It’s a production that relates close to the heart – NUANSA’s musical, Lukisan Jati, sheds light on the struggles two Indonesian scholars face in developing their artistic pursuits abroad. Following the protagonists’ journey of self-discovery, Lukisan Jati aims to share how rewarding it would be to overcome your personal struggles to follow your dreams.
We spoke to the team behind the musical to tell us more about the plot that is set in two different centuries, and how they drew inspiration from the iconic Boschbrand painting.
1. What sparked the interest to follow the story of an accomplished painter, Raden Saleh? Will his character in Lukisan Jati mirror Saleh’s real-life experiences?
Jessica Lim, Scriptwriter: We actually went to an art exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore and it was called ‘Between Worlds’ and it featured Raden Saleh, who was an Indonesian scholar (and he) got the chance to go overseas to study painting in the Netherlands. As we went through the exhibition, we realised that this is actually pretty cool, this guy is the first-ever overseas Indonesian scholar just like a lot of us. And that kind of sparked an interest in what would it have been like for Raden Saleh to have been the first-ever scholar to have gone so far away from home and the story just flew from there. And the more we researched about him, the more interesting things we came to learn about Raden Saleh: from his time in Indonesia to his 20 years in Europe before finally returning back to Indonesia.
Kenzo Nagari, Scriptwriter: That really resonates with us because he was the first one ever to actually go through these challenges and these trials and conflicting feelings that we also experienced. So we thought that why not make it into a musical, you know? It’s the perfect fit.
2. Previous NUANSA productions have a stronger focus on Indonesia’s history. What is the motivation behind showcasing two Indonesian painters from two different centuries?
Kenzo: From watching previous NUANSA (productions) and also other Indonesian cultural shows, we do notice a certain trend of taking stories from the past or from different regions. And while this is fine, both of us feel that we can start really small – we can attempt to be really personal instead, which is why the story of real-life foreign student comes in. It’s like Elsa, a girl in Jakarta, (who is) studying in Singapore and is basically all of us – it’s like a side of all our experiences. It’s really funny because we wrote it for an Indonesian student in mind, but we have Singaporean students come in and join NUANSA and said that that the story also resonated with them. So you know, I guess we just attempt to be honest and truthful about the story and see where it takes us.
Alice Cahya Putri, Producer: We wanted to do stories that are more relatable to us. As many of us doing this production are scholars, we wanted Saleh and Elsa – the painters in our story – to represent our struggles and feelings.
3. Lukisan Jati also explores the influence of migration for both Saleh and Elsa, and this is reflected in the play’s music themes and stage costume. What are some challenges the team has faced during the planning stage of the production?
Alice: Because there are two timelines in this story, in two different centuries, so incorporating all the sets, dance, music, costumes (is) difficult. You’ll see in the performance (that) there’ll be different costumes that represent one old century and the current century – all on the same stage. Same goes for the music and the sets. There’s also a fusion of Indonesian dance, Javanese dance, and the contemporary dances too.
4. Besides the two painters’ experiences and opportunities in different periods of time, what are the messages that you hope to send out to your audience in the spirit of self-discovery?
Jessica: One big message that we wanted to send out to our audience was the fact that even though we’re all on this journey of self-discovery, it’s a coming of age story where we are all trying to learn what it means to be independent, away from parents, away from things that used to dictate what we should do in our life, and now we are our own person to decide what we should be doing. The most important thing is that we are not alone, so whether you’re an Indonesian scholar travelling overseas or you’re a Singaporean or you’re any kind of student growing up basically, that your journey – even if you feeling like you’re doing it by yourself – you’re not alone in that journey.
5. How do you think the themes in the play relate in today’s context? And what has changed?
Jessica: We have Saleh who was from the 18th century, so that’s almost 200 years ago, but we kind of felt that his struggles will probably be very similar to the struggles that we are facing even today: the struggles of going to an entirely new city, of starting afresh, of having no one, no friends, no family and (having to) finding himself in this brand new city. So even today, a lot of us go through the same challenges as well. But what I think has changed is that Saleh was in a colonial-era of Indonesia where he felt that he probably should need to showcase what Indonesia is in a positive light. Elsa is living in a post-colonial era where Indonesia already gained its independence, so she’s not only trying to represent Indonesia as an Indonesian but try to tell people that there is more to her than what the surface level things they know about Indonesia, there is more to Indonesia than just that; there is more to her than just that.
6. The painting featured in Lukisan Jati, the ‘Boschbrand’, is known for its realistic and life-like elements of wildlife struggling for survival. How would it be used to bridge the characters together? Is the painting also strategically chosen as a recurring motif to describe the character’s struggles in moving to a new country?
Jessica: We got inspired to write this story based (on) the Boschbrand, so we’re almost Elsa, basically. The first time we ever see that painting is a similar moment to when Elsa sees the painting for the first time. And it’s actually quite coincidental because the idea comes from the painting, so everything kind of explodes from that painting – from all the tiger imageries that you see is a happy coincidence because the Boschbrand has several tigers in his painting so we have elements of that. Then at the same time when Elsa sees the painting, she gets inspired to burn her paintings which is based on the Boschbrand which literally translates to ‘forest fire’. So it’s the fire that she sees in the painting that inspires her to burn her own things. It’s little elements like this that are placed throughout the play that I won’t say are placed strategically, but (it) just became happy coincidences.
NUANSA 2019: Lukisan Jati
Date: 28 October 2019, Monday
Time: 2:30 pm (matinee) and 7:30 pm (night)
Venue: University Cultural Centre, National University of Singapore
Ticket prices start at S$19. For more information, visit www.nuansacp.com.
Photos and video by Angelica Sanchez of the DANAMIC team.
DANAMIC is proud to be an Official Media Partner of NUANSA 2019.