Arturo Sandoval, Life of Jazz

[Jakarta, LTTW] “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”, is an Albert Einstein quote that, to us, describes Arturo Sandoval. We were fortunate enough to see his shows at the 2017 Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival.

The event almost served as a comparative study. We were able to move from one performance to the next at any time. Imagine watching at least five different concerts in less than a six-hour period. It was difficult not to compare among the musicians.

Arturo Sandoval had a quite late time slot for his first performance night. Though we were quite beat, our energy was lifted by his complete package of a show. The ten-time Grammy Award winner was definitely a musician in his own right, but, to our surprise, he also had proficient comedic timing. There was a point when he shared a story and unexpectedly transitioned to a song. It was such a flawless transition that the audience was caught off guard, making us unable to hold laughter, myself included. At the end of “A Night in Tunisia”, he kept hitting higher and higher pitch on the trumpet that, in fear of losing breath, he crossed himself before hitting the final notes, a gesture unlikely if one doesn’t have a good sense of humor.

This level of stage and audience control truly showed the years he dedicated to his craft. There was not one nervous muscle in his performances throughout the two days.

Arturo was trained in classical music. His native Cuba is home to one of the most respected classical music conservatories in the world. Like the rest of the Americas, Cuba domesticated classical music and gave birth to authentic pieces by the likes of Leo Brouwer. Arturo, however, fell in love with jazz, a music that originated in a country considered hostile by Cuba at the time. He was jailed for that love. Later, thanks to bebop legend Dizzy Gillespie, he was able to move to the country that gave birth to that very love.

Our friend, jazz bassist Christy Smith, once told us that an individual lives jazz. It’s not just music. Arturo didn’t only show us his comprehension of jazz; he was showing us his life. The expertise, the fun, and the control, were all reflections of jazz itself. Virtuosity by itself was too complicated an explanation for what jazz is. Arturo showed us a simpler explanation that was able to include all the details. It was simply himself.

The following are answers to some questions we had for him. [GP]

Arturo, when did it all start musically for you?

Although music entered my life when I was 10, it wasn’t the easiest of starts.  In Cuba it was practically impossible to get a hold on an instrument, but when I was 10 years old, my aunt brought me a small horn and I never stopped striving to get better, even now!

What made you fall in love with music?

I fell in love with music at a very young age, maybe 5 or 6 years old.  Of course it was initially Cuban music and I started playing percussion, or whatever I could find, as it was very hard to get your hands on an instrument in Cuba.  I used to do a little “circus act” when I was 6 or 7.  I would hang a rope from one end to the other of a chair, and put food on both side.  I would have my cat walk from one end to the other while I played the congas, and I would charge my friends one cent to watch the show! It was the start of my performance career, haha!

A lot of folks in the jazz world don’t know that you’re just as respected in the classical world. How long have you been playing classical music?

I started playing classical music when I was 14, and that is what I studied as a young man.  Later I was hooked on Jazz, but I still perform all around the world with symphony orchestras and I am very grateful for that, it is such a good time for me to play classical concerts too.  I actually just finished composing my second classical concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, and I am very excited to begin playing it live.

You’ve played a lot of different instruments but you really fell in love with the trumpet, was it love at first sight?

Love at first sight? No! haha! It was very challenging.  The first trumpet teacher I went to in Cuba told me to play for him, and since I have never played before, he immediately told me to throw the horn away and give it up.  That day, at 10 years old, I walked all the way home crying the whole way.  That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let him discourage me, and embarked on my journey as a trumpet player.  The trumpet is one of my loves, the piano is definitely up there too!

You are known to be a cigar smoker. Doesn’t it affect your performance as a trumpet player?

I have been smoking cigars for over 50 years and thankfully it has never affected my playing!  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

You are a renowned Jazz and classical trumpeter, a brilliant pianist, a stellar composer and arranger – a fine vocalist in your own right, a band leader, and a tenured university professor of music. How do you manage all this? Is there a secret you can share with us?

Thank you, you are very kind.  You know, I just never stop practicing, that’s the secret!  I am truly a lover of music, so I try to express myself in every way I can.  Sometimes I just want to blow the horn, others I want to sit at the piano and compose, write a song, write lyrics, or teach.  As long as you have the inspiration, its about practicing and being consistent and determined to follow the passion.

