We recently met Wulan Mei Lina, a 31-year-old photographer who takes erotic pictures in Indonesia, one of the World's least sex-friendly places. From what we can tell, Indonesians hate sex in general, but they are particularly averse to the the fun, whips and dildos and random partner kind, so it's a tough place for people like her--who are into S&M and drinking and taking photos of naked people--to live.
There have been two Indonesian sex "scandals" recently. The editor of Playboy's Indonesian edition is probably going to be thrown in jail for publishing the magazine over there (a rather important side note is that the Indonesian edition of Playboy doesn't have nudity in it), and a pop singer named Ariel is awaiting trial because his private sex tape was stolen and sold all over the country. Those types of insane judicial actions are just one way the predominantly Muslim government shows off its firm dedication to the chaste ideals of ultra-conservative Islam.
Wulan is in Holland right now because she's exhibiting her photos in gallery HAAGS in The Hague. We met up with her for a chat about her work and what it's like to take sexy pictures in Indonesia.
Vice: Hello Wulan, where are you from?
Wulan: I’m from the city of Surabaya, on the island of Java. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia, but it's not very free. There are too many Muslims. It's very conservative.
Were you raised conservatively?
My mother is from a military family. On her side my grandfather was a commandant in the army, but he's dead. On my father's side my grandfather was an imam. I come from a Muslim family originally, but when I was a kid my mother converted to Christianity.
Your father too?
No, my father and my mother fought every day. My dad would kick me out of the house if I did things that didn't go along with the Muslim faith. It wasn't harmonious at that time, but eventually my father joined my mother in her beliefs--he's a Christian now and they’re living happily. He's actually a fanatical Christian now.
Yeah, it's funny. I'm not really religious though, I don't care about that. It's just for my identity.
Christianity helps you with that?
No, in Indonesia when you fill out your identity papers you need a religion--for a passport or anything. They won't give you a passport if you don't have a religion, but it's only a piece of paper.
You're not a religious person?
No, I don't give a shit. My sisters, like my father, are fanatical Christians. Only my brother and younger sister are still Muslim.
Once you got older, did you go away to school?
That time was really difficult for me because I was the eldest of two sisters and one brother. We're not rich, so I was working and going to school at the same time. It was really heavy for me. I started working when I was 13 or 14.
What did you do?
I sold make up. I was only two years into high school at the time, and I never finished because I didn't have enough money.
Then you started working full-time?
No, I'm very naughty in that area. I never listened to my parents because they weren't harmonious--they didn't get along. I was always going out and hanging out with friends on the street, doing gangster stuff.
Gangster stuff. In my city there's always one group fighting with another over something, you know.
What's the name of the group?
We didn’t have a name, but people called us Bonex. It's a typical Surabaya term. It means you're not scared of anything.
It's like an attitude.
Yeah. You're never scared of anything.
What kind of stuff did you do?
We raced motor bikes a lot. In the end, I had two or three accidents. I still have a scar on my face from one of the accidents. Mostly we were just a group that liked to hang out together. It was just territorial stuff. We hung out on the streets drinking, smoking, and doing drugs.
What kind of drugs?
Anything. Cocaine, hash, heroin, ecstasy, shabu (crystal), whatever, but I quit drugs when I was 19. In Indonesia they're amateurs. They try and act out stuff they see in gangster movies. They want to be like that, but that culture isn't strong enough to overcome the established traditions. Indonesians are very traditional, so the youth have to act a certain way in front of their families, but when they go out they’re very different. We hide something from our families. We pretend.
People pretend to be devoutly religious?
Yes, in my city, for example, you have to pray everyday to show you are a good person. Also, you can't have sex before you're married.
But it still happens.
They don't provide good sexual education there. When I was a teenager I was sitting on the street outside my neighbor's house, and my dad said, "Why are you sitting on the street like that? You look like a slut." Girls have to be at home there. When I was a little older the country became a bit more modernized, but it's still traditional.
Are you able to stay afloat being a full-time photographer.
Yes, I do my art and I'm a commercial photographer. I started out by modeling for a French photographer named Nathalie when I was 18. That's where I started, and after that I was just thinking, "No, I don't like to be in front of the camera, I want to be behind it." As a kid I loved taking pictures of things. I always took the cameras of friends who were visiting because my parents couldn't afford them. I got my first camera when I was 23, and I took pictures of my husband and child. After that I started working as a photographer.
What kind of stuff were you doing at that time? Were you still selling make up?
No, I stopped selling make up. I liked drawing and selling clothes. I'm a clothing designer as well.
Yes, you sew your own clothing, that's impressive.
