In mid-February I went travelling again, for a book project together with Bianca Tschaikner. This time I didn’t go to cold, snowy Japan, like the year before, but to a warm island towards the equator. To West Sumatra, an Indonesian island. It is the sixth largest island in the world, with 50 million inhabitants. Our plan was to deal with the matrilineal culture of the Minangkabau. The goal was to make an art book, a kind of travel book, which tells stories and encounters about the Minangkabau and their culture, and which deals with the everyday life of a matrilineal culture. This was a highly interesting topic for us, which was not to be investigated with scientific methods, but rather through conversations with the local people and their stories, which we were to document with the help of texts, drawings, photos and film. In the end this resulted in a wealth of material. Photography and film were my part in this process, with the film still to be completed. In any case, photography was the main focus for me. It is not always easy to make a decision whether one prefers to photograph or film in a certain situation. Some moments, such as dancing, gestures, drumming or other situations in motion are more vulnerable on film. Also, I can’t always have two cameras with me when I travel, because I use different cameras for filming and photographing – and in the sweltering heat I have to carry even more weight with two cameras and the corresponding lenses.
In contrast to Japan, where my fingers sometimes almost froze off when I was taking pictures, Sumatra was hot and humid, as the island is located on the equator and in the tropics. It is a true rainforest paradise. However, mass deforestation, pollution and destruction of the rainforest pose huge problems. Only this time this was not our topic, as in my documentary in Colombia in 2017. This time we were primarily concerned with the topic of matriarchy and the role of women in the local society.
After a short two-day stay in Singapore, we flew to Padang, the largest city in West Sumatra. Our stay in Padang began with a visit to the local Minangkabau Museum, the Adityawarman. There we met a very helpful historian, with whom we immediately arranged a meeting. Because of the language barrier, we brought in English students who translated the conversations for us. We spent almost two days in the museum.
After Padang we went on to Bukittinggi, into the highlands. There we got to know the people mainly directly on the road. On the first day, during an exploratory walk through the small village of Koto Gadang, for example, an elderly lady approached us and waved us over. It turned out that she was a “Bundo Kanduang”, a kind of leader among the Minangkabau. The next day we came back and had an interview with her about the local culture. We went to Koto Gadang even more often. In smaller villages it is just much easier to meet people. How it was like in Koto Gadang you can find here in this photo series.
After some more interviews, with very different people, we visited one of my friends I had met in Bali. He himself is Indonesian and lived in Pariaman, one hour away from Bukittinggi. He told us that he now has a German wife and is back in his home town. We visited him and his wife for one day. Pariaman is located on the coast and his village is right next to it, a real jungle village of colorful houses. His family invited us for dinner and he showed us his village. Here are some photographic impressions of it. We learned that in a few days there would be a wedding in his village, to which we were invited. So after a short stay in Bukittingi we came back to Pariaman to go to this wedding. On the day before the wedding we came together to celebrate traditional customs, eat and dance. A live band was playing. It was so loud that one almost suffered a hearing loss. As a wedding photographer, it was nice for me to see how different weddings were held there. The couple had also hired a wedding photographer. So now there were two photographers who documented the wedding. What happened at this wedding, you can find here. I have also filmed a little bit, I will cut that into a little film. But as I said, photographing and filming at the same time is unfortunately difficult.
After the wedding we went back to Bukittinggi. There we continued our interviews and also made many hikes through the city. Apart from the incredibly warm, open people, I was especially fascinated by the colourful houses and lovingly placed exotic plants, which we only know as house plants. I also like to go to markets to take pictures. There I like to make portraits of people and their stands. There were such great colours.
After three weeks of travelling and several interviews and excursions, we were drawn to the beach. We didn’t want to leave it all at once, just working in the heat. Another friend from Indonesia told me a few months before that I should definitely visit Ricky’s Beach House, which we did, because it was only one hour south of Padang. The beach house was directly at the sea. Again I was overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of the locals. The Beach House is an ecologically and socially motivated project. Ecological, because they care for turtles and fight against garbage in nature. And socially, because it offers jobs and training opportunities for the boys from the area (although I don’t like the girls). Ricky and his colleagues could also tell us a lot about the Minangkabau culture. Besides two interviews, our stay there was relaxing.
All in all it was a really great trip and experience, where we met many interesting, nice and helpful people. I am a real Indonesia fan. And I hope that I will be able to travel back there after Corona.