TAIWANfest 2022: Silaturahmi art installation reflects lives of migrant Indonesian fishers in Taiwan

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      For Taiwan-based human-rights researcher and cultural activist Ting-Kuan Wu and writer Yu-Chen Lan, Silaturahmi is a beautiful Islamic idea.

      “It means people taking care and connecting and mending their relationships—the bond of relationship—with each other in daily life,” Lan tells the Straight over Zoom in a joint interview with Wu.

      “If you go to Indonesia or to any Indonesian community, you will find out this word is beyond the concept of a religious idea. It’s already secularized," she notes.

      Silaturahmi takes effort, she adds, something she and Wu have done in forging connections with migrant Indonesian fishers in the Taiwanese port of Tangkáng.

      Cultural activist Ting-Kuan Wu first made contact with Indonesian fishers in Taiwan in 2015.

      That will be on display during the TAIWANfest celebrations in Vancouver in a large installation that they created, called Silaturahmi, with the help of Indonesian fishers in that community.

      It will be in the 600 block of Granville Street from September 3 to 5.

      “The first thing you will notice is the huge piece of tarpaulin—the white and blue tarpaulin,” Lan says. “You can see it; you can even lie down or walk around on the tarpaulin.”

      The installation includes handicrafts, fishing nets, and other aspects of migrant Indonesian fishers’ lives. Because they don’t have permanent spaces on the docks in Taiwan, these fishers lay down tarpaulins when they want to sit together.

      According to Lan, some of them were extremely helpful in securing objects for the installation.

      Writer Yu-Chen Lan says that it requires effort to practise Silaturahmi.

      Tangkáng is home to Taiwan’s largest Indonesian seafarers’ organization, which includes the word Silaturahmi in its name.

      According to Wu, there are about 2,000 Indonesian fishers in Tangkáng and more than 10,000 licensed and unlicensed fishers from Indonesia and the Philippines in Taiwan.

      He notes that human-rights issues on the high seas, including forced labour and human trafficking, have generated a great deal of international attention in recent years. And in Taiwanese ports, he says, there are still not sufficient facilities for the fishers, pointing to a lack of showers as one example.

      But Wu and Lan have also been touched by the solidarity that Indonesian fishers have demonstrated in Tangkáng as they’ve formed a vibrant community. To these two cultural navigators, it’s Silaturahmi writ large.

      “They represent their culture in the local festivals and raised funds to build their own mosque there,” Wu says.

      Video: 2022 TAIWANfest Vancouver - Preview of Silaturahmi

      Wu, who lives in the large southern city of Kaohsiung, met some Indonesian fishers while participating in a festival in Tangkáng in 2015.

      Four years later, as the coordinator of Trans/Voices Project: Indonesia-Taiwan, he collaborated with Indonesian artists and learned more about the lives of Indonesian migrant workers. More recently, he cocurated a project in the Kaohsiung Museum of Labour on the human rights of migrants in southern Taiwan.

      “Some fishers from Indonesia don’t join this community because they spend most of their time on the fishing vessels on the sea,” Wu acknowledges.

      Every year, TAIWANfest highlights important human-rights issues in Asia in addition to celebrating arts and culture. This year’s theme, Stories of Independence, focuses on the bonds between the people of Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

      “We all agreed that it’s better that we directly collaborate with the Indonesian fishers,” Lan says. “That’s how this process began.”