One can’t mention the name Arturo Sandoval without mentioning Dizzy Gillespie. You had a life altering relationship with him, in a way. Explain to us how.

Yes, meeting Dizzy changed my life, just as music did.  It was with his help that I was able to get political asylum and move to the US with my family.  He afforded me the greatest freedom as well as more personal and professional opportunities that I could have ever wished for! I was very fortunate to meet and then play and tour with Dizzy.  It’s a truly marvelous thing to meet your hero, and then form a relationship and a bond with him.  He was my mentor, my friend, my teacher and is still an inspiration to me every day!

How difficult it is for a musician from Cuba to get a world wide recognition?

Well, it was very difficult while I lived in Cuba, because we weren’t allowed to listen to Jazz, it was considered the “music of the enemy”. I was so desperate to listen to Jazz and learn from the masters, that I actually got arrested for listening to the Voice of America.  I am forever thankful to Dizzy Gillespie, who helped me escape the dictatorship and allowed me to open my eyes to freedom both personally and professionally.

For a man jailed for three months in Cuba for listening to jazz on Voice of America, the thawing of relations between your homeland and your new land means a lot?

I appreciate President Obama’s efforts, I know it comes from a positive place and a desire to help Cuba and its people.  However, it’s hard for me to believe that the politics there will change easily.  It is so saddening to see how people really live there and the struggles they have been going through for so many decades.  I wish that one day Cuba can be rid of the dictatorship and that the people can finally enjoy freedom, one of the greatest gift in life.

You live in USA. Are you going to Cuba sometimes?

I am very thankful to live in the US, it has been the greatest gift! Unfortunately I will not go back to Cuba, as the dictatorship still goes on, communism is still very much alive, and the poor people of the island continue to suffer immeasurably.

For Love or Country has been critically acclaimed. Do you feel this film is your legacy?

I am very proud of this film.  I was very thankful that HBO asked to do the film and more-so, that they were willing to tell the real story of what I went through and what many have gone through (and still do) living in Cuba.  I was also so happy to write the underscore for the film, which I won an Emmy for Best Composer!  But my true legacy is what I leave behind, and 4 years ago I started the Arturo Sandoval Institute (ASI).  It is a 100% non-profit organization which provides instruments, master classes, music education and so much more, to underprivileged students throughout the country.  I want to be a part of making sure that our children and grandchildren have music in their lives, despite the fact that schools are cutting their music programs!

What is on the horizon? What is Arturo Sandoval up to?

Again, I am so grateful to be traveling around the world performing!  I am also working on my new album, which is my first Duets Album, and I have some really phenomenal artists confirmed including: Pharrell Williams, Josh Groban, Placido Domingo, Alejandro Sanz, Juan Luis Guerra, Stevie Wonder, Frida Lyngstad (Abba), Al Jarreau, and more!

You’re still as much on the move, you’re everywhere. You’re not tired of all the ripping and running?

I am very lucky that I get to travel around the world and do what I love.  Not only for me, but its such a wonderful thing to be able to bring my music to audiences world wide.  Yes, it’s tiring, I’m getting old! Haha! But no matter how old I get, I feed off of the energy of the people I play for, and that keeps me energized and excited for the next show.

How many gigs do you play per year now?

Wow so many.  I think I am home about one week a month! It’s a lot of traveling, but I am grateful for the opportunity.

Garcia Lorca said, “Arturo Sandoval’s greatest skill is the “duende”*. What does it mean exactly? Do you agree with him?

It’s hard to translate exactly, but having “duende” means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, it comes from a fairy-like creature in Spanish mythology.

Watch one of Arturo’s performances:

Arturo Sandoval ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ | Live Studio Session, uploaded by KNKX Public Radio.

*The “duende” is actually a connotation of characters mentioned by Arturo, and is often associated with flamenco.

