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Nurlakarya as featured in “Peace in Chaos”

A few days ago, some of my watercolor works have been featured in a virtual exhibition titled “Peace in Chaos”. It’s aim is to raise some funds to fight against COVID-19. I worked on the watercolor pieces during the pandemic. I could’ve made more, but I had a day job.

My work as they’re presented in the catalogue.

It’s pretty hard for me to put a conceptual explanation with these, especially because the pandemic makes my extroverted self stressed out because of cabin fever. I mostly use my expressions and feelings when I drew, which I feel awkward about because as a Visual Art graduate I feel obligated to put some deep meaning in it. Of course, my whole career as Lala Nurlala, the artist of Dr. Zone as an Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian/something similar icon who represents being out of place (I should make a separate page about Dr. Zone, by the way), is an concept of itself. So all I had to do was to incorporate Dr. Zone with visual elements of Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian/something similar culture. The biggest element here is waves, because what Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian/something similar cultures have in common is incorporating oceanic waves in their visual dictionary as they heavily rely on them.

During the process of getting my work to the exhibition, I didn’t inform this with the curator. The nature of art is that anyone can interpret it as they like, while the artist’s statement is just the supplement. This is what he had to say about my artwork:

Lala Nurlala, menampilkan figur imajinatif  yang ilustratif, dengan dipenuhi motif stilisasi tumbuhan.Dia lebih fokus pada garis dan karakter dari figurnya. Garis seperti sebuah strategi dalam membahasakan ketertarikannya pada sesuatu, meredam dan menyelesaikannya.Empat karya Seris Pandemic: Untitled #1-#4 diikutkan pada pameran kali ini. Figur tokoh pewayangan berkarakter pahlawan atau tokoh penyelamat yang diselimuti oleh motif berbentuk ukel membentuk asesoris, busana figurnya sampai pada backroundnya. Rumitnya motif yang mendominasi karya tersebut seperti rumitnya situasi Pandemi ini. Dalam satu tema itu mampu ratusan karya bersamaan yang dia ciptakan.

Lala Nurlala displays an imaginative figure, filled with stylized plants. She’s more focused on the lines and character of the figure. The lines are like a strategy in translating her interests in something, muted and finishing it. Four of her Pandemic Series: Untitled #1-#4 are included in this exhibition. A wayang character with the characteristics of a hero or a savior who’s covered by ukel in the form of accessories, clothing, and background. The complexity of the patterns are like the complexity of the pandemic. In one theme she can make hundreds of works.

Jajang R Kawentar, curator

Now that it’s translated, let’s break down the commentary:

Lala Nurlala displays an imaginative figure, filled with stylized plants.

I would disagree that I was drawing plants, or at least consciously. In fact, like what I said before, I was incorporating elements common in Austronesian-speaking cultures (I will explain further later). I would assume that these were inspired by oceanic waves, because they had to go through the ocean with waves during migration. However, knowing that Indonesia is a tropical country, it can be assumed that a lot of Indonesians have also incorporated plants in their visual dictionary. A good example is the kawung, one of the most common patterns in Javanese batik, which is inspired by the sugar palm fruit. As the result of thousands of years living in tropical greenery, a lot of Indonesians forgot their oceanic roots (this may have contributed to Indonesia’s problem with maritime transport, but that’s a topic for another day).

Left: kawung pattern (Source) Right: the sugar palm fruit

The lines are like a strategy in translating her interests in something, muted and finishing it.

I don’t particularly understand this phrase, even in the original Bahasa Indonesia version. What I can get from this is that my works express my special interest as an autistic person, and they are. I am obsessed with Dr. Zone and I still am today. I don’t actually know if I enjoy it, however. I know that autistics should have fun with their special interest, but for Dr. Zone I feel like he’s here because of a problem I have with my life. I wonder if I’ll stick with him after my deep-seated problem gets solved. One can only wonder.

A wayang character with the characteristics of a hero or a savior who’s covered by ukel in the form of accessories, clothing, and background.

