Thursday, 20 August 2009


Following is a list of work by Emha Ainun Nadjb: poetry, prose, plays, essays and other works. Each has an English language translation of its title. I will revise, update and correct it from time to time so please look in again. I also plan to include a paragraph about each entry. The more recent (bestselling) works published by Gramedia have not yet been included.


“M” Frustasi
“M” Frusration

Tak Mati-Mati
The Immortal

Sajak-Sajak Sepanjang Jalan
Verses From the Wayside

Sajak-Sajak Cinta
Verses of Love

Tuhan Aku Berguru Pada-Mu
O Lord, I am Your Disciple

Tidur Yang Panjang
The Long Sleep


Nyanyian Gelandangan
The Song of The Homeless

99 Untuk Tuhanku
99 For My God
Pustaka, Perpustakaan Salman, ITB, Bandung 1983, 114 pages

Iman Perubahan
Faith in Change

Isra’ Mi’raj Yang Asyik
Fascinating Ascension

Suluk Pesisiran
Chant From the Coast

Syair Lautan Jilbab
Verses on the Sea of Veils
SIPRESS, 1989, 52 pages

Minuman Keras Nasibku
Strong Drink is My Fate

Seribu Masjid, Satu Jumlahnya
A Thousand Mosques, One in Number
Mizan, Bandung, 1990, 164 pages

Cahaya Maha Cahaya
Light of Lights
Pustaka Firdaus, 1991, 71 pages.

Sesobek Buku Harian Indonesia
Torn Pages from the Indonesia Daily


Doa Mohon Kutukan
A Prayer for a Curse
Risalah Gusti, 1995, 96 pages

Syair-Sayar Asmaul Husana
Verses Celebrating the Finest Names (Religious Poems 1984-1990)
Progress, August 2005, ISBN 979-9010-0-53, 184 pages.

Sebuah Trilog: Doa Mencabut Kutukan, Tarian Rembulan & Kenduri Cinta
A Trilogy: A Prayer to Lift My Curse, The Dance of the Moon & The Feast Of Love
Gramedia, 2001, ISBN 979-686-327-8, 318 pages


Geger Wong Ngoyak Macan

Patung Kekasih
Statue of my Love

Keajaiban Lik Par
The Miracle of Uncle Par

Mas Dukun
The Shaman

Calon Drs. Dul
Mul, Candidate Graduate

Santri-Santri Khidhir
The Disciples of Khidlir

Lautan Jilbab
The Sea of Veils

Kiai Sableng
The Mad Sultan

Baginda Faruq
His Majesty Faruq

Perahu Retak
The Cracked Boat
Garda, 1992, 74 pages.


Dari Pojok Sejarah
From a Corner of History
Mizan, Bandung, 1985, 283 pages

Sastra Yang Membebaskan
The Literature of Freedom

Secangkir Kopi Jon Pakir
A Cup of Coffee for John, the Parking Attendant

Markesot Bertutur
Tales of Markesot
Mizan, 1993, 379 pages including glossary

Markesot Bertutur
More Tales of Markesot

Gerakan Punakawan
Movement of the Wayang Servants of the Knights

Opini Plesetan
Offbeat Opinions

Surat Kepada Kanjeng Nabi
Letter to The Prophet

Indonesia Bagian Dari Desa saya
Indonesia, a Part of My Village
SIPRESS, 1992, 230 pages

Slilit Sang Kiai
The Kiai with The Bit Caught in his Teeth
Grafiti, 1991, 243 pages

Kiai Sudrun GuGat
Kiai Sudrun Accuses!
Graftiti 1994, 286 pages.

Anggukan Ritmis Kaki Pak Kiai
The Kiai, His Feet and Their Rhythmic Tapping
Rialah Gusti, 1994, 296 pages

Bola-Bola Kultural
Cultural ‘Balls’

Budaya Tanding
The Culture of Counterparts

Titik Nadir Demokrasi
The Nadir of Democracy
Zaituna, 1996, 368 pages.

