Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Franki Raden: Building cultural bridges

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Tue, 03/31/2009 11:29 AM | People

JP/R. Berto WedhatamaJP/R. Berto Wedhatama

Franki Raden knows what it’s like to see the world from the other side.

With extensive experience and more than 16 years studying and lecturing around the world, he has earned the authority to judge the social engineering of Indonesia’s art and culture.

He agrees that the country’s indigenous art and culture have been abused by the state for propaganda about our heritage, but he does not agree that foreign scholars and artists should be permitted to exploit or study that heritage without contributing anything to its preservation.
“After all this time, we are so proud of our traditional art and cultural richness, we talk about it all the time, everywhere, but we do nothing about it,” Franki says.

“On the other hand, many scholars and foreign artists come here to learn about us. Some take their material from our culture and built their portfolio and work without even mentioning Indonesia.”

Concerned that the country’s art and culture were being undervalued by Indonesians and exploited by outsiders, Franki and his colleague Serrano Sianturi founded the Sacred Bridge Foundation in Jakarta in 1998.

“My concern is with empowering people who have been living with their culture for hundreds of years. It’s so ironic if these people have tremendous expertise but they can’t make a living out it,” he says.

“Why is it people who study computers for five years can make a living out of their expertise but not these people?”

The foundation has attracted the attention of many people concerned about the preservation of world culture, including Japanese national living treasure Tsutomu Yamashita, who become chairman of the advisory board of the organization, and the former director of Unesco Jakarta, Stephen C. Hill, who is a member of the advisory board.

Franki, whose real name is Franki Suryadarma Notosudirdjo, is an ethnomusicologist, composer, cultural critic and multimedia artist who has received numerous awards and fellowships from prestigious research and arts institutes including the Social Sciences and Research Council (SSRC), The Ford Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, The Arts Council of Jakarta (DKJ) and The Indonesian Film Festival (FFI).

Franki finished his studies in his music composition at the Jakarta Art Institute (IKJ) in 1986. Two years later, he became a visiting artist in New York sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. He later studied composition with Chou Wen-Chung at Columbia University and Stephen Dembski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his PhD in 2001.

His research has always focused on issues at the intersection of the arts, religion, the media and politics in Asia, as well as colonial arts and culture in Indonesia, and Asian-American contemporary arts. He spent two years researching jazz in the Afro-American community in Chicago, as well as teaching in the Fine Arts Cultural Studies program, at the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University in the UK and the Visual and Performing Arts program at the University of Toronto in Canada.

His studio work, which demonstrates his strong interest in combining elements from both Western and non-Western cultures, has been performed in Indonesia, Japan and the United States.

After years overseas, Franki decided to bring his family back to Indonesia, stopping for one year at the National University of Singapore, where he was a lecturer on studies in Asian Art and Popular Culture in Southeast Asia.

During his 10 years of back and forth to Jakarta running the Sacred Bridge Foundation, Franki and his colleagues designed and organized numerous events on a global scale, such as the legendary Sacred Rhythm Festival in Bali and Kyoto, the Interfaith Music Clinic and Concert at Borobudur Temple, and Cultural Healing for the Tsunami Survivors in Aceh.

The foundation’s programs, all of which take an interdisciplinary approach, are based on four domains: Intercultural dialogue, cultural education for children, preservation of indigenous arts and capacity building.

Franki believes Indonesia has great potential to contribute to world music but that no significant steps have been made.

“It takes the whole continent of Africa to have a variety of music heritages but it only takes one country, Indonesia, to have a thousand musical traditions. Why shouldn’t we do something?” he says.

“We don’t want to just be hired as an instructor if one of our original instruments is taken by a foreign artist or institution.”

Franki said his long-term goal is to bridge groups or cultures around the world to bring about a better future. “Indigenous cultures everywhere are a huge repository for cultural values and civilization, but they have been neglected everywhere.”

The best way to approach these cultures as an ethnomusicologist, says Franki, is to become an insider and work with people to empower their culture. He himself once lived in a Dayak community in Tanjung Manis, East Kalimantan, to reinvent their long-defunct mouth organ, which was generally used in rituals.

“We are not going to represent anybody or any culture, because every representation has its own bias and that’s very dangerous.”

But, he adds, indigenous peoples should not be left to deal with these problems on their own.

“They won’t be able to solve their own problems because it has become too complicated, requiring a multidisciplinary approach. They need people who understand their problems, understand how the system works and help empower them,” he says. “Government
can play a role here. They can think of a system where the economy is integrated with art and culture.”

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