Gymnastik Emporium and the People of Lae-Lae Island Invite Audience to Experience Maritime Life

12 September 2023

By Titah AW
Editing & Translation by Nina Hidayat

SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! is a social choreography formed from a prayer ritual. In this occasion, Songkabala is performed to voice the locals’ sentiment on an impending reclamation that would impact their lives.

Gymnastik Emporium (GE) invites you to meet at Kayu Bangkoa Pier, Makassar on 15 September 2023. You will then cross by boat to Lae-Lae, a small, white-sanded fishing village. This is the start of SONGKABALA LAE-LAE!, a social choreography initiated by GE following a residency at Makassar Biennale.

Different from their previous work Senam Kota Kita: Pengantar Tubuh Kuat Hidup di Ibu Kotawhich was performed onstage in a theatre setting at IDF 2022, this work manifests as a series of events where the audience is invited to directly experience the daily activities of those living in Lae-lae and understand the context behind this work.

GE creates SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! in response to the attitude of the people of Lae-Lae towards reclamation plans that would affect their island. The people of the island, which is located about 10 minutes by boat from the city of Makassar, rejects the government's plan to fill in 12.11 hectares of sea area near Lae-Lae to support CPI (Center Point of Indonesia) program. Apart from destroying the marine ecosystem, residents consider this plan to be business-oriented and ignore their rights as a maritime society.

 "During our research, we were amazed to see the fighting spirit and unity of the locals in opposing reclamation, especially the women. We want to know why and to what extent they have such great vitality and resilience. They remind me of the Kendeng women in Java," explained Irfanuddien Ghozali, GE's artistic director.

GE initiated SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! as a loose translation of social choreography, where audience is invited to celebrate the lives in Lae-Lae Island. The concept and context of this work were developed during GE's one-week residency in Makassar.

 In the Buginese-Makassar language, Songkabala means an act to evict bad omen. This ritual is closely related to the ancient beliefs of the Buginese people . Led by the local elders, the Songkabala ritual usually starts before sunset by burning leko' leaves and several other offerings. They believe this ritual can turn their prayers into energy to ask for protection from the Almighty. In SONGKABALA LAE-LAE!, this ritual will be combined with various daily activities of the locals, including cooking and knitting fishing nets.

 On Friday afternoon, 15 September, audience will be invited to take a short boat trip from Kayu Bangkoa Pier in Makassar. During the trip, locals will tell stories about life in Lae-Lae, and the impact of the reclamation plan, which they feel has changed the harmony of their daily lives. The ship will stop at a few planned reclamation spots, before arriving at Lae-Lae. On the island, audience will be invited to take a walking tour where they will experience dance performances, enjoy local seafood dishes, music, and finally the Songkabala ritual. This event intends to encapsulate the movements and energy of the locals, and shared them with the audience, like a mass choreography that invites us to celebrate the lives of the people in Lae-Lae.

In the process of creating this work, GE collaborates with activists from Kawal (Coalition Against Reclamation), LBH (Legal Aid Institute), and the people of Lae-Lae. Locals’ participation plays a big role in this work. “There are two producers and artistic directors, one from GE and from the locals. We are doing this to maintain transparency, solidarity and spirituality that have been the basis of the locals’ movement," explained Ghozali.

 This is not the first time that GE has worked on performance works based on social issues. As a cross-disciplinary art project, for the last three years GE has been working on works in dialogue with the locals and breaking down the boundaries between art and other disciplines. "We believe that every community has their own artistic approach that is worth showing," he added.

 The creative process behind SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! that involves locals and the audience is an advocacy with a cultural approach. GE sees that legal and cultural approaches towards reclamation need to complement each other, and that calls for GE's intervention as a multidisciplinary artist. "Besides voicing the Lae-Lae’s people’s aspiration, we want to campaign about the impact of reclamation on the maritime community," concluded Ghozali.

GE hopes SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! can amplify the voices of Lae-Lae people in their effort to defend their home. SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! invites everyone in Makassar and its surroundings to join in the movement, enjoy the performance and celebrate the island life.

 SONGKABALA LAE-LAE! is part of Lawatari, an IDF program that is created to get to know the local contexts in performing art centres in several regions across Indonesia. In Makassar, IDF collaborates with Makassar Biennale as a partner. This year’s edition of Makassar Biennale takes place between 9 September to 30 October in Makassar, Pangkep, Parepare, Labuan Bajo and Nabire – with Maritime as an eternal theme. Following Makassar, Lawatari will be held in Padang Panjang and Yogyakarta as part of Road to IDF 2024 program series.

All images are documented by Makassar Biennale during Gymnastik Emporium’s first visit to Lae-Lae Island.