Imana Gunawan

 Artist Cameo: DRAPED IN

If I were to describe my artistic voice, I think it would sound soft but heartfelt? I don’t think I was ever a particularly loud person, so I think my work has tended to be more meditative and analytical, even though my visual aesthetics are more maximalist and surrealist. I really enjoy the process of abstraction, and taking experiences that may be very specific and broadening it so different people can have their own access points into the work. In my creative process, over the past three to four years, I have made a deliberate choice to mostly work with Black and people of color, and a lot of my collaborators are typically women, femmes or non-binary folks. And it’s not just for the sake of representation, but whenever I get opportunities (especially paid ones!) I want to make sure that folks from my communities are also taking up the space and getting that coin. In terms of messages, I always feel that if my works make you feel something or think, then I’ve done my job, regardless if you “get” it. I want to make sure that whoever is witnessing my work feel invested in the people on stage or in the frame, not just as a political issue or a talking point, but as actual humans with full lives and agency.

What moment did you know being a creative was the life path for you?

 

I don’t know if there was ever a lightbulb moment like “aha! I’m gonna be a creative!” but I’ve just always done it. I’ve always loved creative writing, fashion, and I played the piano and sang in the choir growing up. I also danced on and off while growing up before deciding to pursue it professionally, so art was always part of me. I was born in Texas, but I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, and my whole family is Indonesian. And when you live in such a rich culture like Indonesia, and especially in my family, I felt that art and culture was always close by. So I just kept on doing it. It also helps that my mom was a creative herself. She danced, sang, was an architect, she worked at a magazine at one point, and now she’s an amazing marine biologist and conservation expert. When I was growing up, I remember her telling me that I didn’t need to necessarily be one “thing.” I could be a doctor who played the piano, or a teacher who danced, or whatever. So now I’m a journalist but also a creative who dances, takes photos, styles, and more!

Photography by Devin Muñoz 

Creative, styling, editing, model by Imana Gunawan 

Photographed at Northlight Studio 

Collar by MATARAM - Bodysuit by Savage X Fenty 

Vintage earrings from Le Frock Consignment

 Brown mules by Zara - Indonesian batik fabric is a family heirloom

Being an artist isn’t an easy life, it definitely comes with its number of challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

 

For me, the biggest challenge was balancing my journalism and art careers. I didn’t necessarily want to write exclusively about dance or arts, because I was fascinated with international politics. So for my job I mostly cover breaking news and I specialize in current affairs in Southeast Asia, and I do my dance and art separately because all of them are part of me. Each practice really heavily informs the other — being an artist, it’s so easy to get caught up in the clouds and to only think of your work as existing in a vacuum. My journalism work keeps me grounded and rooted in the reality of our world. On the flip side, you witness so much pain and dysfunction as a journalist, so my art not only facilitates healing and escapism, but it also gives me an avenue to imagine new worlds and ask questions that may not necessarily have easy or even logical answers. But of course, having these separate careers can sometimes feel like I have several jobs. Slowly and surely, I’m getting better and better at prioritizing projects that I’m most passionate about, or that help me pay rent and bills! That way I can still have a life and spend time with people I love, and actually experience the world and take care of myself. I don’t believe in the starving, struggling, or abused artist mentality — I’ve found that the art that I and my collaborators make are so much deeper, fuller, and more nuanced when it’s created in an environment that is safe and where everyone’s needs and wellbeing are respected.

Gold lock necklace by Miclair Studios

Reworked Fendi necklace by Sororite Vintage

Vintage Birth of Venus underbust bustier by Sororite Vintage

Reworked Gucci shorts by Dan McLean 

Pink mules by Sies Marjan 

Pink mesh gloves by VictoriansStyle 

Indonesian batik fabric (worn as head wrap) is a family heirloom

What topics are you most passionate about?

 

My art practice is so deeply informed by my journalism work, because with reporting breaking news you just witness so many manifestations of social, economic, and political injustice throughout the globe. There’s no way to not sit with the grief that the world is carrying. So in my art, I explore the past, present, and futures of marginalized peoples. Over the past few years, I’ve been really invested in exploring ideas of ancestry, and rituals that are passed down through generations, especially in my own Indonesian and Sundanese culture. As of recent, I’m really interested in researching legacies of colonialism, and the present realities of neocolonialism. How does that legacy show in our bodies and our interconnected systems? In dance, I like creating scenic and surreal experiences for the viewers and visceral experience for the performers, and my dances typically involves a lot of props. Because I like working in multiple mediums, I think of my work as a body of work instead of individual pieces. I might explore a topic in oral story form, translated into dance here, delved further into visuals there, and put back into writing with additional research. I would revisit older works and ask new questions of it to incorporate it to other contexts. I think that mindset has helped me shift to a healthier relationship to art, where I constantly focus on process, versus what we’re typically taught in a capitalistic society, which is to focus on the product.

