodies. I know the gong is Sundanese, but they have different melodies from West Sumatra and East Java as well you know.

Sarito: But the formation is always the traditional blend of a traditional melody on a contemporary beat ?

Arif: Yes in the contemporary perception.

Sarito: So what is it exactly you are planning for the Opera House?

Arif: This performance is called The Theft of Sita - I'm involved in this performance - it is produced by Performing Lines and is a collaborative work.

Sarito: So we're getting something like a huge puppet show with music and also some sort of narration?

Arif: Yes we have about, maybe 100 puppets... traditional puppets from Bali and also contemporary puppets from Australia. One of them is designed by Rex Mombasa. We have five puppeteers - a Balinese dalang and four Australian puppeteers also perform in this, and then we have a huge screen, sometimes we have two screens and then we have four screens.

Sarito: Ok. It sounds promising.... So that's the beginning of October. Something to look forward to that one.

Arif: October 3rd until 12th October.

Sarito: How do you survive as a cultural exchange? How do you raise finances? Is there much government support?

Arif: Yes, for every project we have received money from the government, then also from other sponsors as well. This private sponsor has been helping us to work with administrative support.

Sarito: Well we have to say thank you to the private sponsor!

Arif: Yes (laughter).

Sarito: Would you like to see the support to the arts change? Do you think there could be more money going to the arts? I suppose that's a silly question.

Arif: I suppose really. Well it depends what you mean, you know, it's kinda easy working in the arts industry at this point. We try hard to raise some money for sponsoring the work we like to do. In this way we consistently have to put more time into finding people who can support this work.

Sarito: So if you had a long term goal for Arimba Culture Exchange what would you like to see it be? Your life achievement? What would you like there?

Arif: Well I think it's to give more opportunities to the Indonesian community and for Indonesian arts in Australia, to show more of their work to the Australian audiences, you know.

Sarito: So really, uniting people is the important thing surely, and using the arts for that reason?

Arif: Well what I'm trying to achieve is to get more people together, I think, yeah to work in different ways…Yes.

Sarito: Well I suppose it's fair to say that most people can sort of look at a painting and discuss it without getting really upset ?... I hope!

Arif: (Laughter) Yes, well people have different outlooks and I understand that, but if we look at it that way all the time we never do anything... so better we just do what we have to do. (more laughter)

Sarito: Alright. Thank you very much Arif. I'm very grateful to you for talking to me

Arif: Alright

Sarito: Good luck in October

Arif: Thanks. Goodbye.

Sarito Johnston
P O Box 1414
Byron Bay
N.S.W. 2481

Contact Arif Hidayat;
Member - AIAA

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