Fejos Postdoctoral Fellow: Aryo Danusiri

We're very excited to share the following trailer and blogpost from Aryo Danusiri who in 2021 was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film to aid filming, "The Underside".

FPI (Islamic Defender Front) is one sign of trouble in post-Suharto Indonesia. Self-identified as an Islamic moral guardian, FPI is infamous for being actively involved in various violent practices. THE UNDERSIDE is a feature-length documentary based on year-long research with a camera on urban space, political violence, and Muslim subjectivity. It is a coming-of-age portrait of Sahrul, transitioning from finishing high school to entering the labor world. He lives under a toll road in a Jakartan urban village whose inhabitants are predominantly FPI supporters. His family encourages him to be an FPI sympathizer, hoping it will help make him a good Muslim. The film follows the affective process of Sahrul as he learns about labor, piety, and maturity.

I posit this film as another chapter of my dissertation. It means that the film is not a projection or visualization of what I have written in the textual dissertation. I argue that video camera produces a different composition of knowledge than textual. Visuality produces sensuous knowledge about the subjects and their social worlds. In their project of world-making, it is often that words could only capture what the subjects have said in everyday situations. What a video camera could reveal is the spaces that lie between words. But a video camera is a medium that can capture that sensuous knowledge independently. It requires anthropologists or filmmakers whose skills make it possible to “correspond” (Ingold, 2014) with the subjects/actors.

I frame my film as contributing to knowledge about the Islamic movement from the followers’ perspective. Suppose the textual dissertation gives perspectives of the movement from the level of the movement’s organizations (majelis ta’lim). In that case, the film then gives perspective from the group level of the everyday life of Sahrul and his family. The problem is that the reader/audience of this project representation might be interested to see the role of the movement (the FPI) in the life of Sahrul. The movement’s position is not dominant. The challenge is to mediate the presence of Sahrul’s involvement with the movement without giving the impression that it takes up significant space in his life.

By posting FPI in the story’s background, as it comes late in the timeline, I expect to make visible my argument that followers of any movement are not following the movement with the wholeness of their lives. The movement might be part of their world-making process, but it does not necessarily at the central position continuously. This is the challenge of the film project and the dissertation project entirely. In the textual dissertation, I attempted to highlight the incoherency between groups in the movement, while in the film, I highlighted it by making multiple statuses of Sahrul being amplified.

I had a chance to screen my rough cut to anthropologists at Stockholm University in May 2022. The response was positive as they could get my “message” that this work is about Sahrul’s coming-of-age story rather than Sahrul-FPI’s immediate connection. I found some questions regarding my shooting process interesting because many anthropologists still think that making a film is about shooting a subject as representative of a community rather than positing a subject as a particular actor. I shared my experience searching for Sahrul and his family as one of the challenging parts of the production.