I’ll just confess here right now, yes, I’ve discovered the Austronesian/Malayo-Polynesian/something similar pattern after having designing, fixing up, painting, and inking 68 wayang puppets representing the culture of every province in Indonesia. It’s very tiring, not gonna lie. My autistic ability of picking up patterns noticed how weirdly spiral and wave-like the patterns of the wayang are, even on the patterns of some ethnic clothing. As someone who’s been looking at Polynesian (to be more specific Maori because Jemaine Clement, Dr. Zone’s voice actor, is Maori) patterns, I noticed the same feel from them. They all emulate the ocean, and I felt that even more by visiting the beach and observing the waves as they swallowed the sand.

Padjajaran style of woodcarving
Motif Dayak 1 – Marioga Tour & Travel
A typical Dayak pattern (Source)
Maori Koru Design Fabric in NZ - ShopNZ.com
A Maori pattern (Source)

Apparently they’re called “ukel” which means “spinning” in Javanese and I’m quite fascinated by the term. I will take note of that in future works and studies.

By putting these oceanic patterns (at least the ones I’m most familiar with) on Dr. Zone, I have apparently transformed him into a wayang character. Pretty fascinating. I wonder if I can make Dr. Zone into an actual wayang character and make him perform wayang theatre. But I don’t want to just make him a performer in Javanese culture. I want him to be a performer in all Austronesian-speaking cultures. We’ll just see how this plays out.

As for whether Dr. Zone is a savior or hero, on one hand he is. But on the other hand, I suffer because of my obsession with Dr. Zone. It’s quite complicated, and it reaches spiritual dimensions as well. I should explain this on his dedicated page.

The complexity of the patterns are like the complexity of the pandemic. In one theme she can make hundreds of works.

My mind is pretty busy, knowing that autistic people’s brains are found to be overconnected after all. I do find the pandemic to be very stressful, however.

And yes, I can make hundreds of works involving Dr. Zone, thank you very much. 🙂

The conclusion is that the curator’s judgement is mostly accurate regarding my intentions. Like everyone’s interpretations, his interpretation is valid. I’ve also discovered a new term which is nice.

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Why Dr. Zone is Māori in The Zone Universe

[This is a copy of a post I made on my Tumblr account, which may or may not be deleted. The Zone Universe is a story that I’m writing based on Milo Murphy’s Law.]

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Māori descent in The Zone Universe, a Milo Murphy’s Law AU. He’s also American in this AU because he’s the father of Melissa Chase, who’s American in canon.

Note that in this case, Dr. Zone is a white-passing bi-racial, and according to Statistics New Zealand, “‘Māori’ means a person of the Māori race of New Zealand; and includes any descendant of such a person.”

In canon, Dr. Zone’s nationality (being from New Zealand) was never addressed aside from his Doctor Who-inspired British-ness, let alone being Māori.

Character Design and Physical Characteristics

Dr. Zone’s design was modified from a pretty generic white-looking man (Dr. Zone’s depiction on the left as sketched by Dan Povenmire) based on his voice actor Jemaine Clement. For those who don’t know, Jemaine Clement is of Māori heritage, one that is native to New Zealand. His heritage helped him contribute to a Pacific Island-centric Disney animated movie Moana, both in English and Te Reo Māori. 

Clement is actually considered to be white-passing. He even played a Jewish character at least twice: in Don Verdean and Humor Me. However, little do people know that there are certain features that are intrinsic to him being a Pacific Islander that have affected Dr. Zone’s design. I can tell you this because as a Southeast Asian who shares a few similar phenotypes with him, I find his presence among other Jewish people as out of place.

This is where we’re getting to a specific field, namely biological anthropology. This subcategory of anthropology explains how physical characteristics of a certain group of humans explain where they come from. Now, I don’t specialize in anthropology (but did take “anthropology of art” in college), so I did find some confusing words like “mesaticephalic” and “sinodonty”, but I’ll try to use words that most people understand. I also want to void any term that ends with -oid because they lead to racist implications, so even if the source has those terms I will replace them with a more appropriate equivalent.

