Photos reveal strength, optimism

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The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 05/26/2006 1:25 PM | Life

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Anybody could sense the tristesse in his faltering voice. Yet, along with the anguish there was also a trace of hard-nosed realism to his words. Robbie Baria, a young photographer, both lamented and rejoiced at the weeks he had spent with a poor, HIV-infected housewife at Pemuteran, a coastal village in northern Bali.

“”The entire experience has deeply affected my life. It put me in face-to-face contact with the harsh reality of poverty and suffering. On the other hand, it also introduced me to an individual, who, above all else, refused to give in to one of the world’s brutal tragedies,”” he said.

The person he was referring to was Renti, one of Bali’s 966 recorded people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). In a touching narrative, Baria defined Renti as a mother with a soaring spirit.

“”She leads a tough life. Her husband doesn’t have a regular job. The land she lives on is not fertile, but she has the spirit — a dream — to witness her children grow up, to be there when they get married and have their own children,”” he said.

Since March, Baria, who is also the vice chairman of BCC (Bali Community Cares), an organization committed to helping children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, has visited Renti and her new-born twins on an almost regular basis.

“”Recently, life has become more difficult for her, with a variety of opportunistic infections weakening her body. But her spirits are still high — a truly amazing mother,”” Baria said.

The result of this intensive contact was a series of mesmerizing, black-and-white images that underlined Renti’s courageous spirit for life and her undying love for her children, family and God.

Five of those images are currently on display at Bali Museum in downtown Denpasar, Bali. The exhibition, titled Lighting the Path for A Brighter Future, is organized by local HIV/AIDS activists with support from Bali’s KPAD (Commision for HIV/AIDS Eradication) and AusAID’s IHPCP (Indonesia HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project).

“”The exhibition is part of a series of events held to commemorate the annual MRAN (Nusantara Candlelight Vigil for AIDS’s Victims),”” exhibition coordinator Anton Muhajir said on Sunday.

The exhibition features 30 works from six professional photographers: Lukman Bintoro, Miftahudin Halim, Ardiles Rante, Iskandar, Made Nagi and Robie Baria. It will run through May 27, the night of the vigil.

With assistance provided by JOB (All-Bali PLWHA Network), the committee carefully approached and nominated several PLWHAs who could be considered role models for people who find themselves in this situation.

“”We have to explain various details of the project, including their rights. Most importantly, we have to detail various possible consequences of their participation in the project, including the social ramifications for their families,”” JOB coordinator Dhayan said.

Eventually, six PLWHAs agreed to participate in the project. Four were HIV/AIDS activists: Ikha Widari, Dhayan, Tuti and Erijadi Sulaeman. The rest were Renti the housewife and Jero Suma, a grandmother and garbage collector.

“”All refuse to surrender to HIV/AIDS. For them, the disease is not the end. Instead, the disease has driven them to lead a more productive, meaningful life,”” Muhajir said.

“”And that’s the core message of this exhibition; to show the world the faith, courage and optimistic attitude of PLWHAs in dealing with the future,”” he added.

Ikha Widari viewed the exhibition as a rare opportunity to make a difference. A single mother who lost her husband to AIDS, Ikha knew too well the social alienation and discrimination a PLWHA often has to suffer.

“”I’m ready to face the consequences of this exhibition. We cannot fight the stigma and discrimination unless we come out into the open and present our cases,”” she said.

Her burning enthusiasm shone through her photographic images in the exhibition. The photographer, Iskandar, captured it in the image of a picture of Jim Morrison in Ikha’s room, the game of billiards she played and the skateboard park she frequented.

A soft, thin layer of pink was present in all the images of her.

“”I deliberately printed the images that way. Pink is her favorite color and, I believe, the perfect visual metaphor for her spirit,”” Iskandar said.

The photographers had a pleasant surprise at the exhibition’s opening night on Sunday when respected international photojournalist John Stanmeyer and his son Richard turned up.

A member of the prestigious VII photo agency and a regular contributor to such acclaimed publications as Time and National Geographic magazines, Stanmeyer praised the exhibition as “”a brilliant and amazing endeavor.””

He continued, “”It’s not a photographic exhibition; it’s social documentary. It’s not about the photographers. It’s about these tough people who let photographers enter their lives,”” he said.

He patted his protg, Made Nagi, on the shoulder before voicing further praise.

“”I don’t see any weakness here. The only weakness is that I want to see more of these works. Well done, my friends. It reminds me — no — it hits me right in the head, the fantastic talent we have in this country,”” he said.

Lighting the Path for a brighter future
Bali Museum
Jl. Kolonel Wisnu

tel. (0361) 235059
through May 27

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