Simple objects often tell so much about someone’s feelings and memories. For well-known illustrator, graphic designer and artist Muhammad “Emte” Taufiq, his bicycle reminded him of the time when his father no longer worked worked as an employee of a company and opened a kiosk selling things. At the time he was still in junior high school. He found himself a job delivering newspapers after school, using his bicycle. His father’s kiosk was not far from his school, but he always avoided passing it. “I could not bear seeing it. I could only think about one thing: I have to work hard so that my father would no longer need to open his small kiosk,” said Emte.
Emte’s bicycle was one of the objects displayed in Lala Bohang’s exhibition entitled Museum of Forbidden Feelings, held at Qubicle in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. It all started out with a book which Lala wrote, The Book of Forbidden Feelings (Jakarta: Gramedia, 2016), which came out in July. “I was tired of the obsession for things that are superficial. What is celebrated and given the stage are only things that are gleaming: perfection, accomplishment, success, material wealth, exotic vacations. It seemed that since social media took over modern communication methods, humans only possessed this gleaming layer, while we are actually multi-layered,” she reminisced. Then she observed that happy versus sad, black versus white, and positive versus negative, were all important. “Because what was gleaming was already over-celebrated, this book chooses to celebrate the things that never seem to manage to get a stage: sadness, envy, disappointment, insecurity, broken-heartedness, pessimism and so forth, because it is from how we face these kinds of emotions that we learn and grow.”
Her book was well-received. Many people who bought it took the time to send emails, tweeted, tagged her on Instagram or Facebook photographs which included genuine and sincere captions indicating that they related so well with the what she wrote. As Lala is an artist, she thought about creating an art installation for her book launch. At first she thought about inviting a few of her friends in the creative sector: artists, musicians, movie makers, and so forth, to respond to a “forbidden box”. Later she talked with a few friends, including David Irianto (designer of the Museum of Forbidden Feelings exhibition), Siska Yuanita (editor of The Book of Forbidden Feelings), Emte and Bernard Batubara, and during this conversation they decided to invite Lala’s close friends, even those outside the creative sphere, to lend their personal belongings that might have a “forbidden feelings” story, and share it in the exhibition. In the end, they managed to collect sixty-seven objects and stories.
Every object that was lent became an object of curiosity as well as an art piece for the viewers of the show. The viewers became interested in the stories that gave meaning to the objects that each of the personalities lent to the show, while at the same time they developed their own interpretations and personal meanings. Along with Emte’s bicycle, the following are Lala’s five favorite objects in the show.
Book editor Siska Yuanita lent her bible to the show. “I used to believe in many of the words highlighted in this book. I used to believe that if I did what was commanded, I would get what I desired and I would become happy. Now, for me, the meaning of happiness is no longer the same.
And I no longer believe. If it takes believing in something that I no longer believe in to find happiness, I choose to remain in anxiety and not be happy. I once believed, but now I see,” she related. Siska’s feelings towards her bible reinforced Lala’s conviction that the relationship between human beings and their God is a very personal matter, with which family relatives, community members and especially the state can not and should not meddle.
After the recent passing of her mother, illustrator Mayumi Haryoto found an envelope containing a red stone and a letter in her mother’s jewelry box. Through the letter she learned that twenty years ago, her mother took the stone from a temple near her hometown of Gifu, Japan, and vowed to return it when her prayer or dream came true. The letter was written ten years ago, making her question why she never sent it until she passed away. “When we lose our family members, we often try to find something that binds us to our life again,” Lala said, responding to the Mayumi’s red stone.
Ginan Koesmayadi’s running shoes are sacred to him because they remind him of the time in 2011, when he walked 210 kilometers from Bandung to Jakarta as he swore to do when Indonesia was accepted to participate in the Homeless World Cup, an international soccer competition for the homeless and people with HIV/AIDS in Paris. “That journey became a reminder for me to live my life and continue to live, even though I have gone through so much in my life,” he said. Ginan, a social worker and street musician, is the founder of Rumah Cemara, a home for people with HIV/AIDS, in Bandung. Because of Ginan’s warm and cheerful personality, Lala never realized that he had gone through some dark periods in his life, but he continues to improve himself and give back to society. The story of his shoe gave Lala a new perspective about life.
Perhaps the most curious object in the show were illustrator Sanchia Hamidjaja’s contraceptive pills. When her child became two years old, she decided that she did not want to have any more kids for the time being. Her obgyn told her that contraceptive pills will help her overcome her mood swings that were caused by hormone imbalance. As she knew that her mood swings could be detrimental to marriage as well as parenting, she decided to start taking pills. “Before getting married and becoming a parent, mood swings were part of my life. Pills killed a part of me; it developed a flatness in my personality, which never before existed,” she claimed. This made Lala realize even more but at the same time question the heavy responsibilities of being a woman, wife and a mother. “Is it not time that the canons of the roles of being a wife and mother experience a revolution and adjustment to be in accord with our times of today?” she asked.
It all started out with quite a simple book, which led to a collection of objects containing stories of hidden and perhaps even forbidden emotions. Although it contains many objects of curiosities, Lala Bohang’s Museum of Forbidden Feelings is indeed not a “cabinet of curiosities” as old school museums are often called. Hers is indeed a modern one, which upholds the importance of collections revel in story-telling.