Friday, June 12, 2009

A gift for all seasons

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , JAKARTA | Fri, 06/12/2009 1:36 PM | Lifestyle
Gift boxes from Attila Ethnique: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Gift boxes from Attila Ethnique (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
Whatever direction the world economy goes and whatever the time of year, people will keep on getting married. And in Indonesia, wherever there is a bride and a groom, there is also a seserahan – or wedding gift package.

The tradition of the seserahan – a gift from the groom to his bride before the wedding – is practiced across the country, although with some regional variations. And like most once-in-a-lifetime experiences (well, for some it happens more than once, but not on too regular a basis), it is important to get it right.
The groom’s family and neighbors are traditionally the ones who put together the gift – a box or boxes containing clothes or other items. But the fact is not everyone has the necessary artistic touch or knowledge of how to best arrange the items in a wedding gift package to bring – and not everyone has the time to do it right.
Put all these factors together and this aspect of traditional culture translates to a healthy commercial prospect. The wedding gift business is flourishing, even though those who are willing and able – or with more time than money – can buy their boxes and baskets from Cikini market in Central Jakarta for few thousand rupiah and arrange their seserahan themselves.

Attila Sawir, a single mother in Pondok Labu, South Jakarta, started her wedding gift business in a rented room in Yogyakarta in 1987, when she was just a university student. She then moved her business to Jakarta one year after she got married in 1993.
Attila started out by selling artificial flowers and scented candles under the brand name Attila Collection. But by 2000, Attila’s business was concentrating on wedding-related gifts.

“I started to shift my business when a customer asked me to decorate some pre-wedding boxes for him, and obviously he liked the decoration,” Attila said. “Over time I found that the business was good, and at the moment providing and decorating pre-wedding boxes is my main business.”

Attila now has 13 employees dedicated to helping her create and decorate boxes. She has also involved some neighborhood youth organizations in helping her make wedding souvenirs.

Among Attila’s products are various kinds of boxes and baskets made from wood, cardboard, paper or woven materials. Prices range from Rp 35,000 to Rp 375,000. The most popular products are the boxes in the Rp 35,000–Rp 65,000 range.

“We provide boxes with the size fit to the size and shape of the gifts but the customers tend to prefer boxes made from cardboard and paper because they are quite cheap and can be reused,” said Attila, adding that wooden boxes are the least popular because they are expensive, heavy and take up more space.
“Cardboard boxes are lighter to carry and lighter for the customer’s pocket,” she said, laughing.
Attila said that, with about 30 to 40 customers a month, her business generally had a monthly income of up to Rp 50 million.
“Weddings know no season during the year,” said Attila, who has also opened a shop especially to sell wedding souvenirs.

The number of boxes requested also varies, depending on the relationship between the families of the bride and the groom or depending on their financial situation.

“The better they know each other and the surer they are about the prospect of the wedding, the greater the number of boxes they get. Perhaps they have no hesitation about giving something valuable,” said Attila, who has had orders ranging from only three boxes to up to 30 boxes.

Istje Souvenir: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Istje Souvenir (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
The decoration of boxes can take a few days, but with her team, Attila can sometimes take urgent orders, as long as the order does not hold up the delivery of previous orders.

Another woman who has made a business out of the tradition is Siti Aisyah. An employee of an airport cargo company, Siti started her business as a side business in her home in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, soon after she got married in 2005.

Dissatisfied with the quality of the packaging of pre-wedding gifts, which she described as “usually incompatible with the wedding dresses and party’s spirit”, she designed her own wedding packages, which have become a leader among available wedding-related gifts.

Expanding on the notion of boxes designed for pre-wedding gifts, her cottage industry, operating under the name Istje Souvenir, now offers a service providing and decorating boxes for pre-wedding gifts, dowries, wedding rings and wedding souvenirs.

Istje Souvenir adds another twist, not only selling the decorated boxes but also renting them out. It costs Rp 125,000 to rent a plywood box and Rp 200,000 to buy one. Wooden boxes are Rp 175,000 and Rp. 250,000 to buy, and brocade boxes are Rp 225,000 to rent and Rp 300,000 to buy.

