22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Afrizal Malna

Portrait Afrizal Malna
© Hartwig Klappert

Afrizal Malna was born in 1957 in Jakarta, where he still lives today. He elected not to finish his philosophy studies at Driyakara College. The archaic body becomes his primary confirmation in facing any representations derived from meaning. He researches the material aspects from our existence by focusing on everyday objects in a new, seemingly chaotic context of meaning, reflected in poem titles like »Anthropology of Coca-Cola Cans«, »Red Fanta for the Gods« and »Migrating from the Bathroom«. This apparent linguistic gimmickry does, in fact, have a serious side: In January of 1974, security forces searched Afrizal Malna’s home during student protests against Suharto’s »New Order« doctrine. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was active in the avant-garde Sae Theater, which gave disenfranchised individuals a voice through its fanciful performances. He was a co-founder of the activist group »Urban Poor Consortium«, which aims to put the existence of poor people in the city onto the agenda of national political and economic policies.

In 2012, the poet Ulrike Draesner met Afrizal Malna and translated some of his poems into German in collaboration with Katrin Bandel. For example, a poem that appeared in 1995 in » English lesson on body weight«: »’scuse me, have you seen my body weight? So you want to write an essay, do you? About culture? Something like political and economic analyses. You’re sure to hurt your hand that way.« By his own account, Malna employs this confrontational method to create a »visual grammar of things«. His poetry seems to reveal hidden connections between things, thriving on syncopated rhythms and stylistic fractures. In many cases, commodities undergo metamorphoses and take on political symbolism as in »The Red Typewriter«: »I want to pawn this typewriter, Mister. I need money to pay the electricity bill and milk for the two dogs at home. This typewriter doesn’t need electricity or gasoline. Don’t worry about the bankrupt markets inside this typewriter, Mister.« Afrizal Malna periodically revises even already published poems. He also writes theater reviews, short stories and has published two volumes of prose. His poetry collection »Teman – Temanku dari Atap Bahasa« (tr. My Friends from the Roof of Language) was honoured as the best literary work of the year in 2009 by the Indonesian news magazine »Tempo«.

Afrizal Malna is immensely concerned with the history of trauma obtained from the long period of colonialism in Indonesia, particularly representing a system of cultural, political, and religious codes and meaning. He criticises English as »the language that is plugging up the world« – in the title poem of the volume » Shop for used languages, A on B«. In the preface, he writes that water is constant only when flowing. The same could be said for Afrizal Malna’s entire oeuvre, which is still yet to be discovered in Germany. Malna is a 2014 guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.