Meet the artists | Esmay & Aziz
The project My Story, Shared History is part of Indonesia Now: Jakarta edition. This programme focuses on the historical, current and future relationship between the Netherlands and the city of Jakarta. Singer, writer and performing artist Esmay Usmany from the Netherlands and Indonesian actor Aziz Azthar, who lives and works in Jakarta, explain what Jakarta means to them.
A new beginning
"Jakarta means growing up for me," tells Aziz, who was born in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra. "I came to Jakarta after finishing university. Here, I got my first job and made new friends. Jakarta is the place where I started to accept everything about myself."
"So, Jakarta means ‘change’ for you?" Esmay asks him. "Yes," replies Aziz, "freedom and change."
Esmay can relate to that. She explains that over the past few years she became more interested in her family history. Her grandmother, born in Indonesia, fled to the Netherlands during the Dutch-Indonesian-Dutch War for Independence and never talked about her experiences. "I am curious to learn more," Esmay says. "This was one of the reasons why I joined this project. To see what it brings. Jakarta is the start of a new inner adventure and the place where my family once started. Here are my roots. So Jakarta is also a new beginning for me."
Who am I?
Within this project, the artists who work together, have different professional backgrounds. Aziz is an actor and writer. Esmay is a singer, performing artist and writer. Aziz recently played in the YouTube series Bengkel Kopi, about the daily life of Jakarta's citizens in the popular coffee cafés of Jakarta. Esmay combines music, monologues and poetry. In her book Altijd onderweg (Always on the Road) she describes her journey back to her Indonesian roots. Her next book will be Allerlievelings (Dearest darlings). In their collaborative work, Esmay and Aziz will combine their expertise.
"I like the theme Personal stories, national history," Aziz continues. "This theme pushes me to learn more about my family's history and about my country." Through their family and personal stories, Aziz and Esmay explore what defines them as individuals and what connects them. While sharing thoughts about who inspires them, it turns out their grandmothers have had a big influence on both of them. "It might be a bit cliché within this project. But, my grandmother is the example of having the courage to go on an adventure and to see what it brings. That was exactly what she did when she came to Holland, even though she had no choice. The way she lived her life, was always with a big smile," Esmay tells. Aziz adds: "My grandmother had a big influence on me. Like a second mom. To be honest, she is also the person I sometimes avoid," he smiles. "But she is still my biggest inspiration."
Esmay Usmany and Aziz Azthar at Komunitas Salihara, Jakarta, July 2019. Photos: Armando Ello