Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The sun was about to set in the West when I and Lucky Kaikatui, a Papuan artist, arrived in Franky Yenno’s house. It is located in Sanggeng area, Manokwari, the capital city of the Province of West Irian Jaya. The appearance of his house haven’t changed. It has a small room at the front. He displays all his artwork here. This time he could not recognize me anymore. Two years ago I came to his house as a tourist. But this time I visited him as Lucky’s friend. Lucky introduced me to him and I began to take pictures and chat with him. The batteries of my digital camera were nearly exhausted.

"Peace Dancing" carved by West Papuan artist, Franky Yenno
Yes, I used to visit him two years ago. At that time I bought a wooden plate with Paradise Bird relief carved on it and a sheet of batik cloth which he made. I was surprised to know that he could make batik. I knew it was a special skill owned a small number of Javanese women in Jogja or Pekalongan city of Java island. I found the answer two years later.
For me Franky is a prolific carver. Most of his works tell us about the daily life of the Papuan people, their houses, god (Karwar –symbolized by paradise bird relief), and their rituals (please see oil painting of birds of paradise). He put carvings on the floor and paintings on the wall. Similar to Aborigin artists, West Papuan artists do not use canvas but bark. The rough surface of tree bark is an ideal media to put paintings on it.

Wooden Statues and tablets carved by Franky Yenno, a prolific artist from West Papua
One piece of artwork that attracts me much was the wooden relief carved in a large wooden panel. After admiring it for a moment, I began to ask him some questions.
“What do you call this artwork?” I asked.
“It is peace dancing.” He answered while folding his hands on his bare and hairy chest.
“Could you tell me the background story of that dancing?”
“Sure, as you know, West Papuan are coming from hundreds of tribes. Sometimes they live peacefully but often they fight against one another. These clashes have to be settled through Hukum Adat (customary law). When they had reached peace agreement, they would celebrate it in a number of rituals. One of them is Barapen (meaning Bakar Batu – burning stone) ceremony and Peace Dancing. Here hand in hand they danced around and around like a snake. So the tribes who were at war could dance together hand in hand as brothers and sisters.
“Conflicts among Papuan tribes still occur until today besides conflicts with the central government-Indonesia,” I interrupted.
“We really need peace. Therefore I created this artwork to remind our people that we need peace to develop our land and to live side by side with other Indonesians equally.”
“Wow, it’s fantastic,” I said. “How long does it take to finish this carving?”
“It takes around one and a half month.”
“What is it made of?”
“It is made of Lingua” Franky added.
“Do you have any other activity besides carving?”
“I like to grow orchid. It helps me to earn a living when I cannot sell my artwork. You know, I need money to support my family.”
“I bought a Papuan batik painting from you two years ago. How did you learn to make Batik?” I asked again.
“Well, similar to Lucky, I went to Jakarta, Jogja and Bali. There I learned art. Trying to get as much knowledge as possible from experienced artists there, including how to make batik.”
I have visited many of West Papuan artists. Many of them face a common problem. They cannot sell their artwork easily. They are isolated from the outer world. The local government have not been able to create special website to promote these briliant artists to the world.
I remember Alfred Russel Wallace’s comments, a famous British naturalist – a close friend of Charles Darwin. Together they built the theory of evolution. In his book entitled The Malay Archipelago, he said that West Papuan were briliant artists. It was unfortunate for them to remain isolated from the outer world in today's intenet era. by Charles Roring

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