Featured image attribution: By Frolzart (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Your future food will be grown with waste water

Serena Caucci, United Nations University and Kristin Meyer, United Nations University

In an increasingly water-scarce world, there is no doubt that recycling water we’ve already used has to become normal. Part of that will inevitably mean using waste water to help grow the food we need. But will we ever feel comfortable using waste water for food production? The Conversation

The reality is that this is already happening but more needs to be done to keep communities safe from the dangers of using untreated waste water.

The use of waste water for food production is mainly a question of managing water shortage and socioeconomic costs. Exponential population growth and climate change have seriously compromised water availability in many regions, from the Middle East to Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Local communities urgently need to find solutions to the problem of increasing water scarcity.

If used properly, waste water can provide important nutrients for plant growth and act as a replacement for mineral fertilisers. But it should be used for agricultural purposes only after being treated. Unfortunately, in many regions of the world, the reality is far from that.

Agricultural and water policies have not sufficiently addressed the inherent threats posed by the use of untreated waste water for irrigation. Often, hazardous materials in the form of heavy metals, organic contaminants, pathogens or antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be found in waste water. These accumulate in soils, crops and groundwater and so pass into the food chain.

If evidence of the threats to human health and the environment are readily available, why are so many farmers still using untreated waste water for irrigation purposes?

In developing countries, the use of untreated waste water has one big advantage: it is cost-free. This means farmers use it for irrigation of crops without taking the necessary precautions to avoid public health risks.

Today, waste water irrigates between 1.5% and 6.6% of farmland worldwide; about 10% of world’s food is produced using the practice. But the true extent of untreated waste water being used illegally for agriculture is unknown.

The Mezquital Valley in Mexico perfectly illustrates the issues involved. Rapid urbanisation and inadequate treatment facilities have led farmers in the valley to use untreated waste water from Mexico City for irrigation purposes. For more than a century, this practice has helped grow marketable crops at low production costs.

But these benefits come at the cost of the health of the population. The use of contaminated water for crops growth has resulted in severe gastrointestinal disease and cancer in the local community. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised because of HIV/AIDS are especially vulnerable.

It is not a coincidence that the Mezquital Valley has the highest incidence of kidney cancer in the region as well as occurrence of helminth or Giardia infections in children.

Farmers in the Mezquital Valley have been using waste water for a century. Alextorrej, CC BY-SA

Only by developing eco-friendly sanitation strategies has the reduction of water pollution loads while conserving the benefits of nutrients been possible. Since 1999, local waste-water plants have been built, and new wetlands have been constructed with satisfying results for water quality. But the people of the valley are still sceptical about the benefits of treated waste water.

The experience of industrialised countries shows that even advanced waste-water treatment technologies struggle to address all risks. The presence of emerging pollutants and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in waste water are known to escape conventional waste-water treatment.

Needless to say, these contaminants are, even at low concentrations, a serious threat to human health. We need technologies and structured monitoring to ensure swift responses in order to keep communities safe.

There is no escaping the fact that our future food will be grown using waste water. Local communities like those in the Mezquital Valley can only do so much to protect themselves; regulations and government policies must be evaluated alongside the scientific evidence for the danger waste water can pose to human health. Only then can safe use of waste water in agriculture stimulate sustainable development in our water-scarce world.

Serena Caucci, Researcher, United Nations University and Kristin Meyer, Researcher, United Nations University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Zap Mama, Movement by a Woman (and an Unreleased Single!)

Movements around the world and throughout history, unfortunately, have been dominated by men. In the United States, we hardly see faces of women in any movement, except feminism, objectivism, and, to a certain extent, the civil rights movement.

In Europe, for long, we thought about the absence of domestication of foreign cultures. Unlike the United States, for instance, African immigrants in Europe appears to assimilate completely with European culture. Never have we heard a European counterpart of African-American culture.

This was until recently, when we seemed to have been proven wrong.

The name Zap Mama, and its singer/front runner  Marie Daulne, is definitely not foreign to us. We’ve talked about her quite frequently within our internal meetings. Our sister web radio, Vox De Cultura, had also played her music. It’s hard not to, taking into account her interesting background and the diversity of sounds she has in her music and of people in her band.

Born in the jungles of Congo, her father was Belgian and her mother Congolese. Her father was assassinated by local rebels a mere few days after she was born, forcing her mother to bring her over to Europe, where they settled in Belgium. Later in life she traced her roots back to Congo to rediscover the land’s music. The beginning of the song ‘Rafiki’, for instance, has her playing a local Congolese instrument.

