An open heart

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To visit artist Iman Soleh’s house in Ledeng, Bandung, one must walk through an alley even motorcycles cannot pass.

Despite this limited access, his house, located behind the busy public transportation terminal of Ledeng, is the center for community-based theater Celah-celah Langit (CCL), also known as the Ledeng Cultural Center (CCL).

His large front yard, where children can be seen running around while chickens peck the dirt, is where rehearsals for CCL productions take place, including for the recent play Tanah: ode kampung kami (Land; ode to our kampung) presented at Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

The theater community stages performances there around three to four times a year. Iman said they also hold surveys and perform in different villages to bring art closer to the people.

“I am not against art and cultural spaces but I think that art should come to the people,” he said.

Iman, 47, a seasoned theater player who has joined different theater companies in Japan, France, the Reunion Islands and Australia, said cultural centers should be built near narrow alleyways where people live.

“Even in the most densely populated area… That’s where cultural centers should be built,” he said at Taman Ismail Marzuki recently. Iman was in Jakarta recently to prepare for the play Tanah.

His area in Ledeng has traditionally been an arts and cultural hub, Iman said. The terminal building in Ledeng changed the social landscape there with the communities that grew around it.

However, it isn’t the government that initiated any arts or culture conservation projects there. Iman explained the leader of his neighborhood was a puppet master; not far from his house lived a calung (traditional Sundanese bamboo musical instrument) player, and a bringbrung (traditional Sundanese percussion) player. A traditional Sundanese martial art pencak silat center is located near his house too.

“These rich culture and art communities should not disappear into thin air because they are the ones who bring art closer to the people,” he said. “We are the ones who become snobbish and make barriers because we want it to be representative. I think art should be representative, not the building,” he said.

That is why he opened his house to CCL.

Many have often wondered how his family can retain privacy in his very open home.

“If you want your lives to be beneficial to other people, you have to open your house [to them],” he said.

“Don’t be stingy with what you have if you want to give your life to people.”

During Iman’s childhood, one of his neighbors used to leave a water jug in front of her house for people who were thirsty.

“I would walk pass her house and drink her water and then shout ‘Hatur nuhun bu!’,” he said, which means thank you in Sundanese.

For the play Tanah, 25 people stayed in his living room. “But they are so diligent,” he said. “Learning about art is learning about life. When learning about beauty, the first thing you have to do is learn about cleanliness,” he said.

Iman plans to set up a small library so children can come and read there.

Before the center was called Celah-celah Langit, the place was already a hub for Bandung artists. Iman said poet Acep Zamzam Noor, painter Tisna Sanjaya used to hang out there. It was named Gang Bapak Eni Community, after the name of the street. After the fall of president Soeharto in 1998, the community was called Celah-celah Langit. “Because we can see the sky from the front yard,” Iman said.

A group of international actors from Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan, in 2007 stayed with CCL for three months in an Indonesia-Australia collaboration between CCL and the Sidetrack performance group.

Their collaboration gave birth to a play called Tangled Garden directed by Brazilian Carlos Gomez.

Iman said he grew up surrounded by the arts in Ledeng. The idea of studying theater came to him when he was studying acting and then directing at the Indonesian Arts College (STSI) — now the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI). He is currently taking a postgraduate degree at the Jakarta Arts Institute.

He joined the Studi Klub Teater in Bandung and then Teater Kecil headed by Arifin C Noor before travelling around the world.

During his travels, he saw there was a gap between the arts and people in many countries.

“I don’t want Indonesia to be like that,” he said. That is why CCL often performs in villages, to bring art closer to the people he said.

“Art should be representative,” he said. That is why he always starts from facts when creating art.

Iman likes to talk to people around him. After the dawn prayer at the mosque, he goes to the public transportation terminal and has coffee with the buskers there.

“That way we can know what they are worried about,” he said.

CCL is preparing three productions at the moment, including a children’s play, Iman said.