With her team of five workers – her husband, her mother and brothers – Siti can finish an order in two weeks. Urgent orders are accepted only if they do not affect waiting orders.
Siti Aisyah, owner of Istje Souvenir: (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)Siti Aisyah, owner of Istje Souvenir (JP/Matheos V. Messakh)
Siti, who is open on weekends and by appointment, said most customers choose either plywood boxes covered with a traditional mat made from pandanus thorns or plywood-Styrofoam boxes covered with brocade, with price being an important deciding factor. Wooden boxes are rarely requested because of the expense.
However, unlike Attila Collection, Istje Souvenir provides boxes for pre-wedding gifts in one size only – 45 x 35 centimeters.

“What people need is actually decoration and decoration needs space. That’s why we use big boxes – to allow us to show off the beauty of the gift,” she said.

Although she says that the diversity of the shapes and designs are the selling points of her products, Siti said she usually advises her customers not to expect too much from some materials; for example, some traditional woven fabrics or silk cannot be folded in certain shapes as that would harm the fabrics.

With between five and 10 customers a month, the average number of boxes ordered ranges from 12 to 17, which gives Siti a monthly income of up to Rp 12 million a month.

Unlike Attila, Istje Collection does have a peak season – June, July and after the fasting month – and a low season in February and March.

Yet another pre-wedding gift package designer, targeting middle and upper class families, is The House of Seserahan. Like the other businesses, The House of Seserahan began out of home, started up in January 2008 by retiree Sylvia Hasan and her husband in their house in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta.

The 59-year-old woman said the business started from her hobby helping relatives and friends decorate their boxes – a hobby she began when she was young.

“For decades we did it for free, but my daughter opened up our minds and persuaded us to do it for business,” she said.

Unlike the other vendors, The House of Seserahan targets only middle- and high-income families.
Therefore, they provide only wooden boxes, which are considered be less wasteful and are more durable than cardboard boxes.

“We chose this middle segment because we can easily move up or down,” she said. “We believe that there are always people who want something special for their special day.”

Where the other vendors cover the top of their boxes with transparent mica, Sylvia uses only acrylic for the cover. “Glass materials are heavy. Mica is light but easily scratched. The acrylic is quite expensive but lighter and stylish,” she said.
Thanks to the family’s interior design business, which they have run for years, they have all the necessary skills to design elegant luxury wooden boxes. With six workers and her husband as the box designer, they produce boxes in various sizes and styles, covered with suede, leather, paper and mica.

Sylvia is responsible for putting the final decorative touches on the boxes, with beautiful fresh, dried or artificial flowers and various ornaments.

“We have for the highest standard of box, but we also want the customer to get what they really want. Which is why we have a consultation first, which is never less than one hour long,” said Sylvia.
“People might buy an expensive product but that doesn’t always mean that they get what they want.”
Prices for boxes sold by The House of Seserahan range from Rp 200,000 to Rp 600,000 depending on size and materials. They are available for hire from Rp 125,000 to Rp 200,000.

The best-sellers are the boxes priced between Rp 350,000 and Rp 400,000. Boxes priced between Rp 150,000 and Rp 200,000 are most popular for rental.

“There is a balance in the number of the people who want to buy and the people who want to hire,” Sylvia said, adding that she has at least four customers a month, which gives her an average monthly income of up to Rp 30 million.

As Sylvia has taken her business online, she said she experiences no “wedding” season. “A bad month to hold a wedding for some people and cultures is a good month for others.”