Zap Mama is a proponent of the so-called Afro-European or Afropean culture. Not only is she a proponent, she actually coined the term for the media.

We were fortunate enough to catch her intriguing performances during this year’s Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta. While we didn’t get a chance to interview her live, she was kind enough to give us an interview through email afterwards. Surely enough we took this opportunity to ask about Afro-European culture, along with her views on life and music.

In an interview with Music Vault, you mentioned that you, in a way, represent Afro-European culture. Does that exist?

Let me answer in English, but it’s not my native language, so sorry for any mistakes.

Yes, it does exist. You probably know about the Colonial history of Belgian Congo. As you know for Indonesia with the Netherlands and England, (then there is) France and West Africa, Nigeria and England, etc.

After the 60s, most of these African countries became independent. People merged and families were created. Artists exchanged and shared Ideas and creativity. Admiration on both sides of the culture created new genres.

  • The 70s
    Artists such Fela Kuti or Manu Dibango mixed Nigerian music and funk from the United States
  • The 80s had Salif Keita, Youssoundour, etc. I grew up in this environment. It’s why Zap Mama was born.
  • The 90s (was when) my first album became international and was called Adventure Afropean (African and European)

I named the movement for the media because nobody did it. I used my success for the media. We existed in European, especially France, England, the Netherlands, and Belgium. We sang in French, English, and Spanish, but at the same time loved our roots in African music. The Afro-European represents Afro-descendant Community.

I designed some fashion costumes and make up for Zap Mama, mixing African traditional accessories and fabrics with European. See the video for BRRRLAK and the attached Zap Mama’s first Afropean cover*.

At the same time, during the 90s, the Pan African culture started to become more prominent. The MEDIA started to talk about it. Intellectuals wanted it to be present in the international media. The Afro-American culture loved Zap Mama right away. It seemed that Zap Mama arrived naturally in the perfect time and place period. People started to discover a big movement of world music with plenty of artistry in music/books/fashion started to be released.

1994-6 Hip hop culture was interested to open their sound to the Pan African culture. The Roots (Hip hop music) produced the beat for Zap Mama ref: “Rafiki”, along plenty of other artists. We finally have a voice.

In 2000-2004, I made an album where Afro-American meets Afro-European called Ancestry in Progress.

In 2010, the Afro-European movement was fully accepted and it (evolved into) today’s Afropunk movement.

The song “For No One” talks about dealing with the moralities, or lack thereof, of city life. The song was released in 1994. Do you think the message of the song still applies today as it was when it was released? In other words, are we still living in an ‘illusion’, as mentioned in the song?

It is not, and illusion is a reality and people can be blind and lose the control of their mind. I kept myself away from It until I was strong enough!!! I kept a lot of my freedom. I sang ”for no one”.

It has been 20 years now since i recorded that song. I started my adult life in that period, the late 70s until mid 90s. The Multinational industries used plastic in all products. Consumption was everywhere!!!! Since that period, big alert was on the media as pollution made kids suffer from allergies. Conscience has changed people to become more concerned toward nature, but we still need to make sure that a maximum number of people hold such a conscience. Until then, we will have to keep singing this kind of lyrics, to fight poverty.

Communication modes today change people all over the world. We can now realize and communicate and help one another. We can (therefore) move to another level of consciousness.

As a musician with diverse background, both ethnically and in terms of living and learning experience, what is your take on the current wave of resistance toward a borderless world? Does it affect your music?

That is all the message of my music. I sang a song named “India” in my first album where I sang in Indonesian.

Do you think this will help in the search for the so-called 21st century sound?

It seems that my work still has an impact because it was pure voices. People recognize a soul, not a genre, and there is a longer life for that type of composition.

Are you interested in discovering this 21st century sound? Or do you have a different goal in music?

Human beings always for centuries sing the same message. It is only the sound that changes. I love it. I would collaborate with the new generation. I love it.

We want to connect this with the whole notion of world music. Many would consider you as being part of this genre. The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of world music, including the rise of WOMAD. Do you think this big break of world music will make a comeback soon, especially as a reaction to the current world situation?