Tuhanpun Berpusas
Even God Fasts
Zaituna, 1997, ISBN 979-9010-01-2, 258 pages

Demokrasi Tolol Versi Saridin
Stupid Democracy (Saridin’s Version)
Zaituna, 1998, ISBN 979-9010-02-0, 158 pages

Kita Pilih Barokah atau Azab Allah

Iblis Nusantara, Dajjal Dunia
The Satan of the Islands, The Lucider of the World
Zaitune, 1998, ISBN 979-9010-04-7, 244 pages

Menyibak Kabut: Saat Saat Terakhir Bersama Soeharto
2.5 Jam di Istana (kesaksian seorang rakyat kecil)
Clearing the Fog: The Last Times with Soeharto
2.5 Hours in the Palace (the testimony of an ordinary man)
Zaituna, June 1998, 207 pages

Mati Ketawa Cara: Refotnasi
Dying of Laughter, The Reform Way
Zaituna, September 1998, 192 pages

Kyai Kocar Kacir
The Disenchanted Kiai
Zaituna, October 1998, ISBN 979-9010-07-1,164 pages

Ziarah Pemilu, Ziarah Politik, Ziarah Kebangsaan
The Pilgrimage of the General Election, Politics and Nationality
Zaituna, March 1999, ISBN 979-9010-08-10, 213 pages

Keranjang Sampah
Trash Can

Ikrar Husnul Khatimah Keluarga Besar Indonesia
Menuju Keselamatan Abad 21
Hamas, February 1999, 158

Jogya-Indonesia, Pulang-Pergi
Jogya-Indonesia, There and back Again
Zaituna, July 1999, ISBN 979-9010-03-9, 266 pages

Ibu Tamparlah Mulut Anakmu
Mother, Slap the Mouth of Your Child

Menelusuri Titik Keimanan
Straightening the Point of Faith

Hikmah Puasa 1 & 2
The Blessings of Fasting 1 & 2

Segitiga Cinta
The Triangle of Love

Sidang Para Setan
The Trial of Satan

Duta Dari Masa Depan a
Ambassador from the Future

Pak Kanjeng
Zaituna, August 2000, ISBN 979-9010-11-X

Kompas, January 2005, ISBN 979-709-168-6, 246 pages

Puasa Itu Puasa
Fasting Is Fasting
Progress, August 2005, ISBN 979-9010-01-2, 249 pages.

Folklore Madura
Folklore From Madura
Progress, August 2005, ISBN 979-9010-02-0, 151 pages

Kafir Liberal
Liberal Kafir
Progress, October 2005, ISBN 979-9010-12-8, 56 pages

Kerajaan Indonesia
The Kingdom of Indonesia
Progress, January 2006, ISBN 979-9010-15-2, 382 pages


Masyarakat Padang Bulan Merdeka
The Community of the The Full Moon – Freedom
M-PB, No. 1/1999, 48 pages

Kitab Ketentreman
The Book of Tranquility
Republika / Zaituna, April 2001, compiled by M. Alfan Alfian M., Aprinus Salam and Wawan Susetya, 293 pages

Tahajjud Cinta
Love at Midnight
By Jabrohim, Pustaka Pelajar, June 2003, ISBN 979-3237-94-5, 105 pages

Emha Ainun Nadjib & Kiai Kanjeng
Organising Committee, PENA, Kuala Lumpur, October 2003, Limited Edition

Bulletin Kenduri Cinta
Monthly, 2002-2004

Negeri Orang Tertawa
Nation of the Laughing People
CNKK Center, November 2004, 88 pages

Belajar dari Aceh
Learning the Lessons of Aceh
CNKK Center, February 2005

Saya Vs. Anjing
Me Vs. The Dog
Limited Edition, July 2005, 103 pages

Paus dan Khomeiny
The Pope and Ayatollah Khomeiny
Limited Edition, September 2005,

Karikatur Cinta
Caricatures of Love
Progress, February 2006, 67 pages

Istriku Seribu
My Thousand Wives
Progress, December 2006, ISBN 979-9010-20-9, 64 pages

Orang Maiyah
The People of the Gathering
Progress, January 2007, ISBN 979-9010-21-7, 64 pages

Sunday, 16 August 2009


By Emha Ainun Nadjib
Cultural observer, writer and artist, Indonesia
GATRA Number 15 Monday February 20th, 2006.

