Dough Sculpting the Java Way—


2017 / November

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Scott Faul

Traditional dough sculpture from China has its origins in the culture of sacrificial rites. The first forms were shaped from rice flour dough to take the place of animals, like pigs and fish, that people were no longer willing to kill as offerings. Today these figurines have evolved into collectible miniatures of all kinds, including animal motifs and cartoon characters. And now a migrant worker from Indonesia has not only learned this traditional folk art, but even infused it with themes from her own culture such as Javanese wedding attire or Gamelan musical instruments. Her exquisite and colorful dough sculptures are like glorious sparks released by the convergence of cultures.

During weekends and holidays in the main concourse of the Tai­pei Railway Station or at craft markets large and small around Tai­chung you are likely to come across this radiant young woman wearing a traditional ke­ru­dung. Clothed in Indonesian dress and speaking Bahasa Indonesia, her hands are occupied with a traditional folk craft popular in Taiwan, sculpting dough figures. Her name is Pindy Windy, a migrant worker from Indonesia. “This is a bride and groom in central Javanese wedding dress, and that is a scene from my childhood, riding to school on the back of a water buffalo across the rice paddies.” A good many people have been introduced to Indonesian culture through Pindy’s enthusiastic descriptions of her dough works.   

Leaving home

Pindy is the eldest daughter of a Central Javanese family. After graduating from high school she told her father that she wanted to help the family by working abroad. Her first stop was nearby Singapore, to practice English and gain some work experience. After a year she returned to Indonesia to study Chinese and to learn the proper skills for taking care of invalid patients and small children. Her next assignment was in Taiwan.

Pindy recounts her first work experience in Taiwan, “I took care of an elderly woman in Yilan without talking for six months.” Not having a very good command of Chinese, she feared saying the wrong thing and rarely opened her mouth to speak throughout her first half year in Taiwan. With the support of her employer, who suggested she watch Chinese-language television and encouraged her to speak out and learn by practice, along with her own active learning through reading and study, she eventually mastered Chinese and even understands Taiwanese.

She returned to Indonesia with her hard-earned savings after reaching the three-year limit under the regulations for migrant workers at that time. She stayed there for five years, during which time she got married and gave birth to two children. But what should have been a happy life back home ended in divorce. 

Losing all before finding dough

Pindy’s husband spent all her savings, making her a penniless single mom struggling to bring up two small children. She wanted a better life for her two-year-old toddler and less than a year old infant, and so she made the difficult choice to place them in the care of her own mother while she went to Taiwan for work. Pindy’s eyes well up with tears as she tells the story of parting from her children. 

This time in Taiwan, Pindy was once again assigned work as a caregiver, but what she didn’t anticipate was how a spell nursing her patient in a hospital would open the door on a whole new life.

In the neighboring bed an elderly woman was being attended to by her son, Young Ching­jen, a master in the art of dough sculpture. Young, who understood the endless hours of hard work that go into invalid care and had long been deeply committed to the issues of migrant workers, invited Pindy to take on dough sculpting as a leisure activity to help her unwind. 

At first Pindy just thought it was fun and didn’t consider her toy figures all that attractive. Through Young’s constant encouragement and her first attempts at crafting subjects from Indonesian culture, though, Pindy soon discovered a passion for the art form.

There are essentially five pigments used in dough sculpture: red, white, blue, yellow and black. In order to bring out the vivid colors of the traditional wedding attire worn in her native land, Pindy studied advanced color-mixing techniques with Young. For example, if she had a need for the color brown, she could make it by mixing yellow, red and black into the sculpting media. Colorful hues in a variety of shades and tones can all be achieved by adjusting the ratio of the basic colors used.

Pindy’s skillful hands have transformed subjects that combine memories of her local region with photos of Indonesia from all over, into dough sculptures. Her creations capture the distinctive essence of her native culture. The subject matter for Pindy’s creations is replenished from the deep wells of diverse cultural content that originates in the myriad islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

Kneading hope to share joy

Pindy doesn’t only make dough figures on request for friends, but has also gotten many of her migrant-work sisters involved in the craft. She relates how Indonesia also has a similar craft but the quality is not as good as Taiwan’s. If these minutely detailed and highly malleable dough miniatures were to incorporate Indonesian themes they would surely add to the appeal of Indonesia’s tourist destinations. Their contribution to employment opportunities within the country might also have a transformative effect upon the fate of her fellow Indonesians, currently forced to seek work overseas. With this in mind venues such as the Indonesian Economic and Trade Office in Taipei and Taichung’s ASEAN Square have welcomed educational visits by Pindy the dough sculptor. Even during holiday visits back to Indonesia she takes time out to promote her craft by teaching small children dough sculpting at kindergartens.

In April of this year, through the support of Taiwanese friends, Pindy organized a dough figurine exhibition, “Fingers Creating Brilliance,” in Tai­chung. At the invitation of the Tai­chung City Government she also organized an Indonesian Pageant at the city’s Bazaar Asia Tenggara (ASEAN Market) in August. The event showcased Indonesian fashion, music, dance and ethnic cuisine, successfully realizing ­Pindy’s hope of giving her Taiwan-based compatriots a stage to promote greater understanding of Indonesian culture amongst the people of Taiwan.   

Pindy’s passion for helping her fellow Indonesians has earned her the sobriquet of “teacher” amongst many of her country’s migrant workers in Taiwan. In the view of  Young Ching­jen, Pindy’s determination and focused effort have resulted in unique works that stand out from the crowd. For the future, Pindy will continue to promote dough sculpture in both countries, with plans in the future to open a small shop in Indonesia. When viewing Pindy’s extreme focus and confidence in sculpting dough we can see in her an example of unfettered hope.





文‧陳群芳 圖‧林格立























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