I think a new genre will come and I’m very excited about it. I met some new generations and created a track with them. In the beat box world, there is a tendency to do some interesting new discovery influenced by polyphonic, polyrythmic, and electro. Listen to the attached track, it’s pure sound of breath control, no instrument!!!!  Purely voice and beatboxing.

Do you think world music can be a remedy for the current world situation?


So who inspired Zap Mama in the beginning? We know you are a mix of many different styles, from polyphonic singing, to jazz, hip hop, etc. But as a child of multicultural background, especially back in the 70s, to find a figure to relate to was probably more a challenge than today, as they were rare. So who were your first inspirations?

It is my social context that influences me the most. Everyone has a voice to be heard and I heard some voices that I recognized in me as a woman or a girl, as a human being who is part of western and third world countries. And I create the soundtrack of my everyday life like a bird starting the day on the first sun ray.

What is next for Zap Mama?

I took a break for seven years after serving the music business for 25 years.

I have plenty of new music. I will release single by single and the full album at the end of the year. It’s around beatbox, back to the new acapella genre. The dance acapella song attached is “Baby”.

Check out Zap Mama’s unreleased single “Baby” here:

*The image discussed:


Featured image at the top of the page is a derivative of “Marie Daulne en concert au Paris Jazz Festival, parc floral de Paris“, a work published on 12 July 2008 by Pkobel, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons where it was obtained, with slight crop, used under CC BY-SA 3.0. We therefore release this work under the same license.

The Shade of Northern Lights: A Current Reflection

How many people do you know would collect orange seeds, put them in a pocket, and throw them on land where they can fruitfully grow? We know one, Semsar Siahaan (1952-2005) [Ed.]**.

A sensitive character in a desensitized world, Semsar concerns himself with issues of humanity and disparity. Born in Medan, North Sumatra, 11 June 1952, Semsar spent his later life contemplating and working in British Columbia, Canada. There, came the idea for one of his most iconic works, G-8 Pizza. It showcases not only his stellar technical ability in painting, but also his concerns in life.

Semsar indeed is a man who feels. He considers his soul stolen by the agenda of global organizations.

Pizza, a global favorite, is a metaphor for the world. Right in the center are characters symbolizing strong economies controlling the human race standing behind them, i.e. on the periphery of the pizza/world. Eight slices are portions of the world divided among these G-8 countries.

Semsar’s other paintings present similar elements and messages. One created in Canada presents a view of how Native Americans are treated. Nature, a spiritual symbol of ancestry for the Native Americans, carelessly destroyed.

It wasn’t just Canada that shaped him though. In Jakarta, his works were carried by protesters against the new order regime prior to the fall of Suharto. Indeed, his concerns on humanity and disparity had been present during his university days in Bandung, Indonesia, long before his move to Canada.

The following article was written in 2004 as a companion to Semsar’s exhibition event at Indonesia’s National Gallery. It was written by our advisor, Serrano Sianturi, who was then the Managing Director of our parent organization, Sacred Bridge Foundation.

What truly intrigues us is the relevance of Semsar’s concerns 13 years after this article was written. Are we not still living in the same world Semsar grew up in? Disparity is far from over, especially when differences are involved. Even within the borders of developed countries today, disparity amongst different races and/or religions is still blatant.

Globalization is also a struggle. US President Trump’s immigration ban is a direct attack on the free flow of people. Continuing presence of protectionism very well affects free flow of capital. Meanwhile, the use of politically correct culture solely to avoid public outcry means free flow of information still struggles to transform us into a knowledge society. I think we can all agree how easy it is today, still, to find ignorance.

We hope the following article can be a way to reflect how far we have come and where we should go.

Throughout history, humans realized one decisive revolution, the industrial revolution. Within 150 years after its commencement, world’s gross domestic product has grown twice as large as total production of the last 6000 years. The industrial output of the 150 years is equivalent to two-thirds of the output of those 6000 years. It is an amazing achievement, no doubt about it. However, with the enormous growth, along came huge costs, such as the sky rocketing population level, relentless exploitation of natural resources, and environmental degradation, among others.

