I was enjoying my V60-ed Rwandan coffee and a copy of Penguin Classic book when a sixty-something lady stepped into the coffee shop carrying her beaten iPad. I had frequented this specialty coffee shop for the last year and had never seen this lady before. She looked kind of lost. She picked a comfortable seat, and a quick moment later realised that there would be no waiter to approach her. In this small coffee shop every customer simply had to approach the bar and place their order directly to the barista.

So she took two steps to the bar, bewildered with the chalk scribblings coffee drinks menu displayed at the back wall. She asked for a menu book instead and studied it behind a pair of thick glasses. After a long while trying to understand what had been written there in small letters she decided to go for the espresso.

A lone, sixty-something lady ordering a shot of espresso is not a common sight in Jakarta – a city where the previous generation is still wondering what in the world is “third wave coffee”. The unlikeliness of the scenes unfolding before me triggered my curiosity, and I started observing it closer from my quiet and comfortable corner.

As the barista handed her the demitasse cup of espresso, a sense of amusement came to her eyes; the sense of wondering was palpable as she tried to figure out what was in that very small volume of coffee beverage. Yet, she was polite enough to not say anything.

She sat and tried to sip the coffee. Predictably, she quickly asked for sugar. The barista did not hesitate to help her adding sugar to the supposedly already sweet – by the standard of a coffee snob, of course! – cup of coffee. She tried taking another sip, and immediately asked, “More sugar, please!”

I am pretty sure that most specialty coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs would frown and mentally judge the old lady for being “uncivilized” and “uncool” with her repeated requests of sugar. Obviously, I was guilty of delivering that judgment myself too.

The old lady smiled as the coffee became as sweet as she liked it. She was happy. I was relieved that the coffee blasphemy scene was finally over though my disapproval on how she treated her espresso was still intact. It was her next statement to the barista that gave me the hardest nudge.

“I wonder why my son always drinks espresso with no sugar.”

It was then I realised what that old lady was actually doing in that coffee shop.

No, she wasn’t there for the free wifi. No, she wasn’t there to take pictures to parade on her Instagram account. And, no, she definitely wasn’t there for the espresso.

There she was, a lady from the previous, analog generation, trying to keep up in the digital era with her old iPad. Her son was probably already in his early thirties; someone who had built a career somewhere, and probably was quite successful. Someone who went from one coffee shop to another. Someone who might be thinking to quit his job to open his own coffee shop. Or, at least, someone who had been taking this new trend of third-wave coffee rather too enthusiastically. Someone whom this old lady is trying to understand and to connect.

So there she was, stranded in a small coffee shop that to her might as well be another planet, trying to understand her son as much as she tried to understand the iPad she was holding for no further purpose than chatting on WhatsApp in bigger screen with bigger font size.

There she was, an old lady trying to reconnect with his son, trying to stay relevant in his son’s life. It did not matter what the espresso tasted like. What mattered to her is to relate to her son and his lifestyle.

The old lady’s voice woke me from my thoughts. She handed her iPad to the barista, and said, “Please take a picture of me and my espresso. I want to send it to my son.”

Dear specialty coffee shops,

Every customer who walks into your place has a story. Let them pour sugar on the precious espresso that you have geeked yourself out for. Let them order iced lychee tea and ignore your urge to sell them Panama gesha. Let them use your wifi and isolate themselves from your enthusiastic coffee stories. You never actually know where they came from, what they have been through, and why they are there.

Editor: Dianthus Saputra

NOTE: Best read with an attitude of an Italian mob boss.

Yegor, listen to me, Yegor. Don’t you frown your face and think of me like making you my dog. Listen. I not push you around, Yegor. You got your freedom, you do what you wanna do. You got your freedom to choose. You’re my man, Yegor. Not my dog. You have what they call … “free will”.

But why you use that “free will” to make me sad, Yegor? You not following my rules. You disrespecting me. You not paying your dues. You making me lose my face in front of everybody.