The House of Seserahan
Jl. Cempaka Putih Timur IV/17
Jakarta 10510
Tel: (021) 424 6539

Istje Souvenir
Jl. Pasar Baru Selatan 20
Jakarta 10710
Tel: (021) 6890 0054

Attila Ethnique
Jl. Lebak Bulus III/21
Tel: (021) 7062 5250

Cold hard cash can be pretty too

Fri, 06/12/2009 2:44 PM | Lifestyle
For a groom to give his prospective bride a gift or dowry, such as cash, gold or a praying rug and veil, is a traditional custom in Indonesia.
But whereas pieces of gold or a praying rug and veil set can be placed nicely in antique boxes, demanding relatively little skill, giving money has become an art - in the sense of a craft.
For a groom to offer his bride cold hard cash as the present does not have to be boring, with many vendors now offering grooms a distinctive service: Fashion their cash into shapes such as a dozen roses, butterflies, an eagle, a mosque, a traditional wedding couple, a peacock, a marine scene, a traditional ship or a traditional house.
"Ship and houses are the most popular models especially among people from Sulawesi and Sumatra because they symbolize a long-lasting journey and a home for the family, but sometimes customers want something extraordinary such as a police officer wanted me to make the police logo out of his money," said Sylvia Hasan, the owner of The House of Seserahan.
The bills are folded and arranged in an origami-type style in a two- or three-dimensional frame. Within the frame, alongside the folded cash, may be additional ornaments to help bring out the shape. An aquarium scene might include some sea shells, for example.
The amount of money a man might give as a gift can range from just a few thousand rupiah to millions. The amount of money usually represents the wedding date or another date special to the couple.
If cash denominations don't fit the date, artisans look for obsolete bills, which are available at some traditional markets or from the central bank. But, Sylvia said, old money is easily torn and can generally only be put in the frame without much folding.
Where there is a large sum of money, artisans may advise the customer to use only the small bills for the money art, with the rest simply placed in the frame.
"If they want the gift to be memorable, we usually advise them to use only small notes so *the gift* doesn't have to be pulled apart after the wedding. And large amounts of money in a frame could invite criminals," added Attila Sawir, who was once asked to make a traditional house of the Minang people, rumah gadang, from Rp 25 million in cash.
Foreign currencies are also used. "People from Sulawesi tend to have money from Arab regions such as riyals or dinars, but a few times I have had grooms bring all kinds of money, saying they wanted to travel to all the countries the money comes from," said Siti Aisyah, the owner of Istje Souvenir.
As the money-folding skill is a rare one, prices for the service are higher than for other pre-wedding gifts.
Attila Collection, for example, charges from Rp 100,000 to 350,000 for arranging money in a frame. The House of Seserahan charges between Rp 550,000 and Rp 600,000 for a two-dimensional construction and between Rp 1 million and Rp 1.5 million for three dimensions.
- JP/Matheos V. Messakh

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Myth in the abstract

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 06/11/2009 10:11 AM | Arts & Design

Untitled by Umi Dachlan: Photo by Matheos V. MessakhUntitled by Umi Dachlan: Photo by Matheos V. Messakh

The late art critic Mamannoor once said of Umi Dachlan that she “is like a book that has never been opened; she is a silent and ‘forgotten’ figure”.

The current exhibition of paintings by the late Umi Dachlan at Cemara 6 Gallery in Jakarta confirms Mamannoor’s statement.

To view the works in “Mythomorphic”, an exhibit of 22 abstract paintings, is to ponder the nature of abstract painting as opposed to representational painting – to open the book that is the artist.

The very purity of the abstract works of Umi Dachlan is immediately confronting. Unlike figurative painting, where it is easy to recognize the literal objects in the painting, and often its meaning too, the viewer must approach abstract paintings differently. The viewer must divine meaning and emotion from shapes, colors, lines and patterns. In the case of works by Umi Dachlan, usually there is no title to guide the thoughts and emotions, apart from the overarching exhibition title, “Mythomorphic”.

Within the works on display as part of this exhibition are certain archaic forms and symbols, along with dimensions of religious mythology. For example, a series of paintings, all with the label Untitled, created in 1997, 2005 and 2006, employ archaic coins, giving an impression of antiquity, along with the many connotations of the shape – a circle – and of money.

According to art critic Aminudin TH Siregar, Umi’s paintings demonstrate some of the characteristics of formalism, which was a powerful influence on modern art in the 1960s.