Let’s start off by citing The Māori – Volume 1, by Elsdon Best (1924). Just one statement, and it’s that they’re a mixture of Austronesian and Melanesian strains. The Austronesians are a group of people who migrated from Taiwan towards Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, while the Melanesians are people found in Papua and Australia.

One trait that you notice in Dr. Zone are his eyebrows. Him and Jemaine Clement have deep-set eyes and prominent, large eyebrows. According to Forensic Facial Reconstruction by Caroline Wilkinson (2004), Melanesians have the largest brow ridge.

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Another trait is the rocker jaw, a trait exclusive to Polynesians. According to Journal of the Polynesian Society, a rocker jaw is where the lower jaw forms a continuous convex curve, akin to a rocker (see the top jaw in the above image). I’m not sure if Jemaine Clement has this trait, but based on the transformation between Dr. Zone’s first image to his post-Jemaine Clement design, I can safely use this as an argument to Dr. Zone’s Polynesian heritage.

image

Dr. Zone, like his voice actor, also has a stockier figure. According to Philip Houghton in The adaptive significance of Polynesian body form (1988), Polynesians have a large and muscular body phenotype after evolving to the oceanic environment which was labile and frequently cold. This also comes into play with his AU daughter Melissa, as she also has a stocky but fit body.

There are other traits such as his lips and his nose, but you get the point. Jemaine Clement has Polynesian physical characteristics, and they have been molded onto Dr. Zone.

Ethnic Diversity in Phineas and Ferb

Unlike Milo Murphy’s Law which shows virtually no ethnic diversity (the episode with the Nordic-Scandinavian Tobias Trollhammer was fun, but that was only one episode, plus he’s a minor character), Phineas and Ferb has a display of various ethnicities. One unique example is Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, who’s Mexican and Jewish. The show played with the whole “Mexican-Jewish” identity by having a literal Mexican-Jewish Cultural Festival and mixing those two cultures into a nice musical sequence.

You think that’s all? There’s even more. Baljeet doesn’t shy away from showing his Indian heritage by infusing Bollywood into his anxiety of getting good grades and having his superhero named “Hanuman-Man”, after one of India’s famous figures. There’s also one of their title characters, Ferb, who has had various UK-based episodes centered around the Fletchers. Not to mention Stacey and her subtle ways to express herself being Japanese (like eating with chopsticks for breakfast, but I am unsure if that’s accurate because I’m not East Asian).

Last but not least, there’s Heinz Doofenshmirtz, whose ethnicity doesn’t even exist in real life. The now-not-evil scientist hails from Drusselstein, a parody of Eastern Europe, and its culture seems to borrow from Eastern European Culture, particularly of the Germanic variety (it does feel like it, too).

I am quite an anthropology buff (as you can see what I have typed so far), so it gets me really excited when shows introduce other cultures. That’s why I got excited over movies like Black Panther, where I saw how sci-fi mixes with African culture (which I now know is called Afro-futurism). That’s why in The Zone Universe, I want to include some Māori culture, along with other cultures including Milo’s French heritage and other ethnicities that I may or may not reveal in the AU.

Conclusion

The reasons I decided to make Dr. Zone (and in consequence, his daughter Melissa) Māori is because his character design, which is based on his voice actor, suggests that he has Polynesian features and that I want to add more outward ethnic variety like in Phineas and Ferb.

Possible Arguments and Questions

“Does this mean people have to voice characters based on their race now? Isn’t that racist?”

One of the main reasons I’m making Dr. Zone Māori because of his physical features. I wouldn’t, for example, consider Ziggy from Regular Show Māori just because he’s voiced by Jemaine Clement, for example, because he doesn’t have any Polynesian traits.

In fact, in my fan cast, there are characters who are voiced by people outside of their race.

“What about live-action? Almost 100% of the time actors look exactly like their characters.”

