I had the pleasure of showing my first photography exhibit for the Simple Reflections for Artists cultural exhibit at the Museum of London on Feb 18, 2023. After spending hours traveling down memory lane picking out the best photos from my archives, I was inspired to write the story to accompany the images.
Birth, death, and everything in between
2009 was my first trip to Indonesia. I landed in Denpasar and spent 10 days in Ubud before venturing on to the island of Sulawesi. I arrived in Makassar and made my way to Tana Toraja; a region in the South and home to the Toraja ethnic group. Torajans live in Tongkonan, the traditional ancestral houses and have a sacred tradition for funerals and for the dead. It’s not uncommon to have twelve-day funeral events. Pigs and water buffalo are slaughtered to feed guests amid the processions and music.
We connected with a local upon arriving who said people visiting the country could attend a funeral and experience the local traditions. My friend Matthew and I were curious and we made a reservation for the next day. After walking down a tree-lined sandy path we entered the funeral area. It was hot and humid with a strong smell of fresh roasted meat. I remember seeing the slaughtered pigs everywhere and then looking away. The smell of roasted pig was turning my stomach, as was the squeal of pigs being slaughtered was a lot for me to take in. Especially for me being a vegetarian at that time. We were escorted towards the back of the square to sit in one of the longhouses. Inside it was large, almost the size of a small yoga hall with bamboo construction. They were serving up food and playing music and then came a large plate of pig meat with rice. I did my best to pick around the meat and eat only rice, all the while being present to my experiences. It was intense; the smell, the smoke, the bright colours. It was a lot to take in and observe without judgment. It’s not something I see every day.
This was my first Indonesian funeral. One of my favourite photos from that trip is the boy holding his coffee. I captured a moment of contemplation; he looked like an old soul in a young boy’s body. It was the funeral for his grandmother that day.
In 2011 I returned to Bali for 6 months where I volunteered at the Bumi Sehat birthing centre and clinic teaching prenatal yoga and managing their website. I also helped with fundraising. It was in the village of Nyu Kuning, near the monkey forest in Ubud where I lived in the family compound behind the clinic. I loved the ritual and routine of daily life in the village. I would come home from work and find offerings of rice and flowers, and incense left in the corner of my living room – my temple.
My little paradise included an outdoor kitchen where I had a two-burner stove and could pick mangoes right off the tree. I had my own motorbike, the family parrot, who could say ‘Om swastiastu’, which is a Balinese greeting and prayer wishing blessings from the Gods. The parrot could also say ‘hello’. We had Scooter, the family guard dog, who took a little while to warm up to me, as he wasn’t used to much affection, but after 3 nights he was always asleep on my patio outside my front door.
A village wedding
I was invited to attend a village wedding with the ladies from the clinic. It was the first time they asked me to dress in their traditional clothing. A beautiful, long silk patterned skirt, a fancy lavender shade lace blouse, and a gorgeous gold sash around my waist. When they saw me at the wedding with my camera they asked me to photograph the ceremony and then take portraits of each of the midwives who worked at the clinic.
You can find more of my photos on Pexels >