Formalism, which placed the emphasis on significant form, Aminudin said, is evident in the way the artist bestowed simple descriptive titles on some of her paintings: Bidang Hijau dengan Tekstur Emas (Green space with golden texture) (1997), Bidang Vertikal di atas Hijau Abu-abu (Vertical area on grayish-green) (1997) and Goresan-goresan pada Bidang Maroon (Sketches on a maroon area) (1969).

“This implies that Umi Dachlan didn’t seem to imagine a certain meaning for her paintings, but rather had the mere satisfaction of enjoying the formal aspect of the paintings,” Aminudin said.

“At least, from this we can ultimately feel the balance, awareness of harmony between forms, colors and lines in a painting.”

Yet Aminudin added that Umi Dachlan demonstrated an artistic metamorphosis from formalism toward various other directions, including a marked tendency for spiritualism.

“Some of her works deviate to metaphors that seem to comment on social problems,” he said.

The “Mythomorphic” exhibition, organized by Bale Tonggoh Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, the family of Umi Dachlan and Cemara 6 Gallery, is being held as a tribute to Umi Dachlan, who died in Bandung on Jan. 1 this year.

Umi Dachlan was born in Cirebon, West Java, on Aug. 13, 1942. Her father died when she was just seven years old. The ninth of 10 children, she was raised by her mother in a very disciplined and religious family that had a great appreciation for traditional Cirebon visual and performing arts.

The front yard of her house in Cirebon was often the stage for performances of local traditions, such as tari topeng (mask dancing), barong kepet (traditional conjuring) and the martial art silat.

Umi grew up as something of a tomboy with a great admiration for her uncle, a silat coach. She was also a fan of the manly puppet figure Gatotkaca and although she attended an all-girls school, her character was generally described as “firm and strong”.

Bidang Bertekstur dengan Aksen Emas di Atas Biru (Textured Area with Golden Accent on Blue) by Umi Dachlan. Photo by Matheos V. MessakhBidang Bertekstur dengan Aksen Emas di Atas Biru (Textured Area with Golden Accent on Blue) by Umi Dachlan. Photo by Matheos V. Messakh

Her drawing talent became evident when she was in elementary school, and she displayed a tendency to make sketches on walls when angry or scolded.

In 1961, Umi Dachlan moved to Bandung to study interior design at the Bandung Institute of Technology, but changed to painting in her second year.

Soon after graduating, she was given a position as a lecturer in painting, and in 1971 became assistant lecturer for expressive drawing and model drawing.

Umi’s lecturing career began at a time when there was a tug-of-war in art discourse between the Orde Lama (Old Order) and Orde Baru (New Order), between universal expression and social order expression, between abstract painting and figurative painting.

As an artist, she stood firm with her abstract contemplative style, although simultaneously practicing figurative murals.

She developed to become one of the most prominent abstract painters, who brought into sharp focus the presence of the Bandung clique of artists, known in Indonesia as defenders of modern art.

As art critic Toeti Heraty wrote in the exhibition catalogue: “The commotion and disturbance in painting discourse was widespread, and Bandung art has an honorable history. And Umi Dachlan quietly and diligently, without publication or marketing, made herself known through exhibitions of her paintings and work.”

Yet perhaps because of her sensitive character, Umi Dachlan was not a highly productive artist. No more than 30 paintings remained in her collection when she died, in addition to some works held by other collectors.

This might also be related to her perfectionism, said artist and art critic Selasar Sunaryo. “She had an attitude that made her tend to be a perfectionist in her work, or at least [she was] always trying to dig deeper.”

Mythomorphic by Umi Dachlan
Until June 14
Cemara 6 Galeri
Jl. HOS Cokroaminoto No. 9–11
Menteng, Central Jakarta
Tel: (021) 3911823

Monday, June 08, 2009

Dira J. Sugandi, WHAT A GIRL WANTS

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 06/06/2009 12:29 PM | People

Jazz singer Dira Sugandi might still be finding her way in the music scene, but she believes firmly that where there's a will, there's a way.

And she has the will.