The global shockwave initiated by the Jyllands-Posten caricatures may last longer, range further and go deeper than we can imagine, analyse or calculate. This is more than just a ''pop song'' about Islamophobia, the cause of democracy and hegemony or the interpretation of what constitutes the term terrorism.

Perhaps it’s also about more than just the rate of the dollar against the Euro, more than the global designs upon the earth which revolve around a certain ‘turn of a card’ alongside the other cards which have been played in their turn since glasnost and perestroika, which ''democratised'' the Soviet Union, and then Afghanistan, Iraq, and the clouds building in the skies over Syria and Iran, and then also Indonesia: whose choice of cards is entirely different.

More than the simple happenings of politics, ideology and culture: it could be that the time scale of the background to those caricatures is a very long one. Denmark is not Britain, which has the experience of a long association with Islam over long centuries. Denmark is a part of Scandinavia, which sets great store by the maturity of the democracy that it has achieved. One of the ‘sacred verses’ of democracy is the freedom of expression, which in particular manifests itself in the freedom of the press. This is held in such high regard that it is unimaginable that religion, prophethood, a holy book or God could command a high level of respect.

And the peak of the beauty of that freedom of expression, if someone must compose a sentence, arrange a song, scratch out a painting or draw a caricature, - then the prime theme, in a situation where the world appears to face the apocalypse, troubled by terrorism, and that too identified with Islam – is nothing other than the expression of irritation, annoyance, maybe even hatred of Islam. "For the sake of freedom of expression," wrote the Jyllands-Posten, but "the only thing expressed by the cartoons, however, was contempt for Muslims."

In one situation of war, the nephew of the prophet Muhammad PBUH, namely Ali ibn Abi Thalib – who aside from being a theologian, a spiritualist, a cultural observer, an expert on social strategy, a man who was able to defend himself and who could not be defeated in swordplay, a scientist whom it was agreed by all clerics had attained the ‘peak of learning’ – was able to defeat his opponents.

Ali was able to strike the sword of his opponent so that it was torn from his grasp, and he would then cause his opponent to fall to the ground only to find the tip of Ali’s sword point at his throat. He had only to push, and that did not violate any human rights nor could it be considered violence, in the same way that the deaths of thousands of Dutch soldiers in Indonesia were also not attributable to their having fallen victim to the violent movement of the nation of Indonesia. However, Ali’s opponent suddenly spat in his face. Ali was shocked, wiped away the spittle from his face, was quiet for a moment, then withdrew his sword and moved away, leaving the opponent who he could so easily have killed with just a small movement. Of course, he was asked why he had walked away and had not killed his opponent, who had spat in his face. Ali answered: "Because I was spat upon, a feeling of anger and hate arose in my heart towards him. Because of that I left him, fearing God’s anger towards me if I had killed an opponent out of anger and hate."

There is no further need to exhibit the wisdom, the patience of the soul, or the purity of the values inherent in Ali’s deed, because every person, in the personal history of each, has been endowed by God with mind, intelligence, spirituality and sense of values. But it may be useful to know that Ali was the nephew of a man who, whenever forced to take up arms, would always devise a strategy that prioritised minimal casualties for both sides, to the extent that, of all the battles in which Muhammad PBUH fought, the fallen numbered less than 500 in total.

If You Forgive
There was one man named Abdullah ibn Ubay, who every day, yes really, every day, would mock Muhammad PBUH, ridicule, abuse and insult him. That lasted the entire life of Muhammad PBUH.

In response, let’s make it into a competition: whoever can identify where one word of irritation or rudeness was used by Muhammad PBUH, not to mention any manifestation of anger or the use of violence – you can seek it in any history or in any book of Hadiths (traditions or sayings of Muhammad PBUH), - we’ll all club together for a prize to give the one who can find even one example. There was not one bad word said from the lips of Muhammad PBUH in response to the man from the village of Thaif who chased him away and pelted him with stones until he bled.

Allah himself gives a clear moral response to the person who has been insulted or abused. The person has a judicial right to do the same act, but no more than that. Then, the ‘right’ is enclosed with the beauty of the phrase that: "If you can forgive him, it would be better in My eyes."