Iman puts these plays together to preserve local art. “Art is the main ingredient in a social world. I don’t want our lives in Ledeng to be dry”.

Iman added that CCL had received support this year from Kelola Foundation, a not-for-profit organization on art and culture, and the Theater Embassy from the Netherlands. “Last year we just managed on our own.”

“The government and the private sector are very stingy. But we don’t need to get upset about this. It’s
OK. If we want to build a community we have to think this way: Forget the existence or absence of  the government. Forget the existence or absence of the private sector. If you can manage on your own, just do it.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Wed, May 04 2011

Our land, our people

Powerful voices: Without the help of microphones, the actors rely on the strength of their voices during the performance. Antara/Agus Bebeng
Powerful voices: Without the help of microphones, the actors rely on the strength of their voices during the performance. Antara/Agus Bebeng

The ground beneath our feet is the foundation of our lives. Last Friday night’s performance of community-based theater Celah-celah Langit (CCL) was a poignant representation of how people are losing their life foundations — their home and livelihood — by selling land to greedy property developers.

At Sanggar Baru in Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural space, 15 Central Jakarta actors enacted Tanah: ode kampung kami (Land: ode to our kampung) in a powerful one hour 10 minutes performance.

Accompanied by music from traditional Sundanese musical instruments, the actors told a story through 13 scenes of roaring dialogue and energetic dance moves.

The actors, dressed in black, showed physical and audio strength in their performance. They moved in movements that were slightly acrobatic, showing their bamboo pole skills.

They began the play with a jovial funny scene in which they were enjoying themselves in the fields.

What belongs to the people: Tanah: ode kampung kami (Land: ode to our kampung), a powerful 1 hour 10 minutes play that was presented last weekend at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) cultural space, delves into the issue of land. Courtesy of Celah-celah Langit

Without the help of microphones, the actors relied on the strength of their voices. Holding dry rice leaves, they talked about the importance of land. The only female actor, Anita Bintang, who played the mother, a metaphor of the land, recited the poem Tanah ode kampung kami: Land is the beginning/in land we exist/we are the land/hurting the land hurts ourselves/pleasing the land pleases ourselves/don’t sell your land/selling the land sells ourselves/selling land sells your mother.

In the next scene, the actors held a big bamboo pole together close to their chests. The mother hung on to the bamboo pole using her arms and legs, outstretched.

The story portrayed two men luring people to sell their land. They told the landowner he could spend the money to go on the haj pilgrimage. “Tell all your neighbors. The whole village can go on the haj and to heaven together,” a land broker said.

One person did not want to sell his land and tried to persuade the others not to sell theirs. But his efforts were to no avail. The mother was surrounded by tall bamboo, representing the buildings and skyscrapers. “My children!,” she cried out.

Each actor then dropped the bamboo poles until they surrounded Anita. She was then lifted up and left to die.
Angry faces: Actors from the Tanah play perform at TIM cultural space in Jakarta last Friday. Antara/Agus Bebeng

The play is an adaptation of the voices of the people of Lembang, Bandung. The hilly area in Bandung has undergone many transformations over the years with many  businesspeople buying up the land there.

Iman Soleh, director of the play and founder of Celah-celah Langit or also known as Ledeng Cultural Center, prepared this production as a theater for development and educational project supported by Kelola Foundation, an NGO for the arts and culture and the Theater Embassy from the Netherlands.

In November 2010, he held a writing workshop with the people of Lembang to determine their opinions on the land issue. These 25 compiled texts were then discussed and adapted into a play.

“Art should always start from facts. If it do not come from facts we are detached from the problems of the people. What good is art when it is detached from the people’s concerns,” he said.

This makes the process of playwriting a long one, but Iman said they just had to be patient. “We talk to them about what they want to convey. ‘I will make art so that your message can be delivered’,” Iman said.

