Interview: Andhyta F. Utami

Birthplace: Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia

Grew up in Indonesia; two years in Germany; two years in the U.S. for master’s degree

Currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia

Age: 27

Find her: website | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube: Frames & Sentences

(Photo courtesy of Afu)


Q: A friend (thanks, Ardi!) shared your “Frames and Sentences” YouTube channel with me, and it was a first for me to hear current Indonesian issues being discussed via vlog. Why did you start the channel, and what has the response been so far?

I started it together with my husband, Wikan, about a year ago, partly because we were abroad and we wanted to connect with the issues back home. When you’re here in Jakarta, it’s so easy to lose focus on the bigger picture as you’re bombarded almost every day with news on a variety of issues. Being away, however, let us offer a fresher perspective, often connected with what’s going on in the U.S. It’s our way to show that we care about what’s going on back home.

Before F&S, I was already a writer, so whenever I have opinions or ideas, I usually just write them as an op-ed or online article or blog. But, since Wikan is a videographer, and he was also looking for a way to channel his creativity while being away from home, we talked about doing it through a different medium. So we decided to metaphorically marry my research and writing with Wikan’s ability to translate it through a visual medium.

Q: And so, what has the response been like to the channel?

In general, it’s been pretty positive. But there’s a nuance to that. In general, people appreciate the fact that we talk about these issues in the first place. But then, our approach changes over time. In the beginning, our videos are more angsty; it mostly came from a reactionary place, us turning on the camera and explaining where we stand on issues. For example, we talked about this table that was basically telling people what the ideal age of marriage should be. Basically, I ranted about why nobody should be telling women, especially, when they should get married, and that they have an expiry date, and all of that. So a lot of that was just following intuition and I just raged on video. For those kind of videos, we get pretty positive feedback from people who agree with us. A lot of young women commented about how they appreciated this video, and how they were looking for the language to help them explain to people around them. So they used the video as a way to communicate.

But, when we make videos that are really opinionated like that, there’s always views from the other side as well. There are different types of disagreements. Some are actually pretty reasonable, well-argued, well-founded disagreements. But, there are some others who react very strongly and rage on with caps lock.

As we became more responsible adults, we tried to rethink about what we wanted to do through our videos. And I think one of the most critical issues that Indonesia is experiencing along with other countries is just the polarization of politics and issues in general, with politics using certain positions to push people into extremes more than they usually would.

So, we’ve been rethinking “Frames & Sentences,” and one of the things we thought we could do better is to bring people more to the center and show them that there’s Option C, a middle ground. So people aren’t trapped in their political values in a way that could be manipulated by politicians to get power. We want people to empathize better with others and have better conversations.

Q: How did you come into your current political values? Did you grow up talking a lot about politics, or was that something you discovered later in life?

I come from a pretty conservative family. I went to college studying international relations, and then I started debating, doing Model U.N., so a lot of the readings and activities I did during college opened me up to think more critically about the issues around me. I started developing more interest in social issues. I became curious about all the different philosophers and -isms out there.

Also, part of my job as a researcher has me following a lot of news so that just exposes me to more different perspectives and forces me to read a lot.

Q: While you were abroad, did you find an Indonesian community? How did you start thinking of yourself as a person of Indonesian heritage away from Indonesia?

Even when I’m back home, I don’t necessarily feel very connected to other Indonesians. A lot of mainstream Indonesian culture or values aren’t exactly what I align myself with in the first place. So, going abroad, I know for a lot of other Indonesians finding that community is important, but I don’t think that was necessarily the case for me and my husband.

Beyond these social interactions, at the deeper level, it was the first time I thought of myself as an Indonesian woman, coming from a Muslim tradition with my family background. For example, when there was a discussion on certain topics in class, a professor would ask me, “What about the Indonesian perspective?” And, suddenly, I’m representing the millions of Indonesian people who don’t even know me and whose values may be very different from mine. So there’s that, a heightened sense of identity; suddenly, I’m the token Indonesian.

That was an experience, being a minority in the room and to kind of have your identity written on your forehead. Whereas when I’m back in Indonesia, I’m a Sundanese, very Indonesian-looking woman; my Indonesian identity doesn’t stick out as much. As a Sundanese, I’m part of the majority in a way. But being in America gave me perspective of being a minority.

Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?

Many Indonesians have pride in living in a country with rich natural resources and rich cultures, but I look at it a bit differently. Sometimes, it feels like people take the unity of Indonesia for granted. Indonesia wasn’t always how it is now; there was a common enemy to fight that brought much of the country together. But, over time, “Indonesian values” became conflated with “Javanese values,” and people in Jakarta think of themselves as “pusat” while elsewhere is “daerah.” It’s not what I think Indonesian values are about.

I think we certainly should inspect our ties together better. How can we actually respect all the different parts that make up Indonesia? Because when I think of my Indonesian heritage, my Sundanese heritage, and all the different parts that make up Indonesia, there’s so much complexity and gravity to that. Now, we kind of think of Indonesia in this simplified way, especially with a conservative group trying to craft a narrative of Indonesia based around Islamic values.

Q: For people who live abroad and who are just starting to learn about Indonesian history and politics, what other resources would you recommend?

There’s one other YouTube channel that Wikan and I like as well called Remotivi. It talks about politics and social issues but from a very specific sector: They criticize the media on how they frame certain issues. They have really in-depth and critical analyses. I also recommend Asumsi, a YouTube channel, but they also have an online platform. Also Tirto, they have really good investigative journalism. And Pinter Politik, which has a lot of infographics and articles that are accessible to millennials.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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