Listen to the stories of Indonesian transwomen on CERITRANS arts project starting tomorrow

Ian Hugen, one of the CERITRANS storytellers, during the filming stage of the project. Photo: Rayner Wijaya/CERITRANS
Ian Hugen, one of the CERITRANS storytellers, during the filming stage of the project. Photo: Rayner Wijaya/CERITRANS

Transwomen rarely get a fair representation in Indonesian media, and it’s due time that they be given a platform to speak up and tell their stories. 

The Trans Stories Transcending Borders (or CERITRANS: Cerita Transpuan Lintas Batas) is a collaborative arts project showcasing prose, poetry, and filmed performances by transwomen in the Jakarta Metropolitan Area. 

Organized by independent arts and literary communities InterSastra and House of the Unsilenced, together with Eliza Vitri and Infinity, a collaborative art initiative, the project aims to amplify and celebrate transwomen’s voices while also raising awareness, respect, and empathy among the public toward the community. Sanggar Swara, a Jakarta-based school and transwomen community, and UK-based poet and disability justice activist Khairani Barokka, are also collaborators in the project, which is supported by the British Council’s Connecting through Culture program.

The project itself began with prose and poetry writing workshops that ran from March until May, which saw 10 transwomen enter as participants. Their stories were then edited, translated, illustrated, and adapted for performances. 

Their stories ⁠— printed on illustrated posters that will also feature QR codes linking passersby to the performance videos ⁠— is set for display in public spaces in the Jakarta Metropolitan Area and in the UK. 

“By having trans women tell their own stories, we are subverting tropes of representation and claiming a wider space for transwomen’s artistic expressions,” Eliza Vitri Handayani, CERITRANS’ lead artist and mentor, said.

Eliza said the project is experimenting with a new way in bringing stories and art works to a wider audience, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the trans community and members of other marginalized communities. 

“By displaying the stories in public places, the public can discover them while going about their daily activities — people can read the stories on the posters or view the performances on their phones. I believe in the power of stories to transform lives and nurture empathy across segments of society,” she said.

Kanzha Vinaa, who heads Sanggar Swara and is one of CERITRANS’ storytellers, said the project is “especially necessary today,” with the increasingly limited space for creative expressions for Indonesian transwomen. According to a research by Indonesian gay rights advocacy group Arus Pelangi in 2013 and 2017, at least 92 percent of LGBTIQ individuals in the country have experienced violence, 35 percent of whom are transwomen.

“In the media and popular culture, transgender people’s representations and creative expressions are often repressed or taunted,” Kanzha said.

CERITRANS’ will be released tomorrow, June 19, and streamed live at 3pm on InterSastra’s YouTube channel. You can also register to watch via Zoom here. There will be a screening of the performance films, a discussion and Q&A sessions with collaborating artists and participants, which will be conducted in Indonesian with English and Indonesian Sign Language translations.

On the same day, Sanggar Swara will also be launching its website ⁠— set to become one of the few online spaces exclusively hosting trans and queer creations in Indonesia.

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