Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina: The playful artist duo

Courtesy of Ahmett Salina
Courtesy of Ahmett Salina

The guy, Irwan Ahmett, was possibly hyperactive as a child, and having grown up into a playful adult, he now has frequent bursts of energy and ideas.

The girl, Tita Salina, is calm and quirky, and somehow gets the guy’s crazy ideas. After a few conversations, before Irwan even expressed his love to Tita, he told her: “I don’t know why, but I feel that I can make my dreams come true with you”.

He was 23. She was 25. Fast forward twelve years later, the two of them are married and had founded a design company: Ahmett Salina.

For the fi rst time since they got together, the two artists are collaborating in a breakthrough urban art project that combines site-specifi c city elements, interaction with people and multimedia tools. In the
project, dubbed “Urban Play”, they create art in the form of installation, photography, performance and video, based on elements of the city, and exhibit their artworks both in the city and cyberspace.

Both studied at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ). Tita graduated, but Irwan didn’t. This, however, did not stopped Irwan from setting up a graphic design company with Tita, all the while setting up art movements, and participating in art exhibitions in Indonesia as well as abroad.

Irwan is the brainchild behind 2005 Change Yourself Project, where he went on a road show toting his Apple notebook computer and hundreds of round, blue stickers to Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung, meeting young people and giving presentations, in which he suggested ways people could change for the better. He also held a solo exhibition of installation art at Ruang Rupa gallery, titled “Happiness”.

In all Irwan’s projects and exhibition, Tita supported him in the background.

Sitting in a Central Jakarta coffee shop, Tita answered “no” when asked whether she would like to have her own exhibition. “I’m the kind of person who likes to be behind the scenes,” she said.

In Urban Play, however, Tita is as much of a front person as Irwan. Leading and presenting their projects in the short videos of Urban Play, these can be seen at in the online exhibition section.

Tita’s calm and low-key personality complements Irwan’s front-man persona. The two also share a passion for design and have a strong affinity with Jakarta.

In fact, they complete each other’s sentence. They talk about the hardship they faced during the beginning of their relationship and tell their tear-jerking drama-series-style love story with relaxed humor.

Just like in the typical plot of a romantic series, they disliked each other at fi rst, Tita said.

“The first time I saw her was when she was making a speech. She was running for president of the
student senate,” he said and paused for a moment. “That was the worst speech I’ve ever seen.”
Irwan, a freshman at IKJ, said he swore he would not vote for her.

“Little did I know I would choose her as my wife later,” he said.

Tita said that she only knew him in passing. “I had other boyfriends,” she said. “All I knew was that he was in the senate, and he was a pain.”

Irwan said that despite not paying much attention to her, he had always been interested in her artworks and appreciated them.

Their love began to blossom after university along with their collaboration in design. Tita’s best friend
lived in the same place as Irwan. As she visited the place to meet her best friend, Tita and Irwan fi nally started chatting.

“I instantly became attracted to her after talking to her a couple of times,” Irwan said. Irwan had many ideas in his head and liked to discuss them with Tita. With her art background, she responded and gave him feedback.

“I see him as the dark side of me.

I’m a plain person. My parents are conservative. My crazy ideas are in him. He can channel that side of me,” she said.

They finally collaborated for the first time, and their project was the cover of Naif band’s 1998 self-titled debut album. The two fi nally founded their design company Perum Desain Indonesia, which they later named Ahmett Salina in 2006.

But Tita’s parents disapproved of their daughter going out with Irwan, who had dropped out of college, resigned from work, and just started setting up a company.

“Tita’s late father summoned me and said: ‘Can you explain your plans for your future with Tita?’” Irwan said.

He told Tita’s father that he liked music, fi lm, art, and performing. “If I combine all this I can sell my dreams to people. I can sell my imagination to people. This potential is a field that I’m trying to develop right now,” Irwan re-told what he said to Tita’s father.

“Now, I know that was a wrong answer,” he said.

Tita resorted to tears and constant pleading, but her parents did not budge, she said.

“At one point he [Irwan] gave me an ultimatum, stating that I had to give him an answer in two days or he would leave. I was like ‘Noooo, I don’t want to lose you’,” she said in a dramatic fashion.

Finally she went up to her father at dawn after a sleepless night. “I said to my dad, ‘I want to get married, and I want to marry him’.”

Finally her father gave in. They tied the knot shortly after. Now they live just above their offi ce in Pasar Minggu, East Jakarta.

“At first we were worried; being together 24 hours a day. But we stay professional in our work and give
each other space,” she said.

Tita said Irwan and she created non-commercial art as a catharsis.

“Sometimes our work clients don’t agree with our ideas. So, this is a venue where we can express ourselves freely,” Tita said.

Irwan, who hailed from the small town of Ciamis, said he was possibly hyperactive as a child, as he could not stand still and concentrate at school. His father, a teacher, let him play as much as he liked and never pushed him to study. Creating art, he said, was a game to play for him.

Tita and Irwan said they had many ideas in their head for their future projects. But one of those ideas they want right now is a child to play with. “That’s our project we haven’t completed yet,” Irwan said,
and laughed.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Mon, May 31 2010

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