Restoring the Nation’s Image through Words, Taste, and Pictures

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In the midst of sharp criticism and insults against the people of Indonesia, there is a need to restore the nation’s image. We are already quite embarrassed and disgusted by the news about the political conflict, corruption, crime, misguided law enforcement and discriminatory, low quality of the politicians, and so on, which are already too full of negative messages about Indonesia. Take a look at cases such as the controversial capital punishment, (still) about the corruption eradication commission and the police, the parliaments that are being further from the people’s aspirations, internal war in political parties, and so on.

On the other hand, we are also aware that democracy is not a smooth process, it is dynamic and full of interests, but that does not mean we should become permissive and stand idly by the situation. When the state and the government have tarnished the good image of the nation in such a way, it is time for civil society through activism both through the individual and collective initiatives to encourage efforts to improve the nation’s image. Government’s failure and bad image, which came from the government’s policies that were not wise and should always be criticized, not necessarily become the character of the Indonesian in general. This is precisely the mission of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, which will be held on 13 to 18 October.

In the most important book fair in the world that will feature the best books from 100 countries, Indonesia will be the guest of honor. Here we are talking about the opportunity to ‘re-brand’ Indonesia in international point of view, promote Indonesia through the work of the people, in the form of text, illustrations, and rich culinary flavor of Indonesia. Frankfurt Book Fair is a strategic event for Indonesia to discuss and communicate creatively and critically about Indonesia and how it feels to be an Indonesian. The most important thing is that the exhibition is also an event of public diplomacy that is not only prestigious but also crucial to restoring the nation’s image which has been deteriorating and sinking.

There is something wrong when we know how rich and diverse Indonesia is, from its historical heritage, cultural and natural sources, as well as the work of its people, but we cannot do much about it through creative, proactive, and optimal joint efforts, especially for the international community. This is the face of Indonesia that should proudly show to the world. The Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 will translate the joint efforts with the theme of ‘17.000 Islands of Imagination’. This unique and exciting theme also reflects the freedom of expression for the exhibitors to ‘sell’ the message from their home country to the international community.

Indonesia through the theme of heritage richness of Indonesian and diverse imagination of Indonesia seeks to encourage reading and writing campaign, and will have a personal and unlimited approach through the seven ‘islands’ or exhibition space for Indonesia, which will reflect Indonesia and bring a first-hand experience of being an Indonesian. There will be the “Island of Words” to display the featured Indonesian books; “Island of Spices” to pamper the visitors’ taste buds with a taste of Indonesia; “Island of Scene” to demonstrate the art of Indonesian music; “Island of Parchment” to show Indonesia’s ancient scripts in the form of replicas; “Island of Tales” to introduce Indonesian children’s bedtime stories with an illustration in the form of lanterns surrounding the island, and there is also the “Island of Images”, and “Island of Inquiry” is dedicated to those interested in Indonesia’s digital products in the form of science programs and data on the culture of the country. This is precisely described in a press conference on 30 April, from the Committee for Design, Pavilion, and Exhibition Space for Indonesia.

The theme ‘17.000 Islands of Imagination’ can also be interpreted broadly as ‘Islands of Ideas, Opportunity, Creativity, Achievement, and Hopes’, all of which are set out and coming from the creative, bold, and cross-border ideas. This is where freedom of speech realized. The ideas were supported by many parties, not only from the government and the elite of intellectuals or artists, but also those who have the desire and ability to participate in the exhibition with brilliant ideas. This exhibition is a joint effort and collaboration from various parties. Through this exhibition, Indonesia will present a diverse heritage of books, art, illustrations, history, knowledge, and also culinary. The theme is also guaranteed to give you a different feeling from the book fair in general, due to Indonesian rich and diverse heritage will be ‘exhibited’ in such a way that will attract the attention of visitors to the prestigious exhibition in Frankfurt.

As the public diplomacy efforts are understood as an attempt to influence the point of view and opinion from the audiences from other countries which also involve non-state actors, as well as a form of ‘soft power’ in international relations as introduced by Joseph Nye, Professor of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, an exhibition like this should be seen as a long-term strategic investment and the contribution of various stakeholders, which needs to keep on going. For example, in the case of the translation of books, film screenings, involvement in exhibitions, festivals, seminars, et cetera to optimize the implementation of public diplomacy.

As described by Ayu Utami, one of the authors who will be displaying her works at the exhibition, there needs to be a consistent effort to display the works of Indonesian writers to the international community. Ayu also stressed that this exhibition is a strategic event to show that Indonesia would like the world to hear our voice and thoughts. This also reminds us of a very important and fundamental statement from Benjamin Franklin (1722), “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” It is with a great hope that the books exhibition under the theme of ’17.000 Islands of Imagination’ would be a form of public diplomacy that is not only attractive but also comprehensive with a variety of displays and activities, so as to encourage a better impression and wise opinions about Indonesia.

Therefore, freedom of expression has to be protected and exercised to support public diplomacy. Frankfurt Book Fair is a strategic opportunity and an important recognition for Indonesia, not only considering the fame of Indonesian archipelago with dense population in the world, but also the ‘big brother’ in Southeast Asia, and also recognition of the work of the people at the international level.

An event such as the Frankfurt Book Fair is very important, because this exhibition is a prestigious opportunity to introduce literary and other kinds of works from the Indonesians to the international community. Furthermore, the exhibition also strategically targets the international publishers to help promote the nation’s masterpieces. Public diplomacy requires this kind of activities to introduce and promote Indonesia continuously. This exhibition will also provide an opportunity, honor, and freedom for Indonesia to restore the image of the nation, especially through words, taste, and pictures, with works and messages that are more positive, friendly, colorful, and riveting about Indonesia.