SUAVEART concentrates on the cultural value between art and life. Presenting the stories and issues related to “island, art and life”. Creating the borderless dialogues that can be found everywhere in our daily life.

Short info of Artist

Aliansyah Caniago lives and works in Bandung, Indonesia. He studied Painting at the Bandung Institute of Technology Faculty Art and Design.

Through site-specific interventions, installations and durational performances, he is interested in working directly with communities, and developing artworks that could blend-in with the society, entering conflicted areas creatively and trying to repair the damaged environment.

My family is a migrant from Sumatera Island to Java Island where the capital of Indonesia is located. As a migrant, I have been questioning my identity.

In Indonesia, we are consists of thousands of islands, and each island has so many cultures with different languages and history. So I am curious to trace back why my family migrated, and our connection with the island through pilgrimage.

Also, I am always fascinated with Sorkam – Barus, my hometown in Sumatra Island that was well connected with many countries in the past as a harbour city, and the monsoon wind held an important role for the trader in the past and also for the locals. And how different cultures perceive differently about monsoon wind. And the third one is about different cultures perceiving the Camphor Tree.

I am interested to see the meaning of camphor through a dictionary. I believe the camphor exists because it has a role in some other cultures in the past.

Keyword 1 : Pilgrimage

In this story, I would like to tell you about my personal story in looking for my family identity. It is a story of a little village called Sorkam-Barus, that located in Sumatera Island.

First, I would like to tell you about my family history. My family is from Sorkam-Barus, a small village in a west coast of Sumatera Island. As a port city, it became a melting point from people all around the world in the past. Means not only a melting point for trading, but also exchange of information, such as fashion, religions, arts, technology. In short, the village once was a rich cosmopolitan city. The port, was almost like one of the central of the economy in the Island that shaped my Identity today.

After the independence, my grandparents were migrated to bigger cities, followed by my parents. They have been moving to different big cities, such as Medan, Padang, Jakarta, and in our current home city, Bandung in Java Island. I have never asked my parents about what do they migrated until recently when I become an adult. Migration to big city is common for the villager, it is like tradition. And me, I have been taken for granted for these condition and family history today.

Since I was a little baby, every year, we do a pilgrimage to Sorkam and Barus during the Great Eid of Muslim community. It is like a big event for my extended family to gather in the village for the Great Eid. We always use our car to do the pilgrim from West Java to North Sumatera. It is a three days and three nights trip on a car. And strangely, our family enjoy it so much. Perhaps, me too. Hahaha. They can even plan the trip a year before to imagining the cities they will pass during the trip, the river in a certain province where they would stop to do a potluck , the restaurants they are going to try, which city will be harvesting the durian when they do the trip and so on.

As a little kid, I cannot choose that I would like to join the trip or not. It is like a must decision. Otherwise, who will feed me in Bandung? But like I said, I enjoy the trip so much. Although, what I enjoy from the trip might be different with my parents does. From the trip, I’ve always fascinated in how big the ship that bring us to cross the islands, the most dangerous road they will pass and how they tackle that situation, the fuel and management, the wild animals that come out from a jungle and crossing the road in the night, and the river at the back of our house in the village, which is my final destination.

I’d always like to swim on the river at the back of my house. It is one of the first memory that I had about this village. The village is divided by a river. I still remember that we need to use a boat to cross the river until the government finally built a bridge that connected the two villages. The river was sacred to the villager, every babies in the village will got their first ritual in the water to be part of the villager. They villager has no toilet nor bathroom in their houses so they need to go to the river to poo, pee and take a bath in the same spot in the river. But as the kids, it was our playground. We climbed a coconut tree, and jumped to the water. It is always fun to have a river at the back of our house, it was our livelihood. The elderly always tell interesting stories about the village while we are on the water. My father once said, that “we are man from the water, we will never die because of the water”.

As time flies, we knew that story as a definition of left behind. just recently, the local government build a tall embankment that divided our houses in the village with the river to block the water when the flood happening. But the embankment not only block the water to reach the village, but also block the villager to access the river and for me pilgrimage is not fun anymore since then. 

The embankment has changed the villagers life. They can’t go fishing anymore, the kids cannot hunt for the shrimps in the river, the elderly cannot access the river and the stories about the village stops there. In the past year, many of the villagers has shifted their land into a monoculture, palm oil plantations. The villagers started to mine the soil from the river to build their houses from concretes. Since then, I lost this connection with the village.

From these pilgrimage, I can barely know why we like it so much to do yearly trip to the village. It is an urge to connect with their heritage, the nature and memory of the place we are came from. Recently I know, that the river was a place where father and my mother meet each other when they were a teenager. maybe they do these pilgrimages every year to the village to revisit their memories. As for, there is so still much questions, I keep asking that “connection” with a space, with a certain place? And how can I do these pilgrimage when everything is changing now?