Name three of the biggest women influencers in your life? How do they influence you professionally?

 

My three biggest women influences would have to be my mom, my grandmother, and the late Toni Morrison. What they all have in common is this clarity in their voice, which I think comes from a clarity in their conscience, morals, and ethics. This kind of high standard they have for themselves and others is so admirable, and they understand that humans can do better and we deserve better. I try to bring that kind of clarity with me in all that I do, whether that’s personally, creatively, or professionally. And one thing that I’ve really taken to heart from Toni Morrison is making the “white gaze” peripheral. I think there is a tendency for a lot of BIPOC American artists, especially when they are young, to define themselves in relation to whiteness, and I’ve noticed it a lot especially in academia. It’s almost like explaining your existence for the white gaze. Sometimes this is out of necessity, like code-switching. Other times, because we weren’t taught any other way. I’m grateful that I’ve grown into a version of myself where that is no longer the only way I know how to describe myself or look at my work. And so, in my art, I think whiteness and white audiences are now peripheral, and I try really hard to maintain that. And I think hearing Toni Morrison speak about her work was really the start of that process for me. If they get it, great. If they don’t, they don’t.

 

If you could collab with any women, past or present, who would it be and why?

 

Honestly, I would love to collaborate with the women in my family, like in a dance or photography project. I think it would be fun to collaborate with folks who aren’t necessarily “artists” but are still very connected to art and culture and aesthetics. In terms of artists who are alive today, obviously the queens Beyonce and Solange. I’d also love to work with up and coming artists like Rina Sawayama, Raveena, and Chloe x Halle. Other creatives would have to include stylist Zerina Akers, designer Fe Noel, creative Reva Bhatt, artist Arahmaiani, and so much more. There are also so many people in my communities in Seattle that I haven’t gotten the chance to create with yet, so there’s even more on my bucket list!

 

What’s next for you as a creator? 2021 and beyond?

 

This year, I’ll be publishing the Moonshine Look Book, which is a fashion photography book version of the Moonshine Cabaret that I produced and choreographed in 2018. For that work, I developed an oral story based on moon phases and the dark side of the moon, which became the basis for the cabaret. I choreographed, creative directed, and commissioned original music for it, working with local Seattle-based queer, trans and non-binary artists to create the music. The work also featured original costumes, visuals, and even food (we worked with a local catering-company-turned-restaurant for the menu). So now I’m translating that multimedia performance experience into my other passions, which are fashion, photography and writing. The process has been really illuminating, and it’s given me further confidence in working with different mediums. Lastly, I’m currently in the process of researching various graduate programs, specifically to study fashion business and looking into solutions for supply chains, secondhand clothing industry, and labor rights. So hopefully that is coming in the next few years.

 

What are you looking forward to post quarantine?

 

I can’t wait to see my family. Last time I saw my parents were in March 2020 when I went home to Jakarta, Indonesia. When I returned to Seattle, everything was locked down because of the virus. So I’m manifesting a homecoming soon when we’re all vaccinated! Beyond that, in Seattle I’m also part of Au Collective, which is a dance and movement-based nonprofit that centers BIPOC, women, femmes, queer and trans folks in all that we do. They’re my creative home, and I can’t wait to reunite with everybody to hug, dance and create together again. And of course, I’m excited to be able to once again dress up to go do karaoke and dance in the clubs.

"I think women are the truth. And I will also add cis women, trans women, non-binary femmes are the truth. Because we gotta deal with so much shit in the world, and we’re so resilient when we shouldn’t have to be. And the fact that we can still show up with grace, with intellect, AND looking cute?

That’s just remarkable."

Beaded headpiece from Indian Summer Vintage

Moon print gloves are thrifted Vintage green and gold coat is thrifted Green bralette by Savage X Fenty Green high-waist swimsuit bottoms are thrifted

Pink shoes are thrifted Gold necklace by H&M 

Black bra by La Senza 

Gold “Ingat” charm (worn pinned to bra) are by BRWNGRLZ 

Maroon fringe earrings by Evolve Revolve Repeat 

Indonesian batik fabric (worn as skirt) is a family heirloom Shoes by Dolls Kill 

Collar by Janelle Abbott

Pink bra by Savage X Fenty

Vintage earrings from Le Frock Consignment

Vintage girdle shorts from The Old Playground

Sheer embroidered stole is a family heirloom