Now that we are entering the third millennium, the abovementioned problems are far from being solved. Yet, humans are already anticipating the formation of another revolution, with its own major problems. This time it is technology (comprising acceleration, convergence, and digitalization) and economy (including deregulation, privatization, and globalization) that are driving change.

It is safe to say, within the context of technology and science, that we are now living in an age of miracles. Humans have successfully climbed the steps to heaven when we explored outer space, drew the genetic code of humans, unfolded the mystery of the human brain, and created information advancements. They have brought us well being, but also left us one open question: are they accompanied by an equally sound progress in our ethics?

We have left, it seems, the age of ignorance. With information technology, we can now tap a gigantic pool of information within minutes, if not seconds. Misery in Africa, war in the Middle East, natural disaster in South Asia, forest fire in Sumatra, we can now get hold of such knowledge almost instantly thanks to our technological progress. The question is thus whether we have become more sensitive than our ancestors to human problems? Are we now in a better position to help our suffering brothers and sisters? If we have to answer with a reluctant “no”, then we have to ask further, what was the point of reaching those technological advancements in the first place?

Within the realm of economy, problems lie not only at the ethical level, but also in implementation. After the collapse of Soviet Union, capitalism has become the only globally dominant economic system. However, within the decades of “lonely” capitalism, we have seen more contradictions and problems than before – although there have also been plenty of proofs for increased welfare and justice. Capitalism becomes confused when it plays the role of the sole world economic system. It can no longer uphold one of its dogmas, competition, after its competitor abandoned the race.

There are other problems. The main principles of capitalism, “let the market rule” and “free competition”, actually contradict another important principle, democracy. The rule “one man one vote”, coined to protect equality and analogized with free competition where everyone has a chance, is really contrasting economic inequality, where only a handful dominates because of the same free competition principle.

Deregulation and privatization have also been conducted in the name of free competition, with the aim of reducing government intervention in the economy. Efficiency, an objective of market economy, is sought to be attained. Unfortunately, this ‘positive’ intention results in the government’s weakened problem-solving capability in handling economic issues. Simply remind ourselves of diminishing budgets and facilities for, among others, education, health, small and medium enterprises, and the arts, to look for proof. Also keep in mind that these problems occur in both developed and developing countries.

Globalization, basically the free flow of trade, capital, information, and human resources, has brought more benefits to economically advanced countries. For developing countries, this discourse has been hampered by the establishment of economic blocs. Every bloc is busy creating regulations to protect itself against competition from other blocs. This is ironically the reverse of free trade, a principle of free competition.

Free flow of capital, hoped to provide developing countries’ access to foreign investment, has not been sufficiently regulated. As a result, an investment can move between countries at anytime. Not only has economic stability become difficult to maintain, availability of employment becomes unpredictable. Furthermore, the under-regulated money market has made the concept of trade-of-balance irrelevant in the calculation of foreign exchange rates. A sound foreign exchange rate has become very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.

Free flow of information through the Internet, news, and entertainment media has also not shown substantial progress. We are still a long way from a knowledge society. We also realize now the negative implications of global news and entertainment on local cultures.

Free flow of human resources is actually nothing new. Migrations have happened since the early days of humans. Today however, it is almost completely confined within the economic realm. Previously, migration occurred because of slavery, cheaper land, and ideological differences, among others. Now, it is almost always driven by higher wages. “Brain drain” is one the inevitable consequences.

Globalization is not absolutely “bad”. There have been positive developments. One of them concerns war. Because globalization has efficiently reformed the base of welfare and power to become non-territorial, war is no longer part of the major countries’ conflict resolution. Furthermore, the emergence of transnational activist networks, where people share a commitment towards human rights, the environment, economic wellbeing, as well as inter-civilization dialogue, is an effect of the free flow of information. Whether acknowledged or not, the anti-globalization movement has itself benefitted from the positive side of globalization. Sense of freedom is more palpable in the era of globalization. Democratization sounds louder in many parts of the world today.