Keyword 2 : Monsoon Wind

Some random day I asked myself, if the world consists of islands, then how they can keep connected in the past? In this story, I would like to share my personal experience about surfing. 

Personally I had a trauma with the beach. In 2008, I almost get drown because swimming on the beach. Since then, I have been avoiding the beach and been keep saying to myself that I cannot swim. But In 2012 until 2013, the story has been changing when I need to move to Bali to work. As my workplace and my home was in a walking distance with to beach, it was natural for me to go there to escape from the pressure of the workplace or just to hang out spending the afterwork and the weekend. What I really like the most from the beach was the unlimited horizon that made me become really small in the horizon. It can be refreshing, calming and help me to meditate, but sometimes could be frustrating too. Especially when there was question come up to mind. What lies on the other side of the sea, how to reach there? Can I make my own ship to sail? Where? In what purpose?

That seems to be silly questions. But for me, the questions not came up because of nothing. The question came up in a situation where I got bored from the routines and maybe what I really need is to get out from the island. To sail the sea, I need to deal with my trauma first. Therefore, I became a surfer.

For one year, I go to the beach every day to surf. The more I am into a surfing, the more I felt that I am connected with the water, with myself and my surroundings. I started to sensitive know how the wind will affect the waves, which days good to surf and also how the moon affected the water level, the aggressiveness of the waves and so on. What will happen if there is El Nino happening in Japan, will they affect to the waves that I ride in Bali?

That was exactly what I tried. It was a full moon on the night, El Nino happened in Japan. The next day early in the morning, I went to the beach and saw that the waves is so tall and aggressive. That day on a very bad weather, I decided to take a biggest wave I’ve ever ride. I took a 4 meters high wave and I got wiped to the bottom of the sea. It was life and dead experience for me because the sea was deep and I can’t even swim. Then in the darkness, I realized what my father told me, ” You are born from the water and you will not die because of the water”. That day, I’ve told myself, If this is true, than I will find of who I am.

I think my relationship with the sea is somewhat strange. In the past, there was a Sufi from Barus. His name is Hamzah Fansuri (16 – 17 Century). He wrote a poem about the sea and the poem. I found his poems about the sea was about his spiritual journey too. He imagine the sea as a world, the waves is challenges in life and the boat is his journey. My question is, did he ever tried to go on boat to sail the sea?

Some sources wrote that there are three of his funerals in Sumatera Island, one in Arab, and one in Malaysia. It was strange for me. How one body can have three graves at different islands? I found one of his funeral at the northern tip of the Sumatera island, facing the Indian Ocean. It was an enigmatic experience for me just to stand at the tip of the island. What was he seeing at the other side of the sea?

I was amazed by how spiritual, philosophical way of thinking and by very poetic action he did about the see, while in the same time there was a European colonial came through Indian Ocean to Barus in the name of science, or whatever end up changing our generation entirely through colonization. They were looking for camphor tree. Some said, the one in Sumatera island is the finest. They imported the timbers of the tree to Europe. Nowadays the camphor tree was endangered. The colony was gone, and the way I see the sea somewhat never the same as before.

Some other day, a random one of course. I am just thinking to make my own boat and re-enact the poem in Hamzah Fansuri about the boat and the sea. I would like to collect as much as I can the memento or my family heirlooms and construct them into a boat. Using it to sail through Indian Ocean, sailing the monsoon wind to find out of who am I.

Keyword 3 : Perspectives

It is still about kapur Barus. 
in India, it is known as कपूर (kapoor)
in China, it is known as 樟 (zhang)
in Taiwan, it is known as 樟 (zhang)
in the UK, it is known as camphor
in Spain, it is known as alcanfor
in Portuguese, it is known as cânfora
in Persian, it is known as کافور (kamper)
in Egypt, it is known as كابور باروس (kabur barus)
in Afrika, it is known as kamfer
in Arab, it is known as كافور (kafur)
in the Netherlands, it is known as kamfer
in Germany, it is known as kampfer
in Russia, it is known as камфора (kamfora)
in Vietnam, it is known as long não
in Malaysia, it is known as kapur barus
in Singapore, it is known as camphor
in Myanmar, it is known as ပရုတ် ( prote )
in Thailand, it is known as การบูร (karbur)
in Java, it is known as kamper
in Sunda, it is known as kapur barus
in Hungaria, it is known as kámfor
in France, it is known as camphre
in Italian, it is known as canfora

A lot of places in Indonesia is a toponym of the tree that used to be source of livelihood in the area. What was written above is a translation of kapur Barus in different languages and places. If they didn’t had the experiences, then whey will not have the words for that. I am happy that my village is famous everywhere. Hahaha


Thank you so much!

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