So what you give me is no choice but to let my dog Diablo get you. Men who not please me, who not worship me, who not talk good things about me – I send them to Diablo.

You see, Yegor? No, I no pushing you around. You just got to make a decision. Make a conscious decision to make me happy. If you just make me happy because I ask you to then I won’t be happy because I can see that your heart is not true. I save you from the street so that you make me happy, Yegor. Make me happy with your true heart. It must come from you yourself. Your “free will”.

You see my son? My only son? I gave him as good, good example. I told him to come to you, to act like he no son of mine, then to become scapegoat, so that you all can put all the blame on him, and I see him as a mistake, and I send him to Diablo too. Because I wanna show you that I am fair, I am just, I am the boss.

Different is, my son can beat Diablo. Can escape from Diablo’s turf. No, he don’t kill Diablo. He cannot kill my man nor my top dog. But he beat him to pulp.

Now my son, my only son, sit right next to me.

Are you my son, Yegor? You believe you can beat Diablo? What is making you believe you can do what you want in this world I created?

You have your freedom from me, Yegor. Use it wisely. Use it to make me happy. And I make sure your business is secure and nobody giving you trouble.

I love you, Yegor. As long as you please me with all your heart.

Something like this:
Conversations with the Gatekeeper
A Conversation with the Gatekeeper
Durhaka
Caged Bunnies

You didn’t ask to be born. Your parents decided. (Or, in some cases, you’re an accident. Fine.)

You were born with free will. Your parents – if they’re properly educated – knew it.

As soon as you are mature enough – and I’ll say it’s 6-7 years old – you are geared to use your free will as much as you want.

What you want is above what your parents think you need.

You don’t belong to your parents. It doesn’t mean a thing if they think so and dictate what should you be, which idiotic religion you should or shouldn’t follow, or with whom you should have sex.

Once your parents do not show concern on your personal happiness then they have failed. You don’t need them. You don’t owe them a thing. (Remember: you did not ask to be born.)

There is no durhaka (“insubordination”, or many times interpreted as “rebellious towards parents”). There are only wrong decisions you’ll be responsible of, and great ones you’ll be proud of.

Something like this:
A Conversation with the Gatekeeper
Conversations with the Gatekeeper
The Rules of the Game
Durhaka

Atreyu_Moniaga_LiliCo.jpg

“She’s a pretty looking girl, don’t you think so?” Atreyu Moniaga asked about the picture above. “But, can you also feel the insecurity in her eyes? And how she covered her body? She is actually a friend of mine who, in her real life, has a severe body issue. And her insecurity connects to us. Because maybe we have insecurity issues in other areas, too.”

From May 25 until June 25 the many faces of pain are displayed in Qubicle Center, Jl. Senopati 79, South Jakarta. Atreyu Moniaga’s solo exhibition showcases stories that are very personal to him, represented in his photography artworks. The exhibition is curated by Jhosephine Tanuwidjaja who separated Moniaga’s artworks in three chambers.

Atreyu_Moniaga_Heaven

The first chamber represents the denying stage where uncertainty and awkwardness dominate each frame. The second chamber is the acknowledgement stage where emotions burst and angst freely expressed. The final chamber is the recovery stage where the individuals try their best to untangle their conflict, and even get to a reborn phase. And, finally, an image formed by nine 60×60 cm canvases portrays a coming-of-age boy with stronger confidence.

Atreyu_Moniaga_Braver.jpg

PULIH – or “road to recovery” – is Atreyu Moniaga’s first solo photography exhibition. He has made his marks as an illustrator by showcasing his works in several solo and group exhibitions. He has collaborated with famed fashion designer Sebastian Gunawan for Melange des Sans collection in 2014. This visual artist has also made an acting career. He playead a leading role in The Fox Exploits the Tiger’s Might that was in Semaine de la critique competition in Cannes Film Festival 2015, and won Best Short Film in Indonesian Film Festival 2015.