This Janus-faced globalization, with all of its contradictions and dilemmas, has puzzled many. It has made people anxious. Bounded as communities, it gave people the right to become suspicious. The confrontations between those who favor and those who hinder have not refined the meaning of globalization. On the contrary, they have caused it to move without direction: two steps to the left, then forwards three steps, to the right one step, only to move four steps backward. For the neoliberals who prefer globalization, the future is bright. For those who oppose it, globalization is nothing more that the internationalization of capitalism, which will only bring more oppression, exploitation, and injustice.

However, injustice is the one issue that can be agreed upon by the two camps. It is also impossible to speak about injustice without mentioning the issue of human rights. They too face serious problems in this era of globalization. The first concern is in conjunction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is too oftenly cited in human rights campaigns all over the world. The use of the word “declaration” has not only limited the authority of this rule, but also made it unbinding. It is thus unsurprising that even oppressive government heads could easily adopt the declaration, because they knew it would not affect their leadership style.

This declaration is doomed to fail from the start, because it ignores the views of indigenous people and Islam. Indigenous people, represented by the Informal Working Group of Indigenous Populations, have claimed the right to self-determination, and asked for the acknowledgement of their societies as different and separated from the general public, but equal contituents of the human race. However, as of today, their demands are locked away at the UN. As for Muslims, the fact that they have not been involved in the formulation of the declaration is one of the decisive factors of the West’s questionable purchase of Islam.

Second, the issue of human rights has become a foreign politics tool for advanced countries in the northern hemisphere, to be used at will against developing countries in the southern hemisphere. Human rights become important when related to their foreign political interests, irrelevant when it comes to their own land. The development of human rights, like other things, should start at home, where infractions are real and painful.

Third, the upholding of human rights frequently confronts problematic conditions. In the case of reconciliation, for instance, which is a way towards peace, rule of law as a pillar of justice too often has to be disobeyed. If, on the other hand, justice has to be maintained, peace may not occur. More often than not, this condition occurs when one regime takes over another, or when two countries engage in war. Another example is the case of humanitarian intervention vis-à-vis sovereignty. We know that sovereignty is but one implementation of human rights. Up to this day, we still reject foreign intervention. However, interventions are often necessary to free people from repression and misery. This “noble” act is, in fact, a violation of the principle of sovereignty.

Another problematic condition rises from the issue of inter-generational economic rights. Poverty alleviation is both urgent and a worldwide phenomenon. Yet, because of its size and earnestness, it often justifies the consumption of natural resources in gigantic proportions, thus taking away the economic rights of our children and grandchildren.

It is this labyrinthine complexity, with all its awkwardness and difficulties, that was depicted by Semsar Siahaan during his domicile in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada. We sense such enormous emotions within his works of art and can feel his sincere intentions to change this sad fact of humanity. We have also found a glimpse of despair in his newest paintings and art installation. Therefore, we believe that this art exhibition is best presented as an aesthetical experience, so that all of us can start to do something to uphold human rights within our own homes. It is all important to summon the citizenry, popular sectors, and vulnerable constituencies of societies to develop a political language and effective means to collect and distribute relevant information. With such an active participation and consultation, there is hope for a culture of human rights and humane relations between state, society, and individual.

Our deepest gratitude to Semsar for entrusting us to organize this single person art installation and painting exhibition titled “The Shade of Northern Lights”. It is a great honor to participate in this outstanding event. We also salute Semsar for his persistence in defending human rights from abuse and ignorance wherever he stands. A word of appreciation is also extended to the State Minister for Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia, TIFA Foundation, Todung Mulya Lubis, UNESCO Regional Office Jakarta. We thank them for their generous support. Not to forget, we would like to apologize for all things short of what has been expected from us in the organizing of this exhibition.

Serrano Sianturi
Managing Director


G-8 Pizza and The Study of The Falling Man by Semsar Siahaan
G-8 Pizza and The Study of The Falling Man by Semsar Siahaan, 2003 Canada
G-8 Pizza by Semsar Siahaan
G-8 Pizza, charcoal on used corrugated cardboard

Featured image at the top of page is a painting by Semsar Siahaan titled “I wish I’m a Seagull“.

*Original article was slightly edited to better match our format.

**Slight edit. We added information about Semsar. He was born in 1952 and passed away in 2005, around five months after this exhibition.