David Metcalf in Borneo
Photography is an increasingly accessible medium, with all the progress in technology cameras are constantly getting better and are arguably getting more and more affordable. Even without the use of more traditional cameras, with the smartphones that most of us have we can easily and quickly take pictures and share them online. With the advent of the internet and the rise of social media we are constantly fed a stream of photographic content; people documenting their lives and the things they see. Many do it for fun, many do it for the ‘likes’ and to be popular… some do it for the art, while some do it because it matters…
David Metcalf was born in Wellington, New Zealand but is now residing in Bali, Indonesia. David is a photographer who has a lot under his belt; holds regular photography exhibitions and he has authored three cultural photography books. Having stayed in Indonesia and visited Kalimantan regularly over the years David has grown quite a fascination and deep connection to the Dayak people of Kalimantan.
His current project involves documenting the indigenous Dayak people of Kalimantan through still photography and film making using social media, exhibitions, talks, magazines and books as medium to display his work. David sees that the Dayak culture is under threat and it’s not hard to see why; modernisation, displacement due to development, deforestation, and cultural appropriation… the traditional way of life of the Dayak people and its unique culture is slowly disappearing. David’s work is his way of doing something about it.
Through his work he brings his fascination and sense of deep connection to the world, inviting people to see the Dayak people through his eyes by bringing people to visit ancient cultures, exotic locations and experience life as a Dayak in the Borneo heartland. His desire is to help and document the Dayak not just for the awareness of their plight but also to contribute in a positive way to the Dayak community by giving back to them through supporting various educational eco-programs and sustainable solutions.
David views his project not so much as a choice but as a duty that he must do, for him he was chosen for the job. For him the preservation of the culture of the Dayak people matters, and because of that his work matters…
We recently had an interview with David to ask him about his project where we found out why he why he does it and why he is passionate about what he does. Most importantly we found out why his work matters. The following is the interview we went through with David Metcalf.
Interview with David Metcalf
B: Borneo Art Collective
DM: David Metcalf
B: Could you describe your photography project in brief?
DM: My project is to document the Dayak tribes of Borneo, through still photography and Film making, but mostly still photography via social media, exhibitions, talks, magazines and books.
B: Why did you start this project?
DM: I started this project 4 years ago when I started to visit Kalimantan on a regular basis, I was immediately fascinated by the Dayak people and I could see their culture under threat and decided to do something about it. The way for me to express this was through my creative expression of photography.
B: Who/what influenced you to begin this project?
DM: I have had a fascination and respect for a long time for Edward Curtis who devoted 50 years of his life to documenting the Native American Cultures from around the turn of the century. I was inspired by his passion and love of these indigenous people, and from the moment I first visited the beautiful island of Borneo I felt a strong soul connection and affinity with these people, many whom have become good friends.
There is really was no choice, I was chosen.
B: What was on your radar when you were creating this project?
DM: To capture through my eyes what represented the Dayak people to me. I think these kinds of things are very personal as you tend to become part of the place as you immerse yourself into the world of these people whom I admire so much. The Original forests and the deep connection the traditional Dayak people have with the land was a good starting point. But from this so much more has evolved. Unfortunately there are many sad stories especially in Central Kalimantan where there has been massive environmental and cultural destruction. But I try to concentrate on the positives and capture the beauty of the tribes, which is not difficult.
B: Where do you see your platform evolving in the near future? What are you busy working on at the moment?
DM: I am visiting as many traditional cultural ceremonies as possible to learn and photograph. Two weeks ago I spent 5 days at a Tiwah (Death Ritual) witnessing shaman calling in the spirits of the dead, and so happy to see this aspect of the culture still very much alive.
I am also writing and gathering more material and knowledge. So much to learn to get to understand the Dayak people more. They are deeply spiritual and strongly connected in powerful ways, and I don’t know a lot about this.
We plan to finish our 90 minute documentary film Long Saan – the journey back by October, which is beautifully shot by film producer Erick Est and take this around Indonesia and the world. The film is a sad but beautiful story about the return of a Dayak man to the home of his ancestors deep in the heart of the forest, and connection with his mother who dies there when he was a young boy.
I also plan more photography exhibitions and talks.
B: How do you see Borneo art community at the moment?
DM: Very disorganized but lots of talent. In terms of photography many towns have young groups of very keen photographers but they get no teaching or training really. Early days in many ways, but perhaps what I am doing will be an inspiration to them.
In terms of Dance the culture is very alive and active. Palangkaraya is the center of dance for Central Kalimantan and some of the best dancers in Indonesia without doubt. The young children are well trained and taught about their culture this way, through traditional dance.
It would be wonderful to have a centre of Kalimantan art which could bring people together.
B: How could people access your project/group at the moment? Is there any public participation/volunteer you allow in your project/group?
The Spirit of the Hornbills is a dance academy I support in Palangkaraya and we encourage anyone interested in dance or music to become involved.
The hornbills are involved in my cultural revitalization program in two villages near Palangkaraya, where young Dayak kids who have had opportunities before are now dancing and gaining their culture back this way.
Wisdom of the Elders Story telling program has just started and we are on the search of Dayak stories, especially from the elders who have so much and wisdom to offer. We want to get these stories into the ears of the children.
Ranu Welam a group of young committed Dayak activists determined to save their forests, support the communities and give the youth a voice. This is fantastic grassroots work and really starting to make a difference.
B: Please recommend three stories/projects/individuals/groups that we should reach out to in order to expand the Borneo Art Collective network.
DM: Spirit of the Hornbills Dance Academy
B: What would be your message to aspiring fellow Borneo Artist/Art Community?
DM: Be proud of your culture, but do something about it. Encourage young people to learn and speak their Dayak languages, bring back tattoo art, take your interest and talent for Dayak culture and express it to the world, don’t be shy. Get more creative. Get out into the villages and support the communities and bring back the culture which has been exploited and damaged from outside vested interests who care nothing for the Dayak people and environment.