Imaginary Homeland: 我是不是該安静地走開
I liked negatives more than the camera as a child. I found the latter hard to use, especially the small viewfinder through which I was to compose an image. Negatives on the other hand was fun to look at — family faces staring blankly with unfamiliar expressions, leading to all sorts of imagined realities.
Shortly after we were sent to Singapore, my mother brought my sister and I to the Istana during the holidays. I took photos for the first time, all thirty six of them on a roll of film, with a compact camera. The week-long break was ending so it was near goodbye (again). We went to a shop along South Bridge Road to develop the photos. The lady at the counter opened the camera in front of us, before pulling the entire roll out. No image she said.
Wherein lie the images of our memories? Suppose we had (mis)placed them inside a photograph, would we ever get them back?
The indexicality of photos — their authoritative testimonies of what-has-happened — and their transparency* proved problematic in my attempt to come to terms with my absence from Indonesia, throughout the 28 years since I left my hometown of Solo city at the age of 9 due to ethnic tensions. The country’s archival press photos, specifically those images that perform national identity through the visual documentations of iconic politicians and historical milestones, often led me to imagine that I was (or could be) a part of this shared identity despite my physical disconnection from Tanah Air** while at the same time reminding me why I was never part of it.
In making negative drawings that reference political press photos, I wanted to address memories where the personal and political intertwined. I want to relook at these familiar yet disembodied images, reconstruct them in a new place of beginnings and infinitely defer their meanings. If optical memory was all that I could ever have of this history then let that be my entry point and process for re-narration.
I am betting this time, an image will appear.
Kendall Walton used the term ‘transparent pictures’ to describe the photograph’s make-believe ability, its function as a lens through which the viewer sees something other than the photo itself.
**Tanah Air means homeland in Bahasa Indonesia.