Related:
BLIXT and Other Projects

The postgraduate student of Jakarta Institute of Arts is also a lecturer in a university in North Jakarta. He actively holds exhibitions outside campus for his selected college students, and recently initiates Atreyu Moniaga Project to further nurture and grow young artistic talents.

Atreyu_Moniaga_Please.jpg

Atreyu_Moniaga_Butterfly.jpg

Atreyu_Moniaga_Anyway.jpg

The Gatekeeper has this lovely job of waiting the gate that will bring the souls of the dead to the afterlife.

Dead Pious: So, Gatekeeper. You must be the one who is keeping the balance between my good deeds and – well – the things I did unintentionally.
The Gatekeeper: You’re definitely not the first one to think so, and – yes – you might think that way according to your belief, or religion. You want to know how is your performance during your life?
Dead Pious: I surely do.
The Gatekeeper: I can say that out of ten things you’ve done in all your life nine of them were praise-worthy. If their weight were measured, your good deeds and unselfish acts of charity will be around ninety kilograms, while your wrongdoings will be no more than a few hundred grams.
Dead Pious: Ha! So I will get to Heaven, right?
The Gatekeeper: Well, the thing is, there is no gravity here. We do not measure or scale your deeds.
Dead Pious: What? So?
The Gatekeeper: Whoever told you that your good deeds in your life will have any value here must be the stupidest and most moronic persons ever lived. No. Any of your deeds have no afterlife value. They are nothing. Even if you’ve raised a hundred orphans – no. It’s nothing. You’re dead now. None of them matters anymore.

Dead Martyr: They promised me Heaven if I blew myself in a shopping mall.
The Gatekeeper: Yeah, it’s like they promised that you would shit gold. Na’ah. Ain’t gonna happen.

Dead Recycle: So, what am I gonna be next? I’ve meditated in total silence for the last fifteen years in my life. I’m gonna be a dragon? Or, stars in the sky?
The Gatekeeper: Naaah. You’ve done nothing, so you’ll be nothing. Go on.
Dead Recycle: But, but, if I had done anything then it would be nothing to. So, what was the point of my existence?
The Gatekeeper: What made you think it had a point? You were just an accident.

Dead Sunday: Is my Savior your Big Boss? I am His disciple. I lived in and by His name. I will get to Heaven and rule with Him, right?
The Gatekeeper: Do I look like someone who works for a boss?
Dead Sunday: But, but, but … I’ve made so many other souls to believe in my Savior as well.
The Gatekeeper: Yeah. Stupidity is the main commodity in multi level marketing.

Related:
A Conversation with The Gatekeeper
The Rules of the Game
Caged Bunnies
Durhaka

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The opening of Blixt that I attended last month was more like a gathering of misfits instead of the usual opening night of an exhibition. Yes, it was about the scale; a comparatively tiny one in size that surely was not for the elites. And, definitely yes, it was about the artists; a gang of first year art students with no names, and no portfolio.

I found myself having a conversation with Arris Aprillo in the small patio of his coffee shop where the exhibition was held. “We need to give them space,” he told me when I asked why he accommodated Blixt, even made an effort to personally help the kids in preparing everything prior to the opening night. I love the way he put it. It is not because the students need the space. It is because we – perhaps Arris was referring us as people who have been in the art scene for much longer time – need to give them space.

It is our need to see new talents rising. It is our need to actively participate in nurturing them.

blixt_03

Works by Stella Randy, Andhie Kusnadi and Ketrin Aster were among the many displayed in Blixt.

Blixt is a group exhibition of photography works initiated by Atreyu Moniaga – an illustrator, a photographer, a seasonal actor, and, most importantly in this case, a lecturer. This is Atreyu Moniaga‘s fourth projects with his first year students. The other two also displayed photography works, and another one was Mixed Feelings 00 – a group exhibition of illustrations.

Just like the rest, and the coming Mixed Feelings 01 to open on April 24 2016, Blixt was not a campus program.

