I realise how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to go on the university trip to Bali, Indonesia and Singapore. The first time I went overseas it was to New York, a place that has much of a similar culture to our own, so I had never experienced what it was like to see a country built on tradition and beliefs. It has changed my way of viewing others, and while I have never held religion in the strongest regard, it was also beautiful to see how it can bring people of different backgrounds and ethnicities together, especially in Bali. There was a kindness there that I have never come across before, and not once did I feel unsafe or unwelcomed. Comparing Yogyakarta to Bali, it is a place that is filled with hopes for the future, contemporary art and young emerging artists, and yet it is also heavily ingrained in rules, traditions and religion. Singapore, while there are laws for almost anything, felt more tolerant of others and open to different types of art and expression, however, I never felt like it had a culture of its own.
The tour experience, while not new to me, is also something that is hard to get used to. I like my space, and I also like to move around quickly, so waiting for others definitely tested my patience, and yet there was not much anyone could do about it so I learned to be more tolerant of others while on this trip. It was great to share the experience with a bunch of aspiring artists and interesting to hear their stories and their hopes for the future. While coming from different degrees, we started to see how each major related to one another. There were people studying sculpture who use film, printmakers who use photography, and as a photographer I’ve used sculpture and performance in creating my work, so it was great to see such diversity and yet similarities between everyone.
As photographers, however, Lisa and I were constantly telling others how we worked; it was hard to make people understand that we need a concept first before we could start shooting. The belief that just taking photographs and putting them together afterwards made us both frustrated, but it was also great to see their perceptions change and I’m glad the rest of the students, and teachers, started to understand the importance of a concept and working on it while we were there. I also found it interesting to see how some were so close-minded when it came to certain issues. Maybe it is because some of the students are so young, but it hit me hard seeing such lack of empathy is some cases, for example there was a discussion on the death penalty and some of the comments seemed quite cruel. I am not judging anyone, I have just never come across anyone with opinions like that, so while I didn’t agree with much that was said, it was also good to hear how others thought and it was stimulating to have been able to have these types of conversations with others.
What did not surprise me was the lack of female artists that we met, or even saw art from, in the many galleries and museums that we visited. It has opened my eyes even more to the discrimination women face in the art world, and it was not shocking to see that discrimination in Yogyakarta and Singapore. What was surprising to me was the lack of photography in both places, I had hoped there would have been a greater acceptance of photography in the art world, but meeting MES 56 proved that it is still a struggle to gain that recognition. In Singapore, there was at least more photography works in the galleries, but once again very few females. I hope in the future to be able to produce a body of work that critiques this outlook, and I’m sure my time spent on this experience will help influence what I create.
As I stated in the first paragraph, I gained more insight seeing the different cultures in each place we went, and this greatly affected my work and my assignment. This trip gave me time to reflect on the importance people place on religion in their lives and I find it beautiful to have something so cemented and sure. I found it interesting to note that Bali seemed more rooted in traditions, while Yogyakarta, while appearing to be tolerant, I found to be the most uncomfortable in. I also did not come across one church or other homes of worship. In Singapore, however, there was a Catholic Church across the road from a Presbyterian church, and I found it more comfortable and more open than the other two places we visited. While I have no doubt there are segregated areas in Singapore, it seemed to me the most modern and accepting of the places we visited and yet I felt did not have a culture of its own. I struggled most with capturing photographs for my assignment in Singapore, and found myself shooting in areas like Chinatown, where there is such a strong cultural influence.
This trip helped me see how different we all are, and yet how we can find similarities in areas that is so unfamiliar. I am so thankful to have been given the chance to share this experience with so many other wonderful artists and it has made me want to go back and experience everything all over again.