“Velvet butterflies” comes from a body of work about my 6 years documentation of the waria community in Jakarta, Indonesia. Waria is an umbrella word for transgender and transvestite women, coming from the merging of wanita (woman) and pria (man). Waria are born in a male body but they feel to have a female soul. In traditional local culture, such as the Bugis in South Sulawesi, waria people were one of the four genders and were highly considered in the society as wise people to ask for advices on life experiences. With the coming of western cultures and monotheistic religions, waria people became more and more marginalized and stigmatized until today where they occupy the lowest level of the society.
My vision changed over the course of the years as changed my perception and understanding of waria people. The very first day I met Mami Yuli, the leader of the community, I felt repulsed. I was ashamed of myself for having had this feeling but I wasn’t able to codify her and that was destabilizing. I felt confused. I felt puzzled. I felt uncomfortable.
But I was curious.
I felt intrigued by her diversity. I’ve got obsessed by her nature and I started to dream about her transformation. She took me on a journey inside the waria community and I took a journey inside me. That is why my personal experience had to be part of this narrative.
Visually, I’ve edited on a purple background the staged pictures because this is the colour that comes to my mind when thinking of velvet. Purple comes also from the merging of two colors: red which represents the physicality/body and blu which represents the spirituality/soul.
‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ ‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’ ‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ―
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass