“Let’s Work Together”: The Power of Print in Timor-Leste
November 19, 2008
In early October, the Timorese art collective Gembel launched its first major exhibition in Dili, with financial assistance from The Asia Foundation. The exhibit, Recovering Lives Across Borders, featured the print works produced from successful collaborations between Gembel and two unique art groups: Taring Padi from Indonesia, and Culture Kitchen from Australia. The collection of works explored the inter-connection among the three nations, particularly in terms of environmental and social justice. The collaborations and the themes in the artworks themselves promote young Timorese as productive, vital members of society.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Indonesian artist Bayu Widodo led a master printmaking workshop with members of Culture Kitchen and Taring Padi. The result is a series of four large-scale print works that address issues of importance to young Timorese. The artists visually expressed their frustration at the internal tensions within the nation such as regional disputes, internally displaced people, widespread corruption and tokenistic government attempts to provide employment for the nation’s poorest people.
In strengthening their role as peace-builders, the themes of the artworks illustrate the ways in which youth are re-interpreting indigenous concepts such as ‘helping one another’ (Tetum. ajuda malu). Rather than focusing on conflict, the themes of discussions, reflected in the artworks, show how young Timorese can relate to each other, as youth, as easterners, as westerners, and as Timorese citizens prioritizing people-to-people relationships with Australians and Indonesians.
In November, the works will travel to Australia to feature in the Melbourne International Art and Film Festival, followed by an exhibition at the Megalo Print Studio, Canberra — before returning to Timor-Leste for exhibition in 2009.
The theme of the workshop was “Let’s Work Together,” and the participating artists first identified the critical social issues their nations share then decided how they could be expressed using lino cut, a popular printmaking medium. The artists were able to transfer their skills, voice their experiences, and financially profit from their artwork.
The Gembel art collective was established in 2003 under the guidance of the Institute for Popular Education, and its membership includes youth across Timor-Leste. The artists have little resources and have always relied upon a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) philosophy, encouraging young Timorese to think creatively. This way of life provides a firm base for print making which requires manual manipulation of materials using hand-held tools. Print, therefore is an ideal and functional art form, as one message can be disseminated not only on paper, but on a dozen t-shirts, postcards, and bags. Unlike conventional art, print art is not confined to galleries but accessible to everyday people on the streets.
This is just the beginning of this international artistic collaboration. In 2009, Timor-Leste youth will continue to strengthen their relationships with Australian and Indonesian artists and enrich their capacity as print makers and print trainers as well as leaders to promote peace.
Angie Bexley is a Ph.D. Scholar at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. The Asia Foundation funded her print-making project in Dili, described below.
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