Ketoprak Tobong in Liverpool?

There is an Indonesian touch in Liverpool this week. A photography exhibition in Open Eye gallery called “Open1” is exhibiting photos from various artists. “Open1” is a part of LOOK/15: Exchange (Liverpool International Photography Festival). This festival is celebrating the relationship between three subjects: women, migration and memory. 

Open Eye Gallery is one of the UK’s leading photography spaces, and the only gallery dedicated to photography and related media in the North West of England. This exhibition starts from 16th May until 23rd August 2015. In this exhibition the work selected by Open Eye Gallery’s curatorial team is thematically grouped around ideas of “social portraiture”, exploring the visual aspects of association and identity. 

One of these is a collaboration between British artist Helen Marshall and Risang Yuwono of Indonesia. This collaborative project is called “Project Tobong”. The images on show are about a group of Ketoprak in Indonesia. Ketoprak is a theatrical musical genre known in Java. There are not many Ketoprak groups who can survive in this era of globalisation. “Ketoprak Tobong Kelana Bakti Budaya” is one which still exists. 

As an Indonesian who has grown up in the 90’s, unfortunately it is unusual for me to watch a ketoprak performance because they are rare. This old theatrical show seem to be diluted by modernisation. This photography exhibition is very interesting for me as I’m an immigrant who lives in Liverpool. It brings back memories of Indonesian culture and it is more interesting when I know a British photographer tried to capture this theatrical group with a sense of humour. The images on show are taken in several locations in Yogyakarta. When I saw the picture of the tobong actress posing in front of the gas station, to me it explicitly says : Hey, I exist! I still exist!!

When I was at the exhibition, I met an old man who is a photographer. He was there looking at one of the photographs (a tobong actor posing in Parangtritis beach). I asked him about his thoughts about this picture. He said this picture looks like a man trying to dress like an Indian God and he liked the sky in the picture. I asked him do you know about Indonesia and he said “yes I know, Indonesia is the country with two big Petronas towers!” It didn’t surprise me because here unfortunately not many people know where Indonesia is. However, all the visitors looked like they were enjoying this photography exhibition and I feel like a part of this exhibition because I can tell some people about Indonesia especially Yogyakarta and its culture to people that I met at the exhibition through these amazing photos. 

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