This doesn’t apply that much in live action, as it’s difficult to find someone who looks exactly the same and there are more emphasis on visual acting ability (which in animation can be done by storyboard artists and animators, though actors do play some part). That’s why I give more leniency to Jemaine’s Jewish roles, even if I do wince a bit at his looking out-of-place.

“I still consider Dr. Zone to be white.”

And you’re entitled to your opinion, just like I’m entitled to mine (I even gave my own arguments for it, and you don’t have to be convinced).

What are the red and white colors for?

They’re Austronesian colors, representing the duality myth of Mother Earth and Father Sky.

“You’ve been ranting about Dr. Zone, but what exactly is The Zone Universe?”

The Zone Universe is an alternate universe of Milo Murphy’s Law where it’s basically what I thought the show would be heading to (which is very different). The main parts of the AU are two illustrated books: Time For Danger and Time for Action, though there could be comics as well. Check out the blog for more info, or you can click here to start reading the work-in-progress first book.

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What to Do in 2020

2020 has arrived.

I have no idea what to say right now, but I do know that I have plans this year. The thing is though, there’s this thing where you announce what you plan to do, only to find out that you don’t do it in the end because you’ve felt that accomplishment once you’ve announced it… for some reason.

I will tell you though that I’m focusing more on my artistic visions this year. It’s been a bit more than two months since I’ve graduated after all. I think I know how I’ll thrive as an artist this time. I’ve got an artistic statement and manifesto building up. They can be found throughout my page and social media, but they’re still relatively raw so I can’t post them up yet.

I definitely got some artwork planned. One is actually in progress right now. Before I’ve been making my work really slowly, barely two to three per year throughout college. I plan to make more than that. I believe by making a lot of artwork and showing it to more people, my artistic vision is more accomplished. By the way, you can see my progress in my instagram’s @nurlakarya.

It’s time to read more material, clean up my artist portfolio, and approach more collectors, gallerists, artists, and people involved in the art world.

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Isolation

How does it feel like to be isolated. What does isolation even mean? To what point is isolation considered normal.

Throughout Javanese history, people would isolate themselves to concentrate power. People would run to the woods to meditate. Even in Islamic history, The Prophet (pbuh) would go to a cave where he would eventually receive the first passages of The Qur’an. In the modern times, it’s still common for people to isolate themselves to cool off.

But what if you always feel isolated?

I was born in Indonesia, soon to be diagnosed with autism when I was about 2. Autism really does weird things to me. My lack of natural intuition to socialize has made me isolate myself. I needed quite a plenty of external help to get me understand how to properly connect with other people.

At one point, I actively participated in the neurodiversity movement. It’s a useful movement, as it does help autistic people live better lives. I’m not sure if it actually helped mine, as I’ve seen autistics butting heads against each other without attempting to understand one another, including one involving myself. Anyway, when I see a lot of autistics, I still feel isolated, despite their claim that meeting each other is as if they’ve “found their own tribe” or something like that. They either seem like they can socialize successfully or that they’re too inept. A lot of them talk about sensory issues, which I don’t relate that much. Then again, “if you met someone with autism, you have met someone with autism.” I still feel isolated amongst other autistics. Do other autistics feel that way, too?

Then there’s how I feel isolated with where I’m from. I may have been born in Indonesia as a Sundanese, but I lived in the United States during my early childhood. With my autism making it harder to comprehend an unfamiliar language, and language being an important key to culture, it has been difficult for me to assimilate with Indonesians, especially the Sundanese. I seem to have been coping with adapting to a new culture by isolating myself in the world of the Internet, where I can still keep in touch with American culture. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel welcome in American culture nor Indonesian culture.

How do I deal with this isolation? With little to no sense of belonging? I’m not actually sure. If anything, I find myself as a dweller; someone who just wonders around, observing culture. There may be some forms of culture that are attached to my subconscious, but ultimately, I can’t fully identify myself with any group, at least for now.