Egbert Wits, the coordinator for theater for development and education from the Theater Embassy, said the production aimed to “give a voice to the people through art”. The workshops of theater for development can give the people new skills such as writing, poetry reading, singing and dancing.

Wits added that theater for development aimed to stimulate dialogue between people about the issues communicated in the play.

Iman added that the story of Lembang was only an aperçu, which fit into the bigger problem of land in general. “Is there land for the people?” he asked. “People come to Jakarta and big cities because they don’t have anything in their villages,” he said.

He pointed out that land rights were given to only a few big companies who claimed they created jobs, while the government did not empower the people with land.

“I ask, do [the companies] guarantee their laborers good welfare? Young people no longer want to be farmers,” Iman said, adding that this was because they could not survive in this trade.

The play is presented in Jakarta, Iman said, because the capital also had its own unique land problems. “There are 1,007 land cases in Jakarta and 125 are unresolved,” he said.

Iman, a theater performer, who has joined various theater groups in Japan, the Philippines, France, Reunion Island and many other countries, founded the CCL community. The CCL creative process takes place in his front yard in Ledeng, Bandung. He witnessed his father’s village in Cigondewah convert from paddy fields into an industrial area. He also saw how the Ledeng public transportation terminal transformed the area into an arts hub.

The area is home to hundreds of university students renting boarding rooms, Ledeng residents, vendors, buskers and children. Iman said they usually performed in villages to bring the art closer to the people. Iman said that most actors in the play were university students.

Tanah will be presented in Jatiwangi as well as Lembang, Bandung.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Entertainment | Wed, May 04 201

Bandung performers to present the story of land

Land is key: The play Tanah, to be presented this Friday at Taman Ismail Marzuki, focuses on the issue of land. Courtesy of Celah-celah Langit
Land is key: The play Tanah, to be presented this Friday at Taman Ismail Marzuki, focuses on the issue of land. Courtesy of Celah-celah Langit

A community-based theater from Bandung will present their play Tanah (Land), which delves into the issue of land at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) cultural space this Friday night.

The theater community Celah-celah Langit or the Ledeng Cultural Centre, headed by performer Iman Soleh, based in Ledeng, Bandung has been preparing the production of this one hour and 10 minutes show since November 2010.

The play will be open to the public and take place in Sanggar Baru, TIM. Celah-celah Langit opened their première of Tanah in Bandung. After Jakarta, the theater will also perform in Jatiwangi.

The play is part of a theater for development and educational project supported by Kelola Foundation, a not-for profit organization for the arts and culture and Theater Embassy from the Netherlands.

The 13 scenes of the play are based on 25 texts produced by the people of Bandung hilly area in Lembang who have been affected by Lembang’s changing landscape.

Iman said the idea for this play had germinated in Lembang in 2009. With the Netherlands Theatre Embassy and Kelola Foundation, Iman held writing workshops in Lembang to find out the experiences the Lembang people had with the changing of the land.

“The writings were diverse, with diverse language as well. We held continuous discussions around the writings that were collected,” Iman said. “The discussion process was longer than other explorations [for the play],” Iman said.

He added that the story of Lembang was only an apercu, which fit into the bigger problem of land in general. The play is being presented in Jakarta, Iman said, because the capital also has its own unique land problems. “There are 1,007 land cases in Jakarta and 125 of them are unresolved,” he said.

Iman pointed out that 26 people were involved in the production including musicians, costume designers and lighting crew. There are 15 actors in the play.

Bamboo and hay will be prominent theater props to convey a feel of the agrarian life.

“We brought 20 long bamboo poles from Bandung,” he said.

Egbert Wits, the coordinator for theater for development and education from Theater Embassy, said the production aimed to “give voice to the people through art”.

The people can benefit from the production process with new skills such as writing, poetry reading, singing and dancing.

“The people become more confident and become brave in speaking in public,” he said.

Wits added that the theater for development aimed to stimulate a dialogue between people about the issues that was being put forth in the play.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Fri, April 29 2011