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The Jakarta-based visual storyteller captures hope and resilience in the trans community at a time of great suffering
In March 2020, when Indonesia implemented coronavirus restrictions across the country, photographer Yoppy Pieter stumbled across an Instagram posting describing the particular challenges the particular pandemic posed to Indonesian trans women. That May, the particular visual storyteller carefully journeyed across the country’s Covid-19 hot spots: Jakarta, Depok, and Tangerang Selatan. He documented the women, who often lived within poverty and without official govt documents, as they navigated the early days of the pandemic.
Trans Woman: Among Colour and Voice offers a glimpse into the strength and bravery of these women, and their struggle at a time associated with unimaginable global suffering. “We all agree that Covid-19 has affected everyone, but the story turned out differently regarding invisible individuals who have experienced discrimination long before the pandemic, like the trans woman community, ” says Pieter.
One image reveals Darni’s old ID card, ended in 2012, with her dead name. The card – a vital that grants Indonesian people access to education, financial assistance, and healthcare – is definitely tattered, her image indiscernible. As Pieter explains, seventy percent of trans women don’t have valid ID cards, meaning they had no entry to health services as the computer virus swept through Indonesia. “Most trans women leave their house when they are teenagers because of domestic conflicts over their own identity. They leave their particular family without having official docs and proper education…Practically, this particular obstacle has dragged all of them into the poverty cycle. ”
Many of these women lost their own jobs early in the outbreak and couldn’t afford living at home. Barred from getting vaccinations, testing services, and government benefits, many were forced to work in fields exactly where risk of infection was high. Pieter recalls an agonizing refrain among his topics: “I’d rather die in the coronavirus than from hunger. ”
And yet, while exposing the impossible conditions that lots of trans women were forced to live under, Pieter records a sense of communal resilience and personal fortitude in those he or she photographs. His images, which won the Wellcome Pictures Prize 2021, are concentrated and sharp, exploding within lavish reds, blues, plus corals. Women are rarely depicted alone, instead surrounded by their chosen family. “I targeted to deliver to humanity the universal secret of hope, which is to find balance between fear and strength, ” says Pieter.
Lila, a trans female in Serpong, South Tangerang, sits on the floor as she actually is tested for HIV. By her side is Aurel, who works for Pelita Tangsel, an organisation which usually helps trans women obtain health services without public documentation. Other images show two individuals touching cheeks, mid-embrace; an impoverished area in Depok, West Coffee, where a community of trans women live; and a girl, Mama Dona, resting for the knee of Mama Yuli, who heads the Indonesian Transgender Communication Forum. During the pandemic, Mama Yuli distributed resources and gave financial support to Indonesia’s trans community, which she fundraised from individuals and church buildings, in lieu of government benefits. It had been Mama Yuli who first helped Pieter access the particular Indonesian trans community plus meet his future topics.
Pieter’s images were partly inspired by realist artwork, imbuing the subject matter with grandeur. In one, three females kneel on a bed within a row, styling each other’s hair. Each wears the dress: one in cerulean blue with lace detail, two in floral sun dresses. They sit on a floral bedspread, encircled in plush toys. Unlike their cosy, childhood-like backdrop, the three are ornately accessorised and made up. They will stare right at the camera: confrontational, serious, regal.
In September 2020, Pieter’s images were published inside National Geographic Indonesia , copies which he gifted to his subjects “as a form of honour”. He described their responses as diverse: “From being touched, to admiring their particular beauty. When I saw them looking at themselves in the magazine, it elevated their emotions upon so many levels. ”
Their hope for Between Color and Voice is simple but hard-fought: to help trans women in Indonesia live full, safe, equal lives. Pieter clarifies that since April 2021, the government has become more aggressive about providing its trans community with ID cards, though it refuses to change the document’s gender column to complement that of the corresponding individual. “The system, both culture and government, tend to silence their voices just because these are the individuals who stand for their hope, ” Pieter says. “I wanted to make every single portrait a representation of what they feel, how they fight the particular obstacles in this difficult time, and exactly how they strengthen their solidarity. ”