In 1999 with a small band of hiking companions I blithely stumbled into West Papua from New Guinea the old Australian colony just to our north. I had travelled the islands of Indonesia for over 15 years and yet strangely had never heard traveller’s tales, media news stories, nor any accounts from this giant, forested province.
In Australia, despite a veneer of nationalistic fervour for the ‘Fuzzy-wuzzy Angels of Papua New Guinea who fought along side Australians during World War II; not a word is spoken of the West Papuans. Despite World War II, I grew up with little knowledge of Papua – the second largest island on earth with the most human languages and sitting squarely on Australia’s northern shoulder.
In Java and the islands of Indonesia, West Papua was occasionally mentioned as a far away jungle, primitive and untouched; a dark and romantic bookend to this archipelago nation of 18,000 islands.
By the time my friends and I shipped out of West Papua the penny had finally dropped and we realised we had not been hiking in a Neolithic cultural paradise but an undeclared war zone. A shadowy Eden where naked, stone-age farmers have taken up bows and arrows against the M-16s, tanks and fighter jets of the western-backed Indonesian armed forces. A secret and dirty war where 100,000 men, women and children have been silently killed for resources and politics.
This film is therefore a creative reaction to international silence and a cross-cultural response to neo-colonial tyranny.
Survival is about adaptive transformation. Art has the power to transform commonly held ideas and to impact the culture in which they are cradled. Art allows us to convert, ‘the new’ and ‘the unknown’ into stories we can understand. Art builds cultural tools to tackle the changing world.
As a cartoonist, sculptor and actor/comedian I bring a broad experience of artistic processes and cultural knowledge to this film. As an Indonesian speaker and Java-phile I bring a great love of Indonesia and the Indonesian people. Artistic process and an Indonesian perspective are the philosophical bedrock and greatest point of difference for the direction of this film.
To allow an audience to engage with this strongly political and emotionally difficult film I have chosen to explore West Papua through art, music and story. Bringing together four friends to record music and tell stories that sketch out the last fifty years of life in West Papua.
In choosing to rerecord the songs of martyred Papuan intellectual and musician, Arnold Ap, we are reaching back in time to one of West Papua’s most important cultural practitioners and reintroducing him to a new generation of Papuans and the world. His beautiful and gentle Melanesian songs are steeped in the imagery of nature, culture and resistance.
I hope this film has a universal message that can engage a culturally and demographically broad international audience through its focus on human stories of transcendence and use of inventive artistic media.