Sun, 08 Jun 2003

Photo exhibition reveals contrasting worlds

Emmy Fitri, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It's a totally different world from the stinking, fly-filled garbage dump where Aas, Akrom, Rasniah and their friends live and the glittering existence of young entertainers like Agnes Monica, Leony, Marshanda and Bertrand Antolin.

But the entertainers are the "idols" of the children, who are residents of Bantar Gebang, the country's largest garbage dump, located on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Unlike most of us, Aas, Akrom, Rasniah and some 21 other children of scavenger families got to meet their idols and spend some brief time with them in a project jointly organized by Dinamika Indonesia Foundation, the Netherlands-based Homeless World and JakArt@2003.

The children were asked to use simple pocket cameras to photograph the celebrities and their surroundings at the dump site.

It's only to be expected that most of the pictures are not of the highest quality, often out of focus or a bit blurred. Still, the images send a strong message by showing the interaction between the children and the entertainers.

Some of the celebrities let down their guard, appearing natural and carefree as they pose for the camera or sit amid the children.

The children also turned the lens on the people around them, producing revealing and affecting photographs of their daily lives, such as the one pictured on the front cover of the accompaning catalog, showing a young girl posing coyly in her best dress and hat amid the squalor of the dump.

Although initially reticent to discuss their experiences, the children eventually opened up about the excitement, anxiety and joy of meeting the stars.

"My idol is Marcella (Zalianty). I met her sometime ago at her apartment, I don't remember when but for sure it's on a Monday because I had to miss my classes," said Aas Asia, 11.

Aas, who helps her parents pick through garbage at the dump, likes Marcella, the star of SCTV's Shepia, because of her kindhearted character on the TV show.

"We talked a lot. She took pity on me, saying what a shame for me, it must be so hot there. Before leaving her apartment, she gave me and my sister Rp 100,000 each," Aas recalled.

She had dreamed of becoming a singer but, after meeting Marcella, she said she would like to be an actress.

Fourteen-year-old Akrom got the chance to meet dangdut singer Iis Dahlia at her apartment in Ancol, North Jakarta.

"The meeting was usual but her place is fantastic," said Akrom, who has finished elementary school but does not plan to continue his education because his mother wants him to help with scavenging.

Akrom only smiled shyly when asked why he was a fan of Iis, but a friend blurted out, "He likes her because she's sexy, but he's too ashamed to admit it".

Most of the children enjoyed positive experiences, but there were some who felt hurt by the dismissive attitude of a celebrity. One model-actress kept the children waiting for hours, and then made a hasty exit after five minutes.

It's telling that nearly all the chosen celebrities have made their name in TV, the children's window into a world far removed from their reality.

Some observers may be uneasy at the thought of desperately poor kids being invited to sit down for a few minutes with wealthy celebrities, but at least no big-mouthed politicians or pompous activists got to use the project as a photo opportunity.

Project coordinator Geert van Asbeck said the concept for the children as the photographers came from a larger project last year that involved street children photographing their daily lives.

"This is an art project. We train the children how to use the camera and take pictures," Van Asbeck told The Jakarta Post.

"With the project, we hope it will help the children to develop their creativity, to feel strong about their own capacity and to create a medium to communicate with others."

The photographs may reach a worldwide audience as the pictures by the Bantar Gebang children are scheduled to be exhibited abroad.

"I'm personally impressed with their work. They make fabulous pictures of their idols or people around them, but I leave it up to the people to judge the artistic aspects," he said.

Van Asbeck emphasized that the main objective was to instill a greater sense of confidence in the children in facing the future.

"Most of all we hope the children gain self-esteem," he said.

In conjunction with JakArt@2003 (the International Arts Cultural and Educational Festival of Jakarta), the pictures made by the children have been compiled in a catalog, Idols(*) of Children from The Dump Site.

Published by Homeless World Foundation, the book is sold at Rp 75,000. All proceeds from its sale will go to the Bantar Gebang children's community radio station Radio Anak Kampung Bantar Gebang. More information is available from

The photographs will be on exhibit from June 11 through June 30 at Senayan Square (next to Plaza Senayan) in Central Jakarta.