Muhammad PBUH was an ordinary man (he refused to be made a ‘Prophet-King’, and chose, though a prophet, to be considered nothing more than an ordinary man) who was made to suffer during his life, after his death, and has even been made to suffer in the centuries since then. Insult and public misunderstanding have been the main items on the menu. His house measured 4.80m long by 4.62m wide. Allah would not allow him to have a boy-child, with the exception of Qosim, who was called back to Him, passing away while still an infant. His nephew was murdered, both grandsons too. His first grandson was poisoned by his own wife, became aware of it, forgave her and then the next morning was poisoned again and died. His second grandson was murdered but his head was torn from his body and borne away on horseback for hundreds of kilometers, causing him to be buried in two places.

Muhammad PBUH loved barbecued goat, especially the left foreleg. And it was one such left foreleg that was grilled by Zaenab, a Jewish woman, coated in poison, and given to him. Muhammad PBUH fell into a deep fever on account of that, and he was treated initially in the house of Maimunah, and then he asked to be taken to the house of Aisyah. This was because Maimunah still had her own family, and those who were not family were not free to visit him. By moving to Aisyah’s house, all parties, sides, factions and other religious representations had the opportunity to visit him.

The Taste of Misery
This was a man who sewed his own clothes and repaired his own shoes, a man who as long as he lived never ate his fill for as long as three successive days and who always had days of hunger. His wife could never for even as long as just a week, cause him to eat well, without there being long periods where there was nothing to put on the table in their house.

If at night, having said his late evening prayers (salat tahajud) for too long in the mosque, and arriving home late, this softly-spoken husband, who walked with his face held down, would not wish to wake his sleeping wife but would sleep in the wooden door frame at the front of the house.

Of course, not all the depictions of Muhammad PBUH are ones that have to do with melancholy and torment. But the insults which have followed him through history could possibly not have been borne by any other. One peak of the misery experienced by Muhammad PBUH is found in one of his sayings, filled with a deep and prescient mourning: "Al-Islamu mahjubun bil-Muslimin." Islam is obscured by Muslims. Whether it be a little, or much, whether many or too much – Muslims fail not only do not represent Islam; they do more than that; they obscure or conceal Islam. To obscure is to conceal, to negate.

On thousands of occasions I have been involved in forums among the masses, public forums and forums of Muslims, and the most beautiful of all those forums is that which is entitled "Plucking (as if flowers or fruit) the Torments of the Prophet of Allah".

A number of my companions have asked me, was I not upset or angry at the caricatures in Denmark? I give a cheerful reply: with all insults and abuses I love the Prophet of Allah Muhammad PBUH. He was a man who was the most beloved of Allah and who loved Allah more than any. How could there be one molecule of my living being that was not filled with love for him? The extent of my capacity of love for him brings me to a state of intoxication, experiencing giddier heights than ever reached before, hunched up in corners so tight I could not possibly be more restricted, love that is greater than even more than life or death itself.

All insults, irritations, abuses and faults, as brutal as they can possibly be, could not decrease the extent of my capacity for love even 1 cc. Love for the Prophet fills my soul and my life, and my love for family, friends, country and nation, for the entire community: becomes more beautiful, more filled with brightness and filled with peace, in the womb of my love for him. Whatever the potency of any insult, it cannot compare to the absolute certainty of death, while my love for him rides above life and death. And if the prophet was never angry, if he was kind and always forgave those who insulted him: how could a person who loves the Prophet of Allah dare to offer anything but kindness and forgiveness?

Also, Allah’s gift via Muhammad PBUH, that was called Islam, gives me great insight, clarity of thought, strength and calm – which could not be reduced by any kind of insult. Islam offers a sense of protection and support. Islam itself does not need me, but I need Islam. Even, if I can be very frank, all forms of harm of that nature have no more effect than to widen the smile of my face for Islam while increasing my love for Muhammad PBUH. Those insults even serve to raise him higher in his heaven.

And something else about our friends, the Danes: have you not studied their history, their ways of thought, their experiences: yet you are shocked by their modes of expression? Based on what expression of ‘Danish-ness’ and with what perspective on reality would you expect anything but caricatures like those? Why would you a chicken to bleat or a goat to crow?

