Asmat: Not a Blank Canvas
[ FUJIFILM/YOUNG TALENT AWARD 2015 RUNNER UP ]
Asmat is a tribe of New Guinea discovered not a century ago, notorious for the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in 1961. However, ever since Indonesia annexed West Papua from The Netherlands, Indonesian government’s transmigration program has brought in an influx of foreigners (from other islands of Indonesia), leading to construction projects, deforestation, and outside influence coming in to Asmat. Consequently, Asmat people are becoming marginalised in their own land. Although Asmat ritual feasts are still taking place with far less frequency, there is religious tension between the Catholic majority of Asmat and Islam brought in by the foreigners. The foreigners own most businesses, which renders the Asmats economically disadvantaged. With increasing number of foreigners coming in per year, by 2030 less than 20% Papuans will cease to exist. Asmat is only one of the many tribes in West Papua.
I was in Asmat in 2013 for 3 weeks, 2 months last year, and recently hired as museum staff at the Asmat Museum in Asmat.
My intention in photographing the Asmat from the very beginning is to raise awareness of what’s happening in Asmat, and to reinvestigate the consequences of development and ‘progress’. We cannot stand oblivious to the change that is rapidly taking place. Change will wipe whatever remains in West Papua. My decision to work in Asmat is because I want to try to engage the Asmat people visually of what’s happening in their land. Asmat is not a blank canvas where outside forces can simply project influence upon them. Asmat have their own way to respond; how, and what their responses are, makes it difficult to predict their future.
I’m Joshua Irwandi, 23, an Indonesian photographer based in Asmat, West Papua, Indonesia. Starting this year I am working as Museum Staff at the Asmat Museum of Culture of Progress, Agats.
I left Indonesia when I was 16 for high school in Canada (graduated 2010), BA in English Literature at University of Exeter (graduated 2013). While doing BA I spent time mostly on photography; I was photographer at my college paper Exepos’ (nominated Guardian Student Publication of the Year) and designer/photographer for student theatre companies. I interned at the Jakarta Globe in 2011, Kompas in 2011 and 2012, and The Times UK in 2012. I decided to pursue my MA, which began in January 2014, and started photographing Asmat. The photographs from Asmat have won me several workshop opportunities in 2014, namely Adam Broomberg/Oliver Chanarin workshop London, New York Times Portfolio Review NY, Magnum AGM Masterclass NY, Eddie Adams Workshop XVII NY, and VII Photo Masterclass Milan.
FujiFilm/EPF Young Talent Award is an additional grant for photographers under 25. Using David Alan Harvey’s words “A heart felt thank you also to FujiFilm for making it possible for the EPF to keep focus on the future generations, the young ones, the ones with a vision already making a mark now… and just might make another jump soon…”