About eight years ago, when British acid jazz band Incognito performed in Bandung, the then 21-year-old Dira stood in the front row, dancing and singing along with the band.

"I knew all of their songs so I sang along with the show," she recalls. "Then I was asked to sing on stage with the band. I sang *Still a friend of mine' and after that they asked me to go backstage after the show."

The next year, Dira was asked to sing with the band on their Indonesian tour of Bandung, Surabaya, Jakarta and Medan.

Incognito leader Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick told Asha Brodie from "Dira turned up at one of our shows in Indonesia . in her early teens. She told me of her dream to one day sing with Incognito. When I listened to her demo, I realized that this kid was serious. So I told her to get her studies finished and work on her vocals and establish herself in her local music market as a performer."

Dira kept in touch with the band and when the band visited again in 2005, for the Java Jazz Festival, they invited Dira to sing with them in Bali and Singapore.

Since then Dira, now approaching her 30th birthday, has performed live with other acts, including the YellowJackets, Incognito, Keith Martin, and recently with Jason Mraz during the 2009 Java Jazz Festival.

"*She* has developed into a very strong live performer who is not afraid of a challenge," Bluey said of her occasional duets with the big names.

Dira did as advised and in 2006 finished her studies in classical music at Pelita Harapan University. The same year she flew to London on a self-funded trip to start recording her debut album at Angel Studios in central London with Bluey's help.

The album, with 12 songs, is a stylish and refreshing blend of R&B mixed with acid jazz, soulful house and bossa flavors, part of which was also recorded in Jakarta. The songs are sung in English, with two cuts Indonesian including "Kami Cinta Indonesia" (We love Indonesia) written by the late Harry Roesli.

Bluey brought Incognito collaborators Matt Cooper, Richard Bull, Simon Cotsworth and Ski Oakenful into the project, along with Dira's favorite male vocalist, Omar from the UK, to do a duet with her.

Although relatively new to the music scene, Dira dreams of going international, and points out that if Indonesian artists want to sell themselves to the world, they have to bring something special and "never compare *themselves* to Christina Aguilera or Beyonce".

"Who doesn't want to be like them? But just be realistic and don't offer something that the world already has."

Although aware of the possibilities if she pursues her music career overseas, Dira, who won the Indonesian Young Jazz Talent Award at the 2009 Java Jazz Festival, says she would prefer "to be still in Indonesia but known to the world".

"I have to be open to any possibilities and it might be a lot easier for me to move to England to become British singer, the way Anggun *C. Sasmi* became a singer in France. I'm not saying that Mbak Anggun didn't have to go through a lot of challenges before she succeeded," she hastens to add.

For all her faith in the power of will, Dira believes it is nothing without technique and talent to back it up. She still believes that the decision she made in 1997, when she graduated from Bandung's Taruna Bakti high school, to study classical music was the right move for her career.

"I had to choose to study classical music because that's all they have. But I've since found out that having skills in classical music is very helpful, especially for my vocal technique and ability to read music."

To bring more Indonesian flavor to Dira's album, Bluey also wrote a special song about Bali "Won't You Come with Me"; they plan to make the video clip for the song in Bali, she says.

Dira, who also collaborates with Dwiki Darmawan, Tollak Olstead and Andi Suzuki on the World Peace Orchestra project, says her album is in its final mixing stage, with mastering to be done in London after finishing recording in Jakarta.

Yet she confesses that despite her hard work, techniques, awards and performances with international acts, no Indonesian labels have offered her a recording contract. Taking up the challenge as always, Dira is optimistic that her debut album will make its way to the international stage.

"People who work with me have told me that although a lot of people will see me as a little Asian girl who knows nothing, I have to prove myself as a woman who has her own opinion and knows what I want," she says.

She says some independent labels familiar with Incognito in Japan and the UK have shown an interest in promoting the album, but she and her producer are waiting to see what happens with the major labels.

"We decided to produce my album first," she says. "Bluey believes we have pretty good material to secure a deal with a major label."

If not, she says, she will make her way without them. After all, where there's skill and a will, there's a way.