Diego Zapatero (1982) lives in the city of Yogyakarta, the cultural cradle of Indonesia.In his work he travels Southeast Asia to seek out the deepest and most genuine stories to substantiate his photo documentary projects. While still in Spain, at the age of 25, he migrated into photographic work from a background as a pianist and composer after a career in marketing and business administration. He was led progressively towards his passion for cultural exploration; something inherited in his veins, at the same time pushed by a keen interest in Indonesian culture.
In 2010 he was sent from Spain on a two month mission to cover the eruption of the 9.600 feet tall Merapi Volcano on the island Java in Indonesia, one of the world s most active volcanoes. He found an ideal base in the city of Yogyakarta where he was fortunate enough to be offered a scholarship for three years at the Indonesian Institute of Arts in photojournalism and documentary photography, focusing on visualization of human stories and Indonesian culture.
Zapatero has since taken an interest in the intangible about cultures in Asia. Whether, through his projects, capturing a tattoo on a tribal body in remote parts of Borneo or a traditional dance character in full paraphernalia in densely populated Java, there is more to his photos than meets the eye at first glimpse.
Many manifestations of cultural heritage needs to be put and seen in the light of sometimes thousands of years of continuous evolution, interpretation and reinterpretation, as to even remotely fathom the depth of the characters and their current appearance.
Patrick Vanhoebrouck is a Belgian anthropologist and researcher specializing in Javanese culture and spiritual practices of kejawen/kebatinan mysticism. He first came to live in Yogyakarta in 1997 and has been a regular visitor and resident since then. The topic of the Panji stories and its artistic manifestation through the medium of the topeng especially has been a personal passion for him since those initial years in Java. Through a few museum collection researches and scrutinizing existing literature on the topic he acquired a certain expertise that was necessary in later field observations.
The main question was to identify current surviving groups of topeng dancers and mask makers still adhering to the pakem (traditional standard) in the DIY Province and explain issues of struggle and revival related to the topeng dalang existence amongst the Javanese village communities outside of Yogyakarta city. The occasion presented itself to collaborate with Diego Zapatero to present a visual work addressing the above mentioned issues concerning this fast disappearing performance. Patrick helped Diego identify some of the local stakeholders and shared older and more recent background texts by anthropology, history and literature scholars from the colonial Dutch period and later research papers.
This collaboration stimulated Diego to take it upon himself to deepen himself in this performance and select the perfect angle and approach towards the remaining traces of topeng in the Province, especially in the Bantul and Gunung Kidul sub-districts. The Panji cycle of stories and anecdotes on the topeng art is a vast field of information, too much to mention here. References for further reading may help to give the interested audience more meaning to the selected pictures by Diego Zapatero. Thank you thus far for your consideration and interest in our work and this ancient endangered Javanese performance.
Narve Rio is a Norwegian who chose Asia as his home and workplace. Since 1997 he has been working with research and development aid projects in South, Southeast and East Asia. For more than 6 of these years he has lived in Indonesia; on Java, Bali and Kalimantan. Just as Diego and Patrick he is currently based in the city of Yogyakarta located very centrally on the island of Java, where the air is still thick with cultural and historical traditions.
Quite a few expats in Yogyakarta are involved in the cultural scene, amongst whom you find everything from scholars through painters and sculptors to dance and music students. It was unavoidable that Rio’s path would at some point cross with those of Diego and Patrick. By chance, at the time they eventually met, Rio was about to start a documentary project on Borneo, and invited Diego to join in order to get top-notch photography to complement a text on the expedition. Diego was all in for it, and an informal partnership in text and photo was created, easy as that.
Rio was also not difficult to convince when later asked to have a go at some text parts for the Panji photography project. Already a frequent visitor to the area of the project villages over three years, the background material had a familiar ring to him. It is therefore his hope that his modest contribution to the project through a simple text can make Diego’s and Patrick’s work accessible to a wider audience. Javanese culture will never cease to fascinate the world, but in a rapidly changing society such as the Indonesian Republic, some of the traditions might well benefit from Diego’s efforts in photographic documentation to shed a new media light over these gems of world heritage.