Interview: Nino Yuniardi

Birthplace: Jakarta, Indonesia

Grew up in: Jakarta, Indonesia; schooling in the U.S.A.

Currently living in: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

Age: 46

Find him: Website Instagram 

(Photos courtesy of Nino)

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Q: Tell me more about your art.

I’ve been doing art for a while. It started around ninth grade. I did some paintings back in Jakarta. I did a group show with the school, and then the Ministry of Education came, and they took pictures. When you’re a kid, it was kind of fun. So it started from there. I just liked playing with paint, and my parents supported me. I started painting acrylics. I liked looking at (Salvador) Dali paintings, so I tried to emulate that. I liked experimenting with my paintings.

Then, I went to design school. I kind of had to force myself how to figure out how to make money in art. So, I put paintings on a back-burner, in a way. For a while, I didn’t paint, but I did when I had time. I did graphic design, and luckily, it worked out well. And as technology changed, I grew up with it. Then, two years ago, I started to paint more with more intention.

I do lean more toward abstract; it’s sort of like jazz, because there’s more freedom to it, and I like to experiment but also try to make sense of the work. I have three series: the first one is about hope, the second one is about water — remembering how I enjoyed myself with my family at the beach — and the third one is food and people. That goes back with how I deal with the bullying.

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Unclear path, building up layers, trying new recipes.

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

I don’t think of it deeply, until you asked me now. Maybe it’s in my subconscious. Because if I start thinking about it, positive and negative feelings come up. The reason I go back to Jakarta is for family. If there’s no family, I go back there for food. So, definitely, food reminds me where I’m from. I’m always looking for something that’s close to that taste here. When I eat those kinds of food, it reminds me of home. I guess that’s the light version.

The heavier subject for me is I remember I got bullied a lot back there, because I looked different in my community. That’s the thing that I remember negatively of being Indonesian. Saying negative things because I looked Chinese. But now, I think there’s no resolution. It’s just there. And also the politics. I remember my parents couldn’t tell anyone who they voted for, and I know it’s changed a lot now, but just that fear. I didn’t have any freedom there.

Q: What sort of stories did you grow up with? 

I lived with my parents for 18 years, and then I lived abroad after that. But I changed a lot, and I didn’t talk to them regularly. Not anything deep. I grew up in a loving family though. My parents did a lot of marriage counseling for people, from the church setting. So it was volunteer work, and I remember when I was growing up, they were always out meeting with people and helping others. My dad had his own business, and there were a lot of people in our home. My mom would cook for them, and also she sewed, made uniforms for kids, and provided transportation for kids. Other than that, we were just a normal family. But I guess, growing up, parents who were always making stuff, that kind of rubbed off on me.

Maybe I just don’t remember it, but I think, my grandmother from my mom’s side, their parents’ parents came from China. But I don’t know what that means to me. My grandparents on my dad’s side has a lot of Dutch influence to them. But it’s not a whole lot about it.

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The bridge

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Q: And then, what was it like in Seattle? Have you found a community there?

I found an Indonesian community here, through the University of Washington. Also, there was an Indonesian community through church. That’s how I met Pat (Tanumihardja) as well, but I met her brother first. And actually, her parents knew my parents back home. So that’s how I kept my sanity, connecting to an Indonesian community.

Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?

I’ve never thought about it. It means food. It makes me more adventurous with food. Every time we gather, it’s about food. We have a small gathering here, where we cook or share recipes with each other. That was the idea originally, but then slowly, we ended up just buying food. So food is the anchor of it.