As for those Muslims who are angry, enraged, riotous: why are you surprised or expect that they would behave in any other way? Do you think they are Ali bin Abi Thalib? Based on what tradition of Islamic teaching or on the religious culture of what group of Muslims, or on what state of maturity, wisdom, and humanity do you regard their rage?

I would not spit in your face, because I’m not sure that you wouldn’t be angry too like that and perhaps your revenge would last the rest of your life. I would also not caricature your face like a monkey or a gecko, because the most upset would not only be you, but perhaps your family, your people, maybe even your country and nation. If I were to spit in your face because to do so was to demonstrate my freedom of expression, maybe you would also want to bash my head because to do so would also be to demonstrate your own freedom of expression.

Instead, we should draw pictures together that caricature love.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Emha Ainun Nadjib...On Pornography

During 2006 there was a lengthy polemic in Indonesia between traditional conservatives and more liberal groups over the perceived rise in pornography in Indonesia and its harmful impact on society. Playboy magazine had been published in Indonesia and had become the target of ire and protest. Demonstrations were held by groups both prop and contra a new draft bill on anti-pornography. Emha also joined the debate. Following is a translation of a text he wrote for consideration:

The Draft Anti-Pornography Bill
Based on discussions in Melbourne and Canberra
By Emha Ainun Nadjib

I propose that the implementation of the Draft Anti-Pornography Bill be cancelled or delayed for at least two years based on the following considerations, in order to give as wide an opportunity as possible for a full public discourse involving all groups and layers of society. There are many reasons for such a postponement. Here are some:

Among groups I’ve met in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya as well as from far-flung areas such as Mataram, Mamuju and cities in Kalimantan and Sumatra, I find that of groups both pro and contra the bill, they have already taken concrete positions, even held demonstrations, without having read the text of the bill. This includes even members of provincial parliaments and local government officers.

According to the social and ideological map of Indonesia, the emergence of this bill has become a sort of time bomb. Like it or not, the implementation of the bill will be accompanied by explosive social unrest. There are many non-conducive situations which make this ‘social explosion’ likely. Following are a number of them:

An Anti-Pornography Bill to do what? To kill a snake with a bomb? The prime target of the bill is the media and television. Actually, a simpler and more effective way of addressing this could be found, for example via considering the need for a censorship body. Even the USA and Singapore have policies and their governments have the authority to limit the Press, which function just as a censorship body would.

The general public does not understand that failure to support the draft Anti-Pornography Bill is not the same as being ‘pro pornography or pro porno-acts’ just as those who claim to support the passage of the bill are not necessarily ‘anti pornography and anti porno-acts’. The problem and its context is not a simple one.Furthermore, the supporters of the bill fail to realise that a number of the bill’s clauses will impact on them just as they would on those who oppose the bill. Implementation could serve to restrict the opportunities for pornography and porno-acts to their own industries.

If the bill is passed, it would hold a mirror to a failure in public education and the capacity of the people to become an important element in the morality of their own national culture. A number of issues tied to pornography and porno-acts perhaps require legislation, but a number of others are best left to the prevailing mechanisms of social control of the people themselves.

There are a number of examples of ‘popular moral control’ such as that expressed by Novia (Kolapaking): “To refrain from pornography and porno-acts I do not need legislation. Nor do I want those things controlled by laws, because, those things violate my own right to human self-awareness. In order for me not to steal or hurt another person and so on a person requires only a sound mind and the capacity of love for his or her fellows, even if on this earth there is no Religion or Holy Book.”

In Islam itself, the Al Qur’an stipulates a substantial amount of legal philosophy concerning truths or ‘goods’ which are RECOMMENDED (the level of morality), as well as others which are OBLIGATORY or FORBIDDEN (the level of law). Followers of Islam must apply INTERPRETATION or conduct research and discussions in order to understand the differences between these levels. For Muslims in Indonesia, that would be the main focus of the discussions during a two-year postponement period for public deliberations.

Most of these both pro and contra the bill have failed to note one clause in the bill in which the government has the right to decide whether something is pornographic, a porno-act or not. That which is indeed pornographic to the extent that it is a public danger can be declared by the authorities to be non-pornographic. On the other hand, that which is not pornographic can be declared by the government to be pornographic as a result of certain vested interests, financial for example.

