Emte: The Wonders of Imagination

Over the course of the London Book Fair, illustrator and artist Mohammad  “Emte” Taufiq created an ocean-themed mural for the Indonesian national  pavilion. (Photo courtesy of Siti Gretiani)

Over the course of the London Book Fair, illustrator and artist Mohammad “Emte” Taufiq created an ocean-themed mural for the Indonesian national pavilion. (Photo courtesy of Siti Gretiani)

Mohammad Taufiq, better known as Emte, has worked as a professional illustrator for many years. His works range from watercolor to fine art on canvas and digital comics.

Now, the Jakarta-based artist can add live mural paintings to his growing list of accomplishments.

During the London Book Fair in mid-March, he adorned the white walls of the Indonesian pavilion with colorful creations that sprung from his own imagination.

“I was part of the design team that handled all artistic needs, such as merchandise and decorations, to be applied to the Indonesian pavilion at the 2019 London Book Fair,” Emte said when asked how this collaboration came about.

“The idea to make a mural first emerged when we wanted to do something different at the event location. Besides the literature, we wanted to show the visitors that Indonesia also has many other talents, including in the fields of illustration and fine arts.”

Indonesia was the first Southeast Asian country to be selected as “Market Focus” for the book fair. Under the slogan “17,000 Islands of Imagination”, the national organizing committee put together a program that not only reflected the richness of Indonesia’s literature, but also the country’s cultural diversity. The sea was used as a common theme: it represents the travel of Indonesian books from the archipelago to unexpected places.

“The sea is an inseparable part of life for the Indonesian people,” Emte explained, adding that this inspired him to create his seafloor-themed mural, for which he used blue as the main color.

“There is a saying that knowledge is broad, as deep as the ocean, it increases and multiplies many times, there is much that we can learn, and explore to expand our knowledge,” he added.

“I translated this into visual underwater oceans that still hold many mysteries, always inviting human curiosity in acquiring knowledge – and books are a human medium to get that knowledge.”

Emte made the murals spontaneously, without sketching them first – something he found very challenging, yet enjoyable at the same time.

“I let my imagination run free and flow as long as possible, responding to the available space in the Indonesian pavilion from the bottom to the top,” he said. His intricate artwork, which took several hours to complete, is already gone again – but it doesn’t bother him too much.

“I think when the book fair ended, the organizer dismantled the construction of the pavilion, including the murals that I had made,” he shrugged. “I don't really think about the fate of the mural. This is quite common when we make works that are both direct and temporary and have limitations, especially regarding the time of their existence.”

Emte not only left his mark at the London Book Fair, but was also involved in an exhibition organized by the National Committee. It was held at Studio 249 and introduced various works made by creative people in Indonesia such as comics, character design, animation, children's book illustrations, games and movies.

People gather around Indonesia’s national pavilion  at the London Book Fair, where Indonesia was selected as the "Market  Focus" this year. (Photo courtesy of Ismiaji Cahyono)

People gather around Indonesia’s national pavilion at the London Book Fair, where Indonesia was selected as the "Market Focus" this year. (Photo courtesy of Ismiaji Cahyono)

In addition to the exhibition, the program included discussions about illustrations, licensing and adaptations of books to movies, drawing workshop sessions, storytelling using children’s books and making murals in collaboration with illustrators in London.

“I took part in two mural sessions with the themes ‘The Unique Universe in Indonesia’ and ‘Sound of the Wall’ alongside fellow illustrators Bridget Marzo, Sally Kindberg, Maria Christania, Mayumi Haryoto and Azizah Assattari,” Emte said.

He was also involved in a discussion called “Illustrating Difficult Issues” with Evelyn Ghozalli and Dina Riyanti, which was hosted by Emma Wright, as well as a talk with the theme “Living on Dreaming” with Evelyn Ghozalli and Jane Porter, hosted by Bridget Marzo. “On this occasion, I presented my silent and dialogue-free comic book Gugug!, which was just published in November 2018. It follows the life and adventures of a dog and the various characters it meets in the midst of the hustle and bustle of urban cities.”

Emte grew up reading comic books – in fact, it was through comics that his love for drawing first grew as he began to imagine creating his own adventures. When he was in high school, he said, he used to visit a library nearby and discovered that reading books without pictures in it could still fuel his imagination.

Emte believes the London Book Fair as well as the programs with a focus on Indonesia beyond the fair have given the country a boost on the global stage.

“This momentum must be utilized further, given the wealth of Indonesian literary talents, who can be the pioneers of our national creative economy sector to compete in the field of contemporary economics, namely in terms of content,” Emte explained.

“The London Book Fair Market Focus was an important platform in the promotion and opening up of international market opportunities, not only for the publishing sub-sector, but also as a joint collaboration between content-based sectors such as movie, music, video games, food and others.”

It was Emte’s first time visiting London, and he truly enjoyed the experience.

“I could witness firsthand the magnificent and classic buildings, the atmosphere of Trafalgar Square, dogs running and jumping around in Hyde Park and I could use the legendary ‘tube’ – all the things I had so far only seen in school textbooks or movies,” he said.

“What impressed me most was that I could simply walk around at various locations while enjoying the scenery. This is just a simple thing but it made me happy and kept me healthy, too.”

After returning to Jakarta, he began the process of completing the sequel for his Gugug! comic book and is exploring other mediums such as animation and merchandise.

In May, it’s time to hit the road again, as Emte will travel to Sofia, Bulgaria, together with 13 other Indonesian artists to take part in the Sofia Paper Art Festival, an event that displays various paper exploration-based works. In July, Emte continues his journey to Seoul, South Korea, to attend the Seoul Illustration Fair.

“I’m also planning to hold a solo exhibition again this year, in addition to several collaborative projects with poetry writers and a fashion brand,” Emte added. “This year, my work schedule is quite solid – but I do enjoy all the different processes.”

This article was first published in the Jakarta Post on April 2, 2019.

Katrin Figge