Melissa Sunjaya is best known as the founding artist of Tulisan, a label that features various collections of handmade, limited-edition illustrated prints applied to bags, totes and household accessories.
Adding to a growing list of entrepreneurial achievements, Melissa recently launched the book “Bio Fantasy”, a dedication to Indonesia’s poet and literary maestro Chairil Anwar. The pioneer of “Angkatan 45” (Indonesia’s art and literary movement that began in 1945) may be a familiar name to most Indonesians, however, information about his life and work is scarce.
“We hear his name at school, but we don’t really know anything about him,” Melissa said. “I was trying to look for a book about him, but it was an almost impossible task. I couldn’t find anything in the book stores here in Indonesia. I then searched online, and to my surprise I finally found one - but it cost 125 US dollars.”
Melissa decided to buy it anyway because it was the cheapest one available. It was a book of Chairil Anwar’s complete works, including his prose, and an English translation by the late Burton Raffael, a maestro in literature himself and professor in the United States.
“I wrote to Burton Raffael and he replied to me after only a few minutes,” Melissa recalled. “He said that he still felt deeply connected to Chairil Anwar’s work, but that nobody from Indonesia had asked him about Chairil Anwar for a very long time.”
Burton Raffael then invited Melissa to visit him, and they spent four days together in Lafayette. Sadly, only five months after their initial encounter, Burton Raffael passed away.
“I was very lucky that I still had the chance to meet him,” Melissa said. “He gave me a lot of volumes that were important for this research. He also told me that Chairil Anwar was a genius who experimented a lot to reach a higher level. It was something that also affected and influenced me in my own work, on many different levels.”
“Bio Fantasy” includes 75 poems by Chairil Anwar, complete with the English translation by Burton Raffael, accompanied by abstract artworks. Hand-lettered excerpts of Chairil Anwar’s poetry have been secretly embedded into these artworks and can only be discovered through the red film lens that also comes with the book.
“Bio Fantasy” also includes a short story by Melissa, which is closely connected to the work and legacy of Chairil Anwar.
“Most of the information available on Chairil Anwar is presented by scholars or literary enthusiasts, and they speak about him in a very academic way,” Melissa explained. “That makes it rather hard to feel connected to him, especially for the younger generation. I wanted to find a more interesting way to present his works to the public, and I hope it makes people want to find out more about him.”
Melissa added that Chairil Anwar’s rebellious use of casual diction, unorthodox patterns, and innovative syntax has been a constant source of inspiration.
“The objective of this book is to increase public awareness on Chairil Anwar’s legacy as a national heritage by providing a contemporary perspective and a sensory experience in discovering the underlying message behind his work.”