The clauses of the bill still include much language of culture and morality rather than of law. The language of culture and morality is very flexible, relative and permissive and is open to the possibility of exploitation and manipulation. The legal terminology must be made firmer, stricter and more solid and must restrict the possibilities for exploitation and manipulation.

Translated by Ian L. Betts

The Philosophy of Emha Ainun Nadjib: '9' For Finland, November 2006

On tour with gamelan fusion orchestra Kiai Kanjeng in December 2006, Emha was due to make a closing address in English at the Cultural Forum, the event which was at the heart of the tour. Other prominent Indonesian figures had already spoken. They included former leader of the Muhammadiyah mass Muslim movement, former speaker of the Indonesian parliament, presidential candidate and founder of the PAN political party, Amien Rais. Also present was former rector of the State Islamic Institute, UIN. Both voiced their enthusiasm for and pride for Kiai Kanjeng who were excellent ambassadors for Indonesia during the entire duration of the Cultural Forum. Amien Rais has also on occasion participated in Kenduri Cinta and other events and is well known to Kiai Kanjeng’s regular audiences in Indonesia.

For some time before the event Emha wrestled with the contents of what he was going to say, the context of his comments, the manner in which they would be received and related issues. Eventually he settled on a number of points, nine in all, which addressed the key points of wha the wished to convey. Following is a translation of those comments, which Emha used for the occasion.

1. We come from a situation and from among a people which has long-suffered from division, enmity and separation of one sort or another from one another, to the extent that we dare do nothing else but that which has the potential to bring us all closer together in real unity.

2. We have no wish to add even one drop of bitterness to the tongues of those who have been ostracised by hate, division and the loss of empathy from among people. We come from a people who have suffered a great deal in this way, and so we truly do not dare to utter a single word if it does not in some way include 'love' within it.

3. That conflict arises between groups of people or among nations must be too exciting a proposition, because in all our travels to thousands of venues on the face of this earth, the peace and fellowship among people and peoples that we offer has never interested anybody.

4. Authoritarianism, the abuse of power and injustice often raise their rough and ugly heads, sweeping us up along in their crude paths, recruiting us to new employment as the 'dirt beneath their feet'. Finally, all we have left for the remainder of our lives is a mounting fear that we may find ourselves in the position of exerting power over another, and the horror that we may continue to tread out the path of injustice upon them.

5. A little do we understand about ourselves, a little less do we understand about our country and about this whole wide world we know almost nothing at all. So, wherever we go, we make no judgements about anybody. We're busy, nervously learning about the people we are to meet, because after all the time left to us in our lives is short.

6. We, humanity, are at the apex of our civilisation and perhaps our very existence, we have reached quite literally the 'end of the road'. That social ideology we call 'democracy' can take us not one step further. While we, who live in the far corners of the world have not yet moved towards any ideology apart from one basic principle which enshrines one simple human value: that we fear more than anything causing hurt or pain to any other person or thing.

7. ‘Civilised' humankind, we busy ourselves with discussion, debate even argument over religion, bombings, terrorism as well as every other piece of that rich mosaic of values we call 'knowledge' and 'civilisation'. Yet not one iota have we learned of all of that, and as much as we learn we store it far from our hearts and minds, and so all that WE do here and the only words that may come from OUR mouths here are those that have to do with love and the realisation of the possibility of human warmth and fellowship among people, peoples and with nature.

8. People are so different from one another: their faces, the colours of their skins, the contents of their hearts and minds, their behaviour in life, their ideologies, the socio-political choices they make in their lives, their tastes in culture and the arts and a million other factors. We truly enjoy this condition, because there is not one difference between people that cannot be used to create that which brings us closer together.

9. Knowledge, the 'science' of life, cultural creativity, the application of politics and statehood, the wonders brought to our lives by technology and all forms of human advancement: these have all contributed to disorder in the condition of the world. This has been followed by divisiveness and estrangement among us, costing at times the souls of millions and the destruction of the environment; the natural as well as the built. But because humankind could not possibly have lost every scrap of common sense, wise judgement and clarity of heart, the evolution of our human existence will eventually lead us to rediscover that certain quality whereby we recognise again that we all consist of the same cells, protons-electrons-neutrons and quarks. The study of eco-genetics has begun, and while results are far from complete it is sure to effect a state of union between East and West and between North and South that will be both Real and Secret. And our grand-children will smile in the warmth of the unity among themselves that they will have discovered.

