Interview: Komang Rosie Clynes

Born and raised: Brunei; moved to Australia at 16

Currently living in: Melbourne, Australia (technically) — she was in Indonesia when she spoke to Buah.

Age: 24

Find her: Instagram | Asialink profile | Soundcloud

(Photo courtesy of Komang Rosie Clynes/Photo credit: Shannon May Powell)

Q: How did you start thinking of yourself as someone with Indonesian heritage?

Growing up, I remember my Mum and Dad speaking Indonesian and Balinese to each other and speaking it to my siblings and I, but never really expecting us to reply in Indonesian. It was like I was swimming in the words but had no access to the flow of the language. It was always a bit of a secondary, incidental connection; we would have Indonesian food and I’d be like, ‘oh, cool, Indonesian food’. I’d visit Bali once a year to see my family, but only because my Mum’s from Bali. I guess when you’re a kid, you don’t really think about it. On top of that, I remember being pretty indifferent and detached from any sort of Australian identity, too. It wasn’t until I was older when I began to figure out what that actually meant for myself.

Q: Tell me more about getting into theater and your work. Were you always interested in theater?

It’s always been an outlet for me. I always loved literature, I loved art, and in middle school, I had this drama teacher who really saw potential in me and started casting me in the school plays. I became the resident drama nerd. When I moved to Australia, the same thing happened. I just went straight to the drama department and was like OK, this is my jam. I loved it so much.

When I finished high school, I was going to apply for some ’sensible’ degrees, but I also decided to sneakily apply to some drama schools. I got into the VCA, which is a drama school in Melbourne. I graduated at the end of 2015, so I’ve been unleashed in the real world for the last three years. I’m still finding my voice and exactly what I want to be making. I feel like I finally figure out what I want to do and then it changes. I’m slowly trying to figure it out through a process of trial and error.

Q: What has it been like working in Indonesia?

I’m still getting my footing here and meeting people here, but it’s amazing; it’s so vibrant here. I spent a year in Australia after drama school trying to get acting gigs, working a waitress job, writing my own show and just being like, ‘what the hell is going on?’ And then, I went to Indonesia and trained with this amazing theatre company, Teater Garasi, and within that year, I felt so reinvigorated. I met all of these amazing people who are so talented.

This year has seen me coming back to Indonesia (this time to Jakarta) and doing my first artist residency at Komunitas Salihara. I also landed a small role in a local mini-series, which will be released next year, and performed in a show at Indonesia Dance Festival. It’s been so eye-opening; I feel like if I was doing this exact same volume of work in Australia, I’d already be learning so much; but doing it here, with the added layer of it all being in Indonesian — which I’m not fluent in yet — and navigating it all in a completely different cultural context…it definitely feels like jumping in the deep end. It’s been very character building. I’ve even connected with music producers here in Jakarta and begun to produce music on the side of the theatre stuff. I feel very productive here. My theatre work is usually more music-based, so I suppose it makes sense.

Q: Tell me more about a recent performance of yours called “Other Motherland.”

‘Other Motherland’ was a show I wrote as part of my writer’s residency at Salihara. It was supported by Asialink, an organisation from Australia, and funded by the Malcolm Robertson Foundation. It is a new script about diaspora and living ‘in between’ worlds, from the point of view of three different Indonesian-Australians. The performance in Jakarta was a dramatic reading of the first version of the script. The reception was awesome, and I wasn’t expecting it. It is an English-language play, mainly because it was funded by an Australian organization, so I had to make it with an Australian audience in mind. I thought no one would really get the humour or the references in Jakarta, but the audience laughed a lot, which was awesome. I also knew it was going to be autobiographical to some extent, but I needed to keep it at arm’s length from me. Otherwise, the content would just end up too personal and emotional. So, I made it about three very different characters. One of them was a Jakartan student who had moved to Melbourne, which was why I think a lot of people in the Jakarta audience really appreciated and connected to that.

One of the best parts of the project was having people come up to me, Indonesian audience members, and being like, ‘I relate so much to that,’ and being so astounded by how many people related to what I thought was a specifically ‘blasteran’ experience — well, at first, the story stemmed from being ‘blasteran,’ of being mixed heritage. But, it made me realize that this identity-related confusion is a shared experience for a lot of people. Everyone’s figuring out who they are. Especially in Jakarta. And just to have other people who are diaspora or mixed in ways I hadn’t experienced before, to come up to me and say, ‘I’m struggling with this, too,’ that made me so happy that the work could reach further than I thought. What ‘Other Motherland’ taught me is that asking these questions and feeling disconnected from the worlds around you doesn’t make you the other, it actually makes you the majority. I used to think that I was profoundly alone, but now I’m learning that I’m profoundly connected to a world of others just like me.

Q: You mentioned you’re Balinese. Does your family emphasize your Balinese heritage over a broader Indonesian one?

Growing up, our Balinese heritage was definitely emphasized more. I only ever went to Bali as a kid. In 2017, when I went to live in Jogja, that was the first time that I visited another part of Indonesia that wasn’t Bali. I’m glad I’d done that because if I had just continued to visit Bali, I don’t think I would be able to fully appreciate what it means for me to be Balinese now, let alone Indonesian, because I didn’t have a separate idea of what Indonesia and Bali was. They were just this smooshed-together concept for me. I didn’t know what words were Balinese and what words were Indonesian, so I’d be talking to someone in Jogja and then realizing I was speaking to them in Balinese, and I’d think, ‘oh, that’s why they didn’t understand me’. Now, because I’ve learned what it means to be Indonesian in a non-Balinese context, I can look toward Bali with more pride because I know exactly what it is that I’m proud of.

Q: What does having Indonesian heritage mean to you?

I think the main thing I value from my heritage is the family and love it grants me access to. There are so many elements of Indonesian heritage that are so meaningful to me, but the main one for me is that familial connection. I have a big family in Bali. When I moved to Jogja last year, I went with my parents, and at one point, I had a panic attack and lashed out at my mum; I was so freaked out because I’d never been to Indonesia by myself, and I just had this warped idea that my relatives would be like, ‘Oh, we only loved and housed you in the past because you were attached to your mum,’ which sounds ridiculous now that I say it. They always did and always will love me for who I am, but that being said, one of the gifts of connecting more fully to my Indonesian heritage has been getting closer to my family on my own terms, as my own person distinct from my parents. That is an immense gift, and that is home to me. I’ve got Indonesian friends now, I’ve got a career footing here, that’s all meaningful to me, but at the end of the day, I know I can go back to Bali and feel loved and have my place in my big, noisy family.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I suppose just that through making this ‘Other Motherland’ project, I was hoping that it would exorcise my demons, that by exhausting the topic, I’d be able to let it go. But, to the contrary, the process has really made me wonder if people who sit between cultures and ask these sort of questions, whether we ever stop. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to go back to Indonesia, when it can make me feel so alien and when I don’t understand what people are saying, when I can just coast safely in Melbourne and not connect with my Indonesian heritage at all. And then, suddenly I’m on the other end of the spectrum, wondering how it is that I sometimes feel more Indonesian than I do Australian, even though I am, language and culturally-speaking, more Western. I guess I return to that strange feeling every time. But, it’s like a body or maybe a soul thing — sometimes, you just feel the connection, feel who you are without words, and you just know.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

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