At the fish export company he inherited from his father-in-law in Bintaro, Indonesia, director Djohan Tjiptadi stood between aisles of aquatic tanks, arms crossed, looking toward the camera. The photographer was his niece, Kezia Setyawan. As a UO journalism student, Setyawan was traveling over winter break to document her family’s story and explore Chinese-Indonesian identity.
Tjiptadi’s photograph traces a stereotype 一 that people of Chinese-Indonesian descent are money mongers 一 back to its origin: this group has historically been barred from public service and politics, pushing many toward business, Setyawan said.
“For a cousin or a friend to see that photo, they can pick up on the contextual elements,” said Setyawan, who graduated in June 2020.
Setyawan’s senior thesis 一 now also a photo exhibit in the EMU’s Aperture Gallery through Dec. 11 一 is titled “Dimana? Disini,” Indonesian for: “Where are we? We are here.” The online archive combines beautifully lit, deeply touching photographs with audio and written excerpts that dive into how politics and migration have affected Chinese-Indonesian people and their identities. It follows the migration of Setyawan's family from China to Indonesia (and, in some cases, eventually America), recounting military conflicts, last names changed to appease current governments and the reasons why people chose to leave or return to their homeland.
To Setyawan, the public exhibit is a bonus, but the goal was to create a meaningful archive for her family and community 一 a story composed of photographs and voice recordings that future generations can access.
“It’s really nice now that I won’t forget the sound of my grandmother’s voice, because I have a recording, even after she passes,” she said. “Unless there’s an active push toward remembering, things get lost quite quickly, if you’re not careful.”
The idea behind “Dimana? Disini” sprouted the spring before Setyawan’s senior year, when she found some cheap airline tickets to San Diego, where part of her extended family lives. “If I’m already taking portraits of all my family and family friends, what if I just expanded on that and tried to make school work for me?” she recalls thinking.
After visiting California in August, Setyawan wanted to include more family and community members in the project, particularly those in Singapore and Indonesia. In the fall, she pitched the idea to the honors journalism program at UO. The journalism school agreed to help fund the trip, allowing her to return to Indonesia for the first time since starting college.
Over winter break, she traveled in Singapore and Indonesia, carrying a portable studio light, interviewing family and friends and capturing them on camera. She talked with her subjects about living between cultures and changing their names to adapt; about if they felt more Chinese or Indonesian, and whether or not these national distinctions matter. Linguistic and cultural differences made some of the interviews difficult, but, ultimately, the conversations solidified “family ties and knowing that I could lean back on these folks if I ever needed to.”
Setyawan’s closeness with her subjects shows. The exhibit feels like “an expression of love” rather than images extracted for the photographer's gain, said Torsten Kjellstrand, a UO photojournalism professor who served on Setyawan’s thesis board.
Looking at the portraits, “you feel like you’ve been invited into people’s space and they want to show it to you,” Kjellstrand said. “The simplest way to say it is these are not selfish pictures. They are not about Kezia. It was her wondering about her family and identity.”
When the pandemic hit in the spring, Setyawan had to replace her in-person thesis defense with a Zoom event which allowed far-flung family members and friends to sit in virtually.
Michelle Tenggara, a family friend photographed for the project, was one of the audience members. At six years old, she had moved to the U.S., where she grew up in a White suburban neighborhood and rarely saw Chinese-Indonesian stories represented, she said. Watching Setyawan’s thesis defense online, she found “a lot of familiarity and comfort” in the images of the daily life that she grew up with.
“It helped me be more proud of my identity and not feel like I have to shy away or try to westernize myself,” Tenggara said, “but that I should really be proud of who I am and my background.”
Now graduated from UO, Setyawan was recently hired for a reporting job, but she hopes to move toward a photographer position over time. “Dimana? Disini” helped solidify some of her top goals with photography: to “center people on the margins” and mindfully tell her community’s story.
Correction on Dec. 12: This article initially misspelled Djohan Tjiptadi’s first name as ‘Djoham.’ The article has been updated to reflect this correction.