Translated by Ian L. Betts

An Essay in Peter Sanders

In February 2008 Emha was invited by the British Ambassador, Charles Humphrey, to attend and speak at the opening of a photographic exhibition in Yogyakarta, Central Java, of works by British Muslim photographer Peter Sanders. This is the essay he wrote for that occasion.

In my iPhone 1.1.3 I have saved a directory that consists of photos by Peter Sanders, which I deliberately mixed with photos of my wife and children. When I had a moment, I made a slide show of the pictures that – in the language of Islam: were full of the colours of the divine. First among the colours represented was blue with purple, which, according to those endowed with “knowledge of the spiritual world”, are the colours of God’s Heavens, inhabited by the Angels and spiritual beings. So they say.

Just as I see my children, wife and family in a sacred place within myself, so do I sense the energy and frequency in the soul of Peter Sanders. These photos are one form of the material output of inner-energy and the inner-frequency of his soul. In all honesty, this ‘inner space’ of the soul has throughout history given birth to some of the most important values of humanity: culture, democracy, nationhood, wisdom and knowledge, love, multi-culturalism and the combination of those components of society and the well-learned lessons of history that lead us to gather together in this place today, in this spirit of shared happiness and optimism.

I don’t know. But I am sure that photography is not at all about the technology of taking pictures, art or the visual industries. I worry that if photography is viewed merely as a means of recording pictures, it ignores its prime domain, wherein the photographer attains the peak of his experience and existence by “illustrating” the creativity of his inner self. It is possible that his career as a photographer may not be his most important role because he will have entered and encountered a host of values that are far broader and deeper than his social role as a photographer.

Perhaps we aim to depict because we seek. We write poetry, arrange music, paint, move and dance or through whatever forms and means of expression we choose: because we seek. It is possible that the entire culture of humanity through the ages has developed in response to our seeking; our never-ending seeking. For what do we forge nations, organise, form companies, develop industry and technology to the best of our utmost abilities, when our primal drive is that we seek?

And perhaps we can agree that what we truly seek is the essence of our own selves. Many people come to laugh in their old age, because for decades they have believed that their social identiy was “themselves”: that their positions, awards, even their faces and the shapes of their bodies, is somehow “themselves”. Peter Sanders is in a perpetual “flight”; not merely moving in a geographical sense but also in depicting value after value, dimension after dimension, nuance after nuance, heaven after heaven. Surely, in some instinctive or rational way, he has touched upon and understood who he is, and he walks on in the world among the values of life, recognising himself again in a speck of dust, in every particle of earth, in every leaf and in every breath of wind.

I believe that if Peter were to portray a human face, it would not merely be the form of the face that he would depict. The same is true for a mosque, the expression of the ageing process, children learning or any other object you could name. It is not the object “itself” that he portrays, because that which portrays is not merely the eye and camera of Peter Sanders. His eye, hand and camera are merely directed by “the essential Peter Sanders”, which exists far inside the inner being of Peter, and which we can encounter through this exhibition. “The essential” is what we call the spirit, aspirations, inner-creativity, heart and soul.

The temple of Borobudur, near Yogyakarta, depicts three states of being. The first, and lowest, is the world of desires, or “kama duta”. The second, and middle, is the world of forms or “rupa datu”. Finally, the third, and highest, is the formless absence of desire; nirvana or “arupa datu”. Peter’s work, while located within the world of forms, allows us to view glimpses of nirvana.

Now we can see, enjoy and wonder at the photos, colours, lines and the forms depicted within the frames – these open the doors to meeting with the essential self of the man, Peter Sanders. With our eyes we view the results of his photography, but what is depicted by Peter Sanders cannot be encountered by the eye. If we use the familiar idiom of Indonesia: Peter portrays with his “inner eye”, and we enjoy his photography through our own.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 17 February 2008
Emha Ainun Nadjib

Translated by Ian L. Betts