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  • Extract#4 from Eliza Vitri Handayani's 'From Now On Everything Will Be Different.' Ubud Peaceful Protest Tshirt #4.

    Just two weeks before their final test in July, a scandal whipped the nation into frenzy. A couple’s private sex tape had been leaked and overnight became the best selling VCD sensation on the streets.

    The lovers were students in Bandung, West Java, who had made the tape to celebrate their three-year anniversary together. The boy took his Camcorder to a shop to transfer the content to VCD format. The shop technician then copied and recopied the tape and made a small fortune.

    The news invaded the headlines, pushing away coverage about the attacks on a syiah community in Palu and the burning of Christian schools and Islamic orphanages in Pasuruan. Stills from the tape were displayed to illustrate articles, talk show hosts reaped ratings by shaming the young lovers to death. The boy was expelled from his university, and the girl was smuggled abroad by her family. Some politicians and religious leaders were calling for the state to prosecute the lovers for creating pornography; no sanction was suggested for those who had duplicated and distributed the tape.

    One week after the news had broke out, Julita arrived at the cultural center to find her friends waiting for her in the café—they had bought her café crème and pain au chocolat, both her favorites. They told her they wished to withdraw their consent to be portrayed in Us + Them.

    “Unless, maybe if you take out photos of us kissing, drinking, lying in bed together—that sort of stuff. Isn’t it enough to show us eating together, going to the mountains, holding hands?” asked Laras.

    “Are you asking me to censor myself?” Julita was indignant. “You? A human rights worker? After we fought so hard to end censorship in this country!”

    “We know this must come as a shock to you,” said Laras, “but we feel that we didn’t think it through when we said you could document and exhibit our private lives. We didn’t know what the photos would look like and we didn’t realize people would react like this.”

    “My photos are not porn. I put a lot of thought into them.”

    “There are photos of Teguh and I kissing, Ibnu’s friends groping each other. Bela gave you photos of her and Anwar sleeping in one tent. At first I also thought they were OK, but now we see that people are not ready.”

    “I can’t believe you let an incident like this intimidate you. That’s exactly what the bullies want. To make us afraid to express ourselves. To get things back as they were under the New Order.”

    Nobody, not even Bela, would look Julita in the eyes.

    “Let’s not get carried away, OK?” said Laras. “We think your project is important, but our work is also important. Teguh and I can’t work if our credibility is ruined. Since ‘98 Teguh has put all his energy into investigating the disappearances of the student protesters. There are people who are just waiting for any opportunity to discredit his work, to put him in jail even. I can’t risk that.”

    “I also think, after the sex tape, it’s a bad time to show these kinds of photos,” said Desti. “Adriaan thinks so too.”

    “This is not fair,” Julita said. When she tried to light a cigarette her hand was shaking. “Are you still mad about that one time? I’ve given you the negatives!”

    “It’s not about that,” Laras said, “although it did make me question your sensitivity.” “Do all of you think I didn’t treat you with respect?”

    “It’s not that,” Ibnu said. “If it were up to me, I’d let you show any photo you want. But some of my friends, they’re not out to their families or colleagues. If people find out about them, they may lose their job, or worse. And what will happen to the restaurant owner? He may lose his license, he may be attacked, if people knew what his place was up to on certain nights.”

    “It may take months before the photos are shown,” Julita said. “By that time everyone will have forgotten about the tape.”

    “You don’t know that,” said Laras. “Maybe you can shift focus. Make it about our friendship.” “That’s not the show I envisioned.”

    “We all have to compromise. Adriaan says—”

    “What does Adriaan know? He’s a chicken farmer.”

    “Hey!”

    Julita felt cornered. She imagined showing the photos anyway, without her friends’ consent— after all, this issue was bigger than all of them. She saw her parents and colleagues coming to the gallery and congratulating her. She saw Ibnu and Bela dancing with sparklers by the side of the road on New Year’s Eve. She saw the demonstrators posing for her, telling her their stories. She saw her high school teachers tearing down her photos from the bulletin board, the boys tossing her around and grabbing her breasts.

    “Please be brave.” Julita stood up and faced her friends. “We have a chance to show this nation some things about loving each other. About being together.”

    “You and Henri are still together, though, right?” asked Bela. “You can be the example you’re looking for.”

    Julita felt her strength leaving. She noticed her friends leaning back on their chairs, whereas she alone was standing and facing them. “Henri and I were never together. I asked him out because I wanted to know what it’s like to date someone from his background, but he turned me down.”

    Desti and Laras shook their head. Without saying anything, Ibnu asked her why.

    “I’m sorry. I just wanna be a part of you.”

    Julita sat down. She considered blurring the faces in the photos, or, as Laras had suggested, selecting photos that contained no hints to sex or nightlife or other so-called immoral behaviors, but she knew the collection would be compromised. ‘Since ethnicity, religion, and sexuality are such sensitive matters, isn’t there more reason to show your true faces, in all your complexity, so you don’t become a token of your ethnicity or your religion or your kind?’ Julita wanted to shout at her friends, but she knew she had lost the moral high ground. ‘If I can’t show you as individuals then the collection will fail. A sanitized picture will only bring more misunderstandings.’

    There was no other way.

    “If you don’t want me to, I won’t show the photos. You have my word.”
    After minutes that seemed to last forever, Bela reached out to Julita—she put her arm around 
    her and rested her head on her shoulder.

    As soon as the course was over, Laras moved out, Ibnu flew to Paris, and Bela left for Geneva. When Julita was cleaning her room, she found a wooden jewelry case the size of a lunch box behind the desk. She was painting the words ‘Box of Unfinished Projects’ on it when Rizky, who had returned to Jakarta a week earlier, showed up at her door.

    ---

    Eliza Vitri Handayani, 'From Now On Everything Will Be Different', pp.70-74.

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