Atreyu Moniaga‘s off-campus projects were started in 2013 when some of his students inquired him on how to make their talents discovered. “Well, you have to build a portfolio,” his simple answer was. The portfolio building project rolled into ST/ART – a group exhibition of photography works by six first year students. Among them were Hendi Thamrin (today an official photographer for Patrick Owen), Sulvia Su (today is having a residency in Museum Nasional), and S. Jane Sukardi (today works for Antara News.)

And, just like the members of ST/ART, Lucid (the second group photography exhibition), and Mixed Feelings 00, the members of Blixt did not have it easy to have their works finally displayed on one side of the walls in That’s Life Coffee.

blixt_05

The humble display of Atreyu Moniaga’s first year students. And, Atreyu Moniaga himself as he was observing the photo book of Blixt. (Photos by Stella Randy.)

It took them one full year being molded by Atreyu Moniaga with additional help from his friends. “I always started with reading assignments. They have to expand their references first,” Moniaga said. “I evaluated every entry carefully. We worked together until late. Sometimes we even had to stay one or two nights together to work as a team. This is basically a year-long boot camp.”

Now, do you think the parents – the conservative Indonesian parents – of these 18-19 years old art students would easily let their children stay out of their houses like that?

Let me tell you a little more about where did Atreyu Moniaga found the young talents to be introduced in his exhibitions. He lectures in a campus located in far North Jakarta. The University of Bunda Mulia is not the first name you will think about when it comes to art schools in Jakarta, let alone Indonesia. The North Jakarta area itself has always been known as a population of business families – from the billionaires down to the humble tradesmen. Unlike the cool and hip South Jakarta, North Jakarta is not an area you would expect to become home for creative minds.

The students had already had it rough when they told their parents that they wanted to be artists. And, now these late night meetings with a young lecturer? Parents were not seldom questioning hard, even outraged.

“But, remember this. Other friends of yours are probably sneaking out of their houses as well only to go for clubbing. You guys are sneaking out to study. To make an exhibition. To make your mark,” Moniaga encouraged his students.

Adding to the pressure from home, Atreyu Moniaga‘s projects also were under the monitor of a few peers in art scene who did not always approve the idea. The (slightly) more senior artists, curators, or even educators, thought that none of the students were ready, and that their artworks were not presentable to the public, and they made having an exhibition sounds so cheap and easy.

So, can you imagine this: The school itself is already an underdog among the many art schools in the country. That means the students who joined Atreyu Moniaga‘s projects are the nerds in an underdog school. Being bullied is their lunch break.

The opening night of Blixt that I attended must be just like the opening nights of ST/ART, Lucid, and Mixed Feelings 00. This is a group of misfits whose stomachs are filled with a thousand butterflies flapping hard their wings. Are they really worthy? Is their year-long hard work will pay off? What kind of questions they will have to answer in the artists talk? Will there be any big names showing up? And, are their parents coming?

As for that night, Thalia W., Marselgeo, Stella Randy, Ketrin Aster, Andhie Kusnadi, and Ong William Joe had formed a bond unlike anything else. The quarrels they had, the challenges they faced, and the doubts they had to fight together all year long had melted them into one.

And that night they sat together in the artists talk session. They answered questions like inexperienced artists. Yet, they did answer questions. The crowds were not art critics or the elites. They were friends and people who are always eager to welcome new talents in the art scene. They came with a positive mindset that the art scene is always in the need for fresh blood.

blixt_04

Top Left to Bottom Right: Stella Randy, Ketrin Aster, Ong William Joe, Thalia W., Marselgeo, and Andhie Kusnasi in the artists talk session.

And the parents who came saw their children’s fine works proudly displayed. They saw how people gaze at what their children had been working on all night long, all year long. They saw how their children show responsibility by answering each question from the crowds. And, finally they saw people who are strangers to them clapping hands to salute their children.