Yes, I wear my own designs. I like going out to the clubs to show off my clothing. It's the same as photography--it all started as a hobby. I like glamour and sexy stuff. I'm very skinny--even in Indonesia I couldn't find anything in my size, so I started designing and making my own clothing. I make my own shoes too.
How did you make the jump from taking pictures of your husband and daughter to erotic photography?
I love sexy things, Gothic style, and S&M. I consider all of those things a bit of a fantasy, and I just express my fantasy in my photography.
When was the first time you shot a girl?
I took a picture of my best friend in 2003 or 2004. She let me take her picture because I was still learning at that time. From there I started to explore my fantasy with high heels and other designs.
Did you do all the styling and everything yourself? Did you dress her in your own clothing?
Yes, I was doing everything alone. Even now I do everything by myself.
When did you discover the type of style you like?
I've always loved sexy things, but being from Indonesia I never saw much of it. When I married my French husband, I told him that. He showed me clothing from boutiques in Paris--it was nice and very sexy. When I saw high heels for the first time I really loved them. I really like latex and fetish stuff too, but there's no latex in Bali, so my husband brought stuff from Paris.
So you started with your best friend, how did it progress from there?
It went from friend to friend. I always liked going out, so I found girls in clubs and asked them to follow me. I looked for open minded people, and making them take off their clothing was very difficult in the beginning. Luckily, I'm a woman, so I can just talk to them and make them comfortable.
Did you ever get into trouble for the type of photos you shot?
I had an exhibition in a restaurant in Bali because it wasn't possible to do it in a gallery. At that time they were very serious about Muslim law, but still, almost 200 people came to the exhibition. I made a performance as well--S&M with whips and bondage stuff. During the show two police officers came to the restaurant, but the owner was my friend so he just gave them some money under the table and sent them away.
Otherwise you would've gone to jail?
Yes. Now there's a new law and it’s even worse. The radical Muslims are controlling Indonesia. My government has a new law now--you cannot express yourself anymore. With the new law, even tank tops and miniskirts are not allowed. You can't kiss your friend or boyfriend in public. If you do, you can get five years in prison.
That's not good.
Luckily I'm living in Bali, and all the painters, sculptors, and photographers live there. They're very angry with the new law. It also creates a problem for tourism, because tourists love to wear bikinis on the beach. So the new law prevents tourists from coming, but we're fighting for our rights.
Demonstrations. Bali is small, but Balinese people might want to separate from Indonesia if the law doesn't change. Ariel, the famous musician is in jail right now because he made a sex video with his girlfriend.
I heard, what do you think of that?
It's stupid. It's ridiculous.
What about the editor of Playboy getting arrested?
Ridiculous, there wasn't even any nudity in the pictures. It's only because it's Playboy magazine. It's an American magazine, and the radicals hate America. He was arrested because of the name.
Have you ever been arrested?
No, I haven't been harassed yet, but I might be very soon because the country is getting more conservative due to the new Muslim rule. I was very provocative and loud before, but now I behave a bit more carefully.
In what way?
I’m an open book, I don't care what people think--but now I have to be careful with my attitude. It's very dangerous now. I have a husband and a daughter. If I was alone I wouldn’t care.
Can you work now?
Yes, but it’s very hard to find models.
What do you do with the pictures you shoot? You can't sell them or show them anywhere in Indonesia right now.
I’ve never sold any of my nude pictures in Indonesia or anywhere else. This is the first time I’ve traveled to another country to show my pictures, that’s why I'm so happy about this.
How did you get in touch with the gallery?
My husband took me to Paris and got me in touch with someone from Liberation, a newspaper that he has worked for in the past. The editor of Liberation knew someone in Holland, who gave me the number of a Dutch photographer, Chris de Bode. Then Chris De Bode gave me the number of the gallery and helped me contact them.
What's the most fun erotic fashion shoot you've ever had?
There are three models who I really love to work with. These models can play with me, with my fantasy, and they take their clothes off without having to be asked.
Aren’t you afraid they’ll get into trouble because of you?
Yes, if I get into trouble they will have a problem as well. That’s why I have to be so careful.
Do you think you’re an example for other women in Indonesia? Are you a role model?
Women can’t express themselves because of their background. For example, I found a really open-minded model who loved being whipped with bondage and everything else, but there aren’t many like her. Other girls really love lesbian stuff, like threesomes for example, but it’s all very secretive.
Are you a lesbian?
I'm bisexual, but I don’t do it with women anymore.
I’m done with women. They are jealous control freaks and that's just too much for me. When I go out with my man or my best friend they get really jealous. I don’t want to waste my time on that.
JAN VAN TIENEN