Birthplace: Jakarta, Indonesia
Grew up in: Jakarta, Indonesia; Singapore; Melbourne, Australia
Currently living in: Melbourne, Australia
Age: Somewhere in her 20s
(Photo courtesy of Adrianne Walujo)
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Tell me more about yourself!
I was born in Jakarta, and I grew up there until I was 15. I got a scholarship to Singapore, for four years. I was just 15, but it was good, there were other Indonesians there — can you imagine all 15-year-old Indonesian girls all living on the same floor? It was really fun. Then, after I finished my A levels, my family moved to Australia. This December is going to be six years that I’ve been living in Melbourne.
I consider myself Indonesian, but I’ve realized that I’ve spent a lot of years not living in Indonesia. When I was in primary school, I thought I’d be living in Indonesia my whole life. So, who knows where I’ll be next?
Q: How did you start thinking of yourself as someone of Indonesian heritage.
I don’t think I thought about it much until I left Indonesia. When I lived in Singapore, it felt really reinforced like, oh you’re students from Philippines, you’re students from Indonesia. So, when you’re in a culture that’s not of your own, you realize how you’re different. And when I came to Australia, I realized it even more. I didn’t know a lot about Indonesia when I was in Indonesia, but when I left, I did more research. It’s always been home.
Q: What sort of lessons did your family instill in you?
I know some of my friends’ parents, they did share a lot about what’s going on, but my parents…they did share some things, like what happened in May 1998. I was 4 years old when that happened. So they do talk about it, from time to time. Both my parents came from a smaller city, from Medan. They, as Chinese-Indonesians, shared that racism still happens there, both subtly and explicitly. The racism can go both ways, but it does not discourage them from being fond of Indonesia and the community.
I’m really grateful that they are really open-minded; they interact with people from different backgrounds, and it enriches how they see the community. Where biases and prejudices are common, they always teach me not to judge someone based on anything but evidence of their character. I love listening to their stories — even until now — on how to analyse the culture around me and not to be biased of the culture where I’m from, but to be able to see the flaws (and beauty) for what they are.
Q: What got you interested in art?
I’ve been drawing since, according to my mom, 3 years old. I remember when I was little, I couldn’t write but I would draw a lot of circles. I guess I wanted to write, but I couldn’t, so I made my own alphabet. And being in Indonesia, Japanese media is really pervasive, and I notice a lot of other Indonesian illustrators, their work is heavily influenced by Japanese art styles.
I never thought of pursuing it as a career, though. Even in Singapore, art wasn’t something someone on a scholarship should pursue. So, during those four years there, I hadn’t built up an art portfolio or anything, and I was going to pursue economics and psychology. But my parents were the ones who were like, “Don’t you like drawing?” So they actually were the ones that led me to do art. I built my portfolio, and then I got accepted into an animation school in Melbourne. I’m really grateful. I don’t know why they believed in me, because I didn’t even believe in myself. But looking back, it really was thanks to them. They’re really supportive, even until now.
Q: How did you develop your drawing style?
I get this question a lot. I graduated December 2017, and to be honest, I was really lost after graduation. It was like, what now? I like too many things, and I couldn’t really choose. I was really stressed just trying to find my style. In Australia, I had to tweak my style because it seemed like the Japanese influence, the anime-influenced style, wasn’t as receptive here as it was in Indonesia, which was really interesting. So I had to tweak a few things.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about finding my style it’s to not let the stress of finding it stress you out, because it’s counterproductive. Your style is whatever you think you find beautiful. It takes time, it takes trial and error, but it’s OK, just create. It can’t be forced; you’ve got to let it flow.
Q: In Singapore and also Australia, was there an Indonesian community you were a part of?
Definitely in Singapore, we came in as a group. And we went to the embassy to do the Independence Day ceremony. In Australia, I belong to this church that is 90% Indonesian, some Malaysians, some Australians, but mostly Indonesians.
Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?
There are a lot of things we can’t choose in life — one of them is where you are born. And I feel like I have a responsibility, as someone who was born in Indonesia, to be aware of my own culture, to be aware of where I came from, and to appreciate all that has shaped me.
One thing that I do really appreciate with being Indonesian is the sense of community. There are a lot of people who are genuinely warm and want the best for us. And as I think about Bhinneka Tunggal Ika as I get older, I’ve learned that it’s OK to be different, and just because we have differences, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any common ground. To have unity, you don’t have to be the same kind of people, you don’t need to throw away parts of you that make you different. Remember where we came from, what people before us fought for — in the end, we’ll find that we are more similar than we thought. But if we lose that, if we’re so out of touch with our history, I think it will be dangerous for us as a community and culture. I believe that there is a reason why I’m born in Indonesia and not anywhere else, and it will always be a dear part of me.