Cris Plaza is an Australian resident with close ties to Indonesia, having lived, worked and explored many areas of the country multiple times. I met with Cris to discuss his experiences, with particular emphasis on the integration of design and the arts into the Indonesian culture.
Cris has found that although design may not be immediately noticeable as a prominent part of the Indonesian culture, as it may be in more westernised nations, it is found in the details, in particular the architecture, referring to the Chinese influence of ‘red tiled roofs and pointed, dragon like corners’(C. Plaza 2015). He discussed the way that the local context contributes to the motivation behind art, with it becoming a necessity rather than a hobby, as many lower class citizens constant need for survival is what drives them to make profitable arts or design in order to make a living.
‘Its beautiful being able to see these hand crafted artworks when walking the streets, but this is contrasted by the sad truth that selling these artworks to tourists is most likely to be the only source of income for these lower-class citizens, and making a livelihood becomes difficult due to the large amount of competition.’ (C. Plaza 2015)
In many cases, the Indonesian arts and religion go hand in hand. Cris explained to me the way that religion influences design in the Indonesian culture, with religious ceremonies serving as an opportunity to pull out all the stops in terms of aesthetics, ranging from the elaborate costumes and clothing, to temporary buildings or stages and also the presentation of food and stalls. Cris attended a few Indonesian weddings where he found there was great focus on the beautiful design details such as Chinese influenced paintings and settings as well as again, the elaborate costumes which involved brightly dyes, and heavily embroidered and beaded fabrics. These details in the art and the specifics are embraced to a much greater extent in the Indonesian culture than in western society.
The element of Indonesian society that dominated Cris’s experience of the Indonesian culture throughout his travels, was the Indonesian peoples dedication to religion, from birth to death. 87% of Indonesians are Muslim; they live for and believe in the Quran which involves many commitments, from no alcohol or tattoos to staying married for life, as well as partaking in Ramadan. Australians can tend to have views of the Muslim people that are shaped solely by the media’s portrayal of them, so there is great value in experiencing the religion and culture first hand to gain a more well rounded understanding of how it is practiced.
Speaking with Cris allowed me to gain a better understanding of the way that religion and culture shapes design in Indonesia, and I found it particularly interesting hearing about the motivations and drivers in the design community due to the designers/artists lower social economic status.
Plaza, C. (2015) Interviewed by Alexandra Shiel, 24 April 2015.