Influenced by the cultural milieu of inter-ethnic relations in Indonesia, my work explores intricate and complicated layers of selfhood in the context of cultural background, intimacy, sexual preference, and personal displacement. By utilizing photography, video, and elements of performance and installation (and through the use of personal narrative and storytelling), my work challenges and deconstructs the perspective we use to scrutinize and observe our roles in a transnational, global world.

My work in Indonesia allows me to speak about social unrest locally and globally. It gives me the opportunity to work with my family and host conversations with students and local youth about self-identity, discrimination, misleading notions of social superiority, and collective trauma. These conversations manifest themselves in photographic documents that reveal underlying power dynamics and the complexities of a diverse society. These photographs are the stage where they act out their fears, hopes, joys, frustrations, and skepticism. Photography becomes an exercise in recognizing autonomy through participation. It is important that I don’t make photographs that socially profile my subjects and further strip their sense of their autonomy. Most importantly, my work is an open letter to the President of my home country and all bigots in the world.

—Leonard Suryajaya

Editor’s Note: Suryajaya’s project “Precariat” will be on view at the Hyde Park Art Center until March 12, 2017, and “Chicago: People, Places, Possibilities” will be on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until April 9, 2017. Suryajaya is currently an Artist in Residence at Mana Contemporary Chicago.

This project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016—don’t miss the work from all 50 of these outstanding, international talents!

If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: Double Je, portraits that play with notions of identity and performance through bizarre juxtapositions; Traces, vintage family scenes that have been repurposed into disconcerting images of youth and family life; and Waria, an look at Indonesia’s transgender community.