Interview with Nora Scheidler dan Rangga Purbaya

Books on Shelf
© Rangga Purbaya

The exhibition “Stories Left Untold”, an exhibition curated by Budi N.D. Dharmawan, pictures forgotten and repressed memories from past periods in German and Indonesian history via a very personal quest for truth by two young photographers. It features works by the German photographer Nora Scheidler and the Indonesian photographer Rangga Purbaya. The exhibition opened on 2nd October 2015 at the iCAN Gallery in Yogyakarta. We spoke to the two photographers about their works.
Could you give us a short overview of what the project “Stories Left Untold” is about and how the cooperation between the two of you came into being?
Rangga Purbaya: "Stories Left Untold" is about family history, about a story that was kept from the children and grandchildren because it was very traumatizing and no one will ever talk about it. We are trying to dig deeper into the story by visiting the scenes, concluding interviews, and browsing documents and archives. For me it is like collecting and arranging a puzzle to get a bigger narrative. Nora and I share the same story as a repressive rule inflicted violence on both our families, that´s how our cooperation started.
Nora Scheidler: “Stories Left Untold“ is an Indonesian-German photo exhibition about Rangga and me going on a journey to find out more about the past of our family members, who disappeared or innocently went to jail. I believe that traumata which happened to anyone in the family often have effects on the following generations as well. Just like questioning my grandfather about World War I&II, I was also curious to find out about my parents’ backgrounds and why my father had been in prison for one and a half years for simply throwing leaflets expressing his own and pretty peaceful opinion. Actually it was Tina [Christina Schott – project coordinator] who came up with the idea to combine the two anniversaries of Indonesia and Germany with two people’s backgrounds with similarities in their family history. Both Rangga and I were immediately interested in such a project.
Your projects seem to be complementary to each other in the way that one deals with a communist regime suppressing its proclaimed enemies in the Democratic Republic of Germany before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The other one vice versa documents the persecution of proclaimed communists in the aftermath of a military coup d'etat in Indonesia in 1965. What is your opinion about that?
Rangga Purbaya: We fulfilled each other with this story, at the end it's not just about communism or ideology but it is about humanity, how we treat other people as human beings.
Nora Scheidler: I agree with Rangga on this point.
Did it change the outlook on your own projects while getting to know the story of the respectively other?
Rangga Purbaya: No, it did not change the outlook on my own project because we know that we are dealing with repressive governments and stigmata within our own society.
Nora Scheidler: It didn’t change the outlook on my own project but it somehow completed it and made it no longer important, whether communists were persecuted or repressing nor which side anyone took part in. It kind of consolidated my opinion of always having two sides to every story and that no ideology no matter which one can be enforced with violence.
When you compare the level of awareness about these chapters in the histories of Germany and Indonesia what do you see?
Rangga Purbaya: We need to learn more about our history from different points of view, we have to talk and discuss openly about our history to get new meanings and knowledge.
Nora Scheidler: I definitely think that it is way easier and safe to talk about the past in Germany than it is in Indonesia. But on the other hand I would say that Germany´s efforts to encounter its past have not been concluded yet. It´s a long process to deal with a traumatic past, whether personal, in family backgrounds or in a countries history and it might take generations to complete it somehow if that’s possible at all.
Could you imagine continuing your cooperation with further projects?
Rangga Purbaya: Yes, because we can learn from each other how to deal with our history and how to act when we know that there is something wrong with our past. For Indonesians, reconciliation between victims and perpetrators of crimes against humanity remains a long way to go. That is why we must not stop.
Nora Scheidler: For sure I would do other projects with Rangga. It was challenging, interesting and joyful to work with him. And I don’t know so many people in Indonesia, who are as brave as him.