Birthplace and grew up in: Saudi Arabia
Currently lives in: The Hague, The Netherlands
Find Latisha: website
(Photo credit: Joel Quayson/courtesy of Latisha)
Q: What are you studying? How did you become interested in art?
I’m studying interactive media design. It’s as vague as it sounds. My mom’s actually an artist as well, and she does a lot of things, but mostly fine arts. She’s very much a painter. Of course, being her child, it was easy for me to get into that. My dad is a big nerd who is big into computers and technology, so I also adopted a bit of that. So I started doing digital drawings and I guess that’s how I found my own thing.
Q: What has it been like for you venturing into art that also speaks to your heritage?
I think I didn’t really take that much heritage into it until I started studying. A lot of work I did before was just somebody asking me to draw something and I would just draw it. Now with studying it for school, it’s more for the concept and storytelling. Now, through my studies, I can find ways to tell stories and see what better communicates with an audience.
Q: How did you come to think of yourself as someone with Indonesian heritage?
As someone who is half-Indonesian, half-Dutch, I think I’ve always felt a bigger connection to my Indonesian side for a few reasons. My mom is very dominant, so I speak Indonesian with her, but I don’t speak Dutch. Before I moved there for my studies, I’d never really been to The Netherlands, maybe twice: once when I was a baby and once when I was about 12. Other than that, every single summer, I would spend in Indonesia for at least a month. I just had a stronger connection to my Indonesian side, my cousins in Indonesia, all my stories, like if I speak of my childhood, are always of Indonesia. So I didn’t really have distance from it until I moved here in The Netherlands and recognized that people don’t really see me as Indonesian.
Q: What was it like growing up as someone with Indonesian heritage in Saudi Arabia?
My mom had her Indonesian friends, so it would just be family friends but I would never be so close to them as I was with my friends at international school. In a school setting, it was just, because it was an international school, people would just ask you where you’re from instead of just guessing where you’re from, which I really hate. But people just not knowing what or where Indonesia is. In a more Saudi context, I’m more racially ambiguous, so what I would experience would be with my mother. So at the cashiers, even though my mom was paying for something, they’d give her the bags to hold and me the change. We would just switch and look at the cashier like, why would you assume? My mom also told me when I was younger, people would think she was a nanny and ask her who she was working for when carrying me around. So those kind of associations and living it through my mom, in a way.
Q: What has it been like going back to Indonesia throughout the years?
I’m more critical of myself, more self-aware, in a sense. As a kid, I had this awareness, but I wasn’t too fussed about it, I mostly just wanted to play and run around with my cousins. But since my grandma passed away in 2015, I don’t have any grandparents left, so before, when we went to visit, it would be a bigger family ordeal of staying at grandma’s place, and my mom is of six so it’s a really big family. But since she passed, there’s of course none of this. Everyone’s older, working, in school, married, with children, so I think there’s a distance I feel now. Last time I went was last year and I took a hairdressing course just to fill the time. Also being aware with…I’m a person who likes to wear makeup and finally identifying as queer, in Indonesia it was difficult because I wasn’t assumed queer in any way. And when I was there, I completely toned down the way I used makeup compared to how I would in The Netherlands, and not to bring more attention to myself. Like, how can I make myself less of a bother? I don’t want to be too individual, I just want to blend in, and that’s something I do subconsciously when I go there.
Q: How did you start learning about Indonesian history? What’s it like being in The Netherlands and knowing that distinct history? Do Dutch people talk about it?
It’s super quiet on both sides, I would say. Because I was there in the summer, I’d spend Indonesia’s independence day, and so it was more of a fun memory than learning about the country’s colonial past. Then, coming to The Netherlands and working more to understand the heritage, it was like, “Oh, why are both sides really quiet about this colonial history?” When I made a project about that colonial past, Dutch people were shocked in a way, and I was like, are you not taught this? You know you had a lot of colonies, right? I found that interesting that at the same time I was learning about it, my audience was learning about it, too, which to me was kind of shocking. I would’ve already liked them to have this understanding.
Q: So, I’m also really interested in other Asian movements in other countries. How have you experienced the Dutch Asian community in The Netherlands?
I think it’s still very much exoticized. Where I live, there’s an Indonesian festival that’s quite big. It goes on for about a week and takes a lot of space. The first time I recognized it, I thought it was so wild and interesting that they had this whole big thing for Indonesia, out of all the places. But then I started looking into it more and it just felt like it was more exotcizing it rather than normalizing it, if that makes sense. It puts a distance and others Indonesia, like, “Oh, remember that thing that we did before? Here’s what we got from it!” It covers up a colonial past by being like, “Look, we appreciate it now!” I think that’s very much the Dutch way of staying very much ignorant to underlying issues.
Q: What are some ways that you like to connect with your Indonesian heritage?
I guess it’s mostly in my practice, in my work. My work always goes back to Indonesian heritage and this confusing middle state that I’m at, but also kind of accepting it, in a way. I’m still finding ways to be more unapologetic about it. Just taking what I want and not having to worry about it.
Q: What does having Indonesian heritage mean to you?
It’s where I root all my values and goals. It’s my base, where my roots lie; it’s something that I can refer back to and feel stable within, even though it’s still such a confusing thing for me. I’ll always be Indonesian no matter how people perceive me.
Q: What are you working on now, if you can share?
Right now, I’m writing my thesis, exploring means of mass media — so music, print, internet — and its use to liberate oppression and start discourse on post-colonial identity as well as critiques the globalized and modernized social states of Indonesia. I think it really fits with the zine actually, and I plan to have a little section in regards to Buah.
Q: Wow, thank you! That’s a huge honor! So, your thesis is oriented toward Indonesia?
Exactly. At first, I wanted to make it toward Southeast Asia, because Southeast Asia is also under-discussed, but that’s a lot of countries to talk about. So, I’ll just stick to Indonesia. It’s been really exciting writing this and learning about Indonesia in such a different way. In a way, I don’t think Indonesia is allowed to be this fully creative country, because there are music, dances, art to fight forms of oppression. What I aim to do is not compare Indonesia to the West, to The Netherlands, because that flattens and minimizes Indonesia. It’s something I also want to continue in my work.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.