I went back to Jakarta last week because my mum was ill and actually went into hospital. Luckily she was alright and was out of hospital quickly. Phew.
I had less than a week left in Jakarta, and my brother, the photographer (www.sense-photography.com) was nice enough to take me to Plered, a small town in West Java which is famous for its ceramics out of red clay. The drive from Jakarta took a few hours because of the heavily congested toll way. We were surrounded by big trucks being slowly driven due to their excessive weights. It started to rain and I was getting worried that I wouldn't be able to go visit the places.
When we got to Plered, it was still drizzling but luckily we had umbrellas with us. My brother who had been there before, took me to a small road next to a house, avoiding the more touristy shops on the side of the main road. We were going to the manufacturers of the ceramics, people who were making the ceramics art pieces in their homes.
At the first house we visited on that small road, we politely asked if we could take photos and ask questions, and were given permission. The house was a typical house in an Indonesian kampung, with floors of compacted earth and wooden framed windows. There was an older man putting balls of clay onto a top part of a mould and then adds small pinches of clay onto the bottom for the footer. He then flattens the clay between the top and bottom moulds to create a leaf shaped soap dish. A young man sits not too far away from him carving out excess clay from the leaf shaped soap dish and then puts 3 holes on the dish for drainage. They worked quietly, methodically, in a dark room, among bags of red clay.
When I started to ask them questions, someone else from an adjoining room answered, the owner, Pak Een (Mr. Een). He told us that he's been running the business for more than 21 years and he learned it from his own parents. He has other siblings but he said only he had the skills and artistic talents to continue the art.
His ceramics work are all mould based. He usually makes the mould from gypsum, but when he can't find that, he uses plaster. His moulds are customised to what the customer wants written on the product. His work process is to mould the clay, leave the clay pieces to dry a little and then cleaned up by carving. Once it is even dryer, he fires them in a small woodfire kiln. The kiln was outside at the back of the house and because it was raining, we didn't get the chance to see it. He complained that when it rains, it takes longer for the ceramics art work to dry. He keeps a close eye on the rain forecast so he can gauge whether or not he can fulfil job orders. He said he would prefer to be honest to customers and reject their work order if he can't fulfill it, rather than lie and then deliver the goods late.
He sells his work to a shop in Mangga Dua shopping centre in Jakarta. The types of things he makes are soap dishes, candle holders, business card holders, pencil holders and wedding statues. Most of his products are sold as souvenirs for weddings so the order number is usually in the hundreds. The price ranges from as little as Rp. 1500, which is about AUD$0.16, to Rp. 3500 or AUD$0.38. He showed us some of the products he's made before for his clients. One of it was in the shape of an airplane, ordered by an airplane pilot.
Before we left, he gave us his business card. His wife's name was written on the business card as the contact person, Mrs. Een. But he assured us that if we ever want to contact him, we can do so via the phone number listed.
- End of Part 1 -
(Pictures below are captioned for more descriptions. Please do not reuse/reproduce without my permission. )
Irine is a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts' Artstart Grant (June 2014-2015).
This website has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts
funding and advisory body.