That night I saw not only an opening night of an exhibition. That night I witnessed an art education at its purest form. An art education that gives space for the underdogs to express themselves. An art education that touches deep to their homes as fathers and mothers were in tears seeing how their children have grown up to become artists. An art education that changes perception. An art education that is unnoticeable.

Thalia W., Marselgeo, Stella Randy, Ketrin Aster, Andhie Kusnadi, and Ong William Joe had no agenda in Blixt but to see the results of their hard work displayed in a small coffee shop. These are photography works with no ambition, no ego at stake, no grades, and nothing to lose.

And, for me, these are the kinds of works that deserve the highest applause.

blixt_02

Atreyu Moniaga (top, far right) with his students who participated in Bixt and previous exhibitions.

Blixt had concluded last night, March 20, 2016. Expect to see the next Atreyu Moniaga’s project Mixed Feelings 01 – a group exhibition by his students Agatha Astari Gouw, Dicky “Daesky” Sarbeni, Robby Eduardo Garsia, and Vicky Saputra – to open on April 24, 2016 in That’s Life Coffee.

Settling down is as idle as fitting in. It is a product of a long period of repression – a series of identity loss, peer pressure, the call for normalcy, the tiring years of rebellion with no clear direction that ends up in the comfort of taking the mainstream track. We think we are tricking it, but later on we realize that it is all a compromise.

The youth was so full of ideas, and brimming with dreams, and passion. We thought we needed some clear direction to make sure that those ideals would somehow land us in a better life. Yet, it is a better life in a universal definition: a property, a family, a long time investment, a cup of coffee every morning, and a good sleep every evening. We started wild, then slowly, and sometimes unconsciously, stripped off all the things that made us exceptional to join the crowds.

For generations the exceptions must follow the rules. For generations the rules have threatened us with the notion that defying them means a life of unhappiness. For generations we have believed, and have tried to convince the next generation, that happiness equals comfort, certainty, and security.

That happiness is a good status quo.

We have denied that evolution is part of human nature. We seem to be receptive to the idea that men should reinvent themselves and welcome changes. But we place all those wisdom inside a huge box of comfort zone. And, to break the boundaries of comfort zone is unwise.

A comfort zone that says that men should marry and settle in a family; men and wives, men and husbands, women and wives. A comfort zone that is principally built by what we should own as basic needs: a roof above our heads no matter how small, two or three meals a day no matter how humble, and people who pay us respect when we rest in peace no matter how few.

And based on those minimum requirements of a happy life we are encouraged and motivated to live happier and happier. To be happier than the person standing next to us. And, that means to have something more than just a proper roof above our heads, better and “healthier” two or three humble meals a day, and more people we call friends and families. These ideas are advertised in all their glory, and mold the basic pride of humanity.

Oh, the pride of being normal. The pride of being the fittest. The pride of settling down in the most comfortable way.

The pride that keeps on minimizing the essence of being evolutionary. Even kills it completely.

When did you first compromise your dreams for a monthly salary to pay for your studio apartment? When did you first see that the idea of being what you have always wanted to be will not end you in a happy life? When did you first push the exceptional you to fit the box that your parents, friends, families, and society design for you?

Thousands of years ago civilization was built on the grounds of savagery. We used to dance with the lions – well or not. And now we turn the mighty king’s head into a logo of a hand soap. We have lost our respect to the wild, and automatically to ourselves as part of it.

We are nothing but tamed beasts. Caged bunnies.

The standards of good and bad are our prison bars that we made ourselves.

It is once again time for us to question normalcy. When in doubt ask differently. Should you really find a good person to settle down with? Should you really secure your future by a piece of property? Is ownership a solid rock to build your life on?

Is good good, is bad bad?

It is once again time for us to reevaluate our daily thinking. Is it natural for men to repress his desire?

Roam wild. Evolve. Stay restless. Or, just rest in their definition of peace.

Something like this:
A Conversation with the Gatekeeper
Conversations with the Gatekeeper
Durhaka
The Rules of the Game