Finding the Ground and Pushing Boundaries

Bustling but tranquile, modern but grounding. Bali is a complex island that holds a space for people who flee for freedom; less glamorous demand for those who come from Jakarta and less conservative thoughts for those who come from other small cities. It’s easier to express yourself in Bali, but that doesn’t change the fact that women still have to question their space – just like anywhere else.

This need of a safe space is what drove five women of Lingkaran Surasavati. Priscilla, Gek Sri, Dewi, Wicitra, and Valen. They all come from different places and backgrounds, each carrying stories and experiences.

“It took a journey for me to realize that I was in a toxic circle; of being belittled as a woman and not having enough support”, said Dewi.

Lingkaran Surasavati is a community for women to hold a safe-space, to support each other without jealousy and envy, and to have each other’s back.

Q:What is the vision of Lingkaran Surasavati
Lingkaran Surasavati is a support-system and a platform for women by women. For now, we start as a network for women in creative space in Bali. That’s because that’s our closest reach. But, we’re aiming to reach a wider community.
Dewi: It’s not limited to creative scope, because we aim to hold a place for every woman. From our closest circle, our friends’ friends, and even to the grassroot communities. We make space for women to participate in this system that’s very patriarchal. There is gender inequality that we see on a daily basis and we want to shake that_

Q: What are the challenges have you found for this journey?

Priscilla: The challenge for inequality comes from the system and sometimes it comes
from women too. We envy each other’s success and beauty. We talk behind each other’s back. It feels like there’s no one to assure you that you’re safe. We want to change that through Lingkaran Surasavati.

Wicitra: So we start from the basics first. Sisterhood. We make sure that you can be open here, you’re welcome to be honest and to be true. Let’s create good energy.

Dewi: It’s not limited to creative scope, because we aim to hold a place for every woman. From our closest circle, our friends’ friends, and even to the grassroot communities. We make space for women to participate in this system that’s very patriarchal. There is gender inequality that we see on a daily basis and we want to shake that.

Q: Tell us about the event that you held last month, Pekan Melekat.
What was the hope behind this?

Valen: The event was an introduction to people. We’ve never formally introduced ourselves. Aside from that, we wanted to have awareness for this issue on gender and we wanted to make space for women.

Q: Any interesting moment from Pekan Melekat?

Geksri: Oh, it was difficult to find the right time. There was not much time available for us. It was right after Nyepi, but also in between the other ceremonial events. We weren’t sure if many people would come because of this and we also didn’t have that much connection. We worried if nobody would come.

Dewi: It was unbelievable. We didn’t know that it was a big event.

Priscila: Yeah, the energy was out of this world. It was beautiful to see women having the power to just be the best version of themselves; to perform, to make art, to sell their products from their small business. It was my first time to see a poetry reading. I experience so many new things and got the chance to meet inspiring people.

Wicitra: We tried to make the event as inclusive as possible. Just because the organizer, performers, and tenants are women, it doesn’t mean that men cannot attend this event.

Q: How do you guys see Lingkaran Surasavati in the future?

Dewi: We want to reach the women that are so vital in Bali, but often overlooked. Like farmers and wives of the Banjar heads. Women who are at the forefront.

Q: What’s the moment where you feel empowered?

Geksri: The moment I see my grandma. She’s my inspiration.
I adore her so much. She’s the matriarch of the family. She never learned architecture formally, but she has led the family by doing what she does the best; traditional Balinese architecture.
I remember that time when she gave me Lego as a present because she noticed that I love drawing. Everything about her empowers me.

Wicitra: Moments like this. Having this conversation is empowering. Having somebody to look up to like my mother and my grandmother makes me feel empowered. Seeing how they raised me, having friends who are always there for me, that’s also empowering.

Priscila: I’ve been alone in my journey. But in one moment, I realized that I cannot rely on anyone else. As a woman, I have to be strong and I’m going to be strong for myself. But, what I see around me is there are many women who talk shit behind each other’s back. I don’t want to be in that circle. I might not have a role model to support me. To me, being a woman empowers me.

Valen: Somehow I couldn’t find any exact moment for this. I was born into a family with 5 daughters, then I started to do projects with women as well. But I wasn’t aware of the idea of empowering each other. It was at that moment when I realized that my young sisters will look upon someone one day because I’ve met amazing women; my older sisters, mentors, and collaborators I’ve crossed paths with. Another moment was when I was in touch with a friend again after having not connected for a while. We had a misunderstanding but after we came over it, we realized that we could do something impactful if we worked together. That was empowering for me.

Dewi: For me, it was that moment when I stepped out of a toxic environment. Before that, I didn’t know that I was not in the environment that supported me. Now, I choose friends that support me, friends that accept me, and friends that let me speak up. It is essential to choose your circle. Now, I feel empowered being surrounded by my friends who support what I do and push me to pursue my dreams. Not just friends, but also work environments. I experienced a patriarchal system in my previous work, but I found a new experience when I moved to my current work. It was here where I could see myself how being supported feels like.

Q: What does being an Indonesian woman mean to each of you?

Dewi: To me, being a woman is for us to balance our senses of being a woman. Being an Indonesian woman means not to be stripped off of our culture; to know how to put yourself in different cultural contexts. Not just blindly putting modern feminism into our perspective. Being an Indonesian woman is very interesting, we’re on that crossing path to love our culture that is rooted in patriarchy and at the same time, push those cultural boundaries.

“To love the culture, but also not being restricted by the culture.”

Geksri: I agree with Dewi’s statement. What we, Indonesian women, understand as feminism has different priority and value to feminism based in the West. So being an Indonesian woman is very complex; the role, the priority, everything.

Valen: Indonesian woman is a woman that understands various cultural values, a woman that realizes the capacity of other women, and a woman that works together with others.

Priscila: In every woman, there’s her own story, journey, background, and culture. We carry it in our bodies. Being an Indonesian woman means carrying a story that cannot be the same from the others because of the cultural and social backgrounds, and that to me is a beautiful thing.

Wicitra: As said, being an Indonesian woman means you’re walking on your own cultural path. It was something that I couldn’t see before. I used to see things from a foreign perspective, but it’s impossible to use that perspective as an Indonesian. As an Indonesian woman, I’m experiencing things through various paths. I’m a Balinese of a Chinese-descent and I have to walk in both paths at the same time. Somehow, thkat makes you both flexible and confused when facing something, but that’s why we’re here to learn.

For Lingkaran Surasavati, the circle keeps growing, the space keeps expanding. It’s a community where everybody is welcomed and appreciated. It’s a space where they stay grounded with cultural wisdom without tying themselves into it.