Understanding Uniqueness & Celebrating Diversity

Identity is a complex concept. It lies within a thin border between perception, expectation and reality. With such nature, the interpretation of identity allows for friction, resistance and change—both in a positive and negative light—to take place.

Identity is a product of social construction. It is often regarded as a set of traits which determines what and who we are. In a nation-state context, its most obvious forms can be seen presented at major events including the World Expo, Miss Universe and Venice Architecture Biennale, in which each participating country carries the attributes that are thought to best represent the identity of their respective country.

However, those social constructions actually represent only the public perception or stereotype, and not necessarily the reality. For instance, Indonesia is not adequately represented by blangkon or keris alone, as the Netherlands is not adequately represented by windmill or cheese. One major weakness of communal identity is its failure to include variable of differences.

Identity is never a definite concept. It continuously faces dispute and disapproval. First, by time. One example: “Java.” It is a cultural identity coined by the Dutch during the colonial era to refer only to Surakarta and Yogyakarta. But “Java” has since been used to regard a sole identity that encapsulates the whole island of Java, including areas which actually practice different traditions, speak different languages and even perform different wayang (puppetry) than Surakarta and Yogyakarta. In this case, identity becomes the legacy of a historical misconception.

The second factor that shakes the concept of identity is migration. People move and so identities change. Today, Chinese-American descendants of the 19th century railroad workers could not be placed under one big “Chinese” identity alongside their distant relatives in Mainland China. A similar case applies to Tamil diasporas in South-East Asia or the Korean kyopos in Europe and America. Due to migration, the Old World definition of “East” and “West” has lost their initial meaning.

The last factor that has shaken the concept of identity is globalization. The blurring of state boundaries and the proliferation of communication technology has turned identity into an open forum that embrace trans-border members. LGBTs, extremist groups and even the millennials, each claim to have a singular in-group identity, regardless of which country they live in.

Thus, identity is not an obsolete topic. Instead, it is even more relevant to discuss today. In recent years, the world has witnessed how identity continues to be debatable. Cases in point: The rise of political right wing groups and racial violence.

Identity is also a theme strongly relevant for Indonesia in particular. With more than 700 documented living languages and 300 ethnic groups, plus six government-sanctioned religions and 187 other beliefs, the world’s largest archipelago is also one of the world’s capitals of diversity. Throughout its 17,000 islands, identity is formed and deformed, through colonization and modernization, isolation and contact, as well as urbanization and natural disasters. In Indonesia, identity is a concept that remains in question.

By proposing identity as its main theme, JIPFest wishes to understand of how social constructions shape who we are and how we (should) behave. The festival hopes to see documentary projects that demonstrate how identity manifests itself in various fields in different corners of the globe, from fashion to architecture to culinary trend—identity as a source of cultural expression, inspiration for creativity, collective interpretation or dialectic between the mind and the state. (“I have an identity, therefore I exist.”)

Additionally, JIPFest hopes to also see works that criticize real problems inherited from the concept of identity. Photographers can explore identity as a direct impact of biological classification or colonialism, as a community’s effort to sustain itself or merely a political tool to shake the establishment and oppress the other. Issues like minority groups, indigenous people, race and gender will be highlighted in the festival.