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CAHYATI IN CONVERSATION: MEET THE TEAM BEHIND BALI'S BOLDEST PRRINTMAKERS

Cahyati Press operates as an experimental publishing and printing venture, co-founded by long-time friends Syarafina Vidyadhana and Katyusha Methanisa. They manage the small press from Meanjin, Brisbane, and a compact 14-square-meter kiosk in Katu, Bali. The Cahyati kiosk features a diverse collection of contemporary works by dynamic female and queer writers. Using funds generated from the sale of their collaborative zine Some Type of Love, created in partnership with friends Christabelle Adeline, Rara Rizal, and Farhanah, and as recent recipients of the Extra Nice Fund, the duo plans to introduce Bali's inaugural Riso printer to their studio. Their primary focus revolves around left-leaning publications, showcasing the voices of queer and female writers, particularly those overlooked by mainstream publishers. Following a zine launch recommended by London-based programmer Callista Saputra, I had the opportunity to engage in a detailed conversation with Kat and Avi about their project.


Image courtesy of Cayhati Press


Why don't you start off by telling me how Cahyati Press came about? - and how you met?


Ka: Well, we met about ten years ago when I illustrated one of the pieces in a publication that Avi had at the time called The Murmur House, and then we started working together at Vice when they first opened in Indonesia. 


Av: It's been a long friendship. I think in 2014 I was in my second year of college and Kat was still in high school, we were babies. 


So you were very young when you started working with Vice?


Av: Yes we were, I think we started in 2016 or 17. Kat was a host to a couple of videos and wrote about music and other cultural phenomenons. I mostly did translation, wrote as well and hosted a couple of videos. Now I run a language service agency, where I work as a translator and interpreter, mostly for development clients, so it's quite far from the creative industry. Kat is an architectural graduate.


Ka: Yes, so I'm called an architectural graduate in Australia because I don't have my licence yet. I mostly work under my boss who's a senior architect. When I worked at Vice, it was as a contributor and for maybe six months to a year I was in the office, when I had a semester break.


So your background is in architecture Kat, and yours is in literature, Avi?


Av: I studied English for my undergraduate degree yes, there wasn't a particular focus so it was a real mix of cultural studies and literature and linguistics. 




Images courtesy of Agnes Houghton-Boyle


And so when did you decide to collaborate on Cahyati Press?


Av: I had the idea in early 2021, it was still in the middle of a pandemic, I had just moved to Bali and I think at the time, we shared the same anxiety about our day jobs, we wished to be doing something more and to have a way to channel our creativity and all of the anxious energy. We'd been friends for quite some time by then and I think that meant that we were able to experiment with this idea together, and to really figure out what it was we wanted to do, whether that be selling books or publishing them. We really took our time to figure out what was possible with Kat being based in Meanjin and me in Bali, having had no retail experience whatsoever! So we talked about what we'd like to do, and the division of labour between us became obvious. Kat, being very skilful at design, creates our books and content for our social media. It would take me forever to design anything, and I much prefer to edit my friends work, so we work well together. Then in December 2022 we opened the store. I had very almost been about to move to Jakarta, because the covid-19 restrictions had a softened and people started to travel again, and I thought, maybe I should go back, I missed my nerdy friends, I missed talking about books. I'm sure there are people who love to read books in Bali, but I just couldn't seem to find them. Then a friend of ours, his name is Boe, made a zine titled Homegrown, full of brilliant party flyer archives. He told us that there was a kiosk up for rent, which was quite affordable and said why don't you try and do something here, instead of going back - see if you can find your community. At first, I felt really overwhelmed by the purchase commitment, Kat and I had been taking our time, thinking about our ideas, but we decided to finally pull the trigger.


Ka: We started to work with our friend Gek Sri who does interiors. She has an interior studio with a friend of hers, Cempaka, called Working Title Studio, and together they helped us design the store. We knew that the books on display would be vibrant and colourful. Our space is quite small, too, so we intended to direct full attention to the books by choosing a muted and monochromatic palette for our walls and ceiling. We also wanted to use different materials, like wood, glass, metal, plastic, concrete, and plants for balance.


Av: We thought we'd take it year by year. We didn't know how to do this at all when we started. We hoped it would be fun and that we'd meet new people, and luckily that's what happened. The framework is that this is an experiment. That works for the both of us to take off the pressure. Otherwise, Kat and I are both very ambitious, it's hard for us not to turn our hobbies into something more demanding!


It sounds like it's been a really collaborative process, you've drawn on the expertise of all the talented people you know, when locating and designing the space and with the works that you publish. When you are selecting the projects you take on, is there a particular quality or theme that you look for?


Av: The general theme is, works that wouldn't find a home otherwise. There are a lot of small independent publishing houses in Indonesia, and each of them, of course, has their own curation. But, we would like to believe that what we publish is something that other people wouldn't be interested in, not solely because nobody else wants it, but there are quiet qualities in these works, that have a perceived lack of commercial value, or that are considered to be controversial. A lot of people are afraid of controversy, especially regarding of queer topics. That's what we’re attracted to.


Tell me about the texts you've published so far?


Ka: So far, we've published three quite different works. The thing that they have in common is that other people wouldn't necessarily publish them for the reasons Avi mentioned. For example, Rizky Rahad’s book of essays about the radical potential of queer cinema, Queer’s Shoot Back! was developed from his dissertation and is experimental in its topic and format. It’s not something that I’ve seen in print or be highlighted, in Indonesia. Aca & Ica, is a comic series from the artist Ula Zuhra that follows two girls in Jakarta just doing stuff, it’s about nothing in particular. It’s a slice of life, where sometimes the girls are not perfect. Again, I don’t think I’ve seen characters like that in print – or at least not highlighted. 


Some Type of Love Zine. Courtesy of Cahyati Press.

Av: The other zine, Some Type of Love, is also written by our friends Christabelle Adeline, Rara Rizal, and Farhanah, and contains photographs of another one of our friends Meisya. So yes, the common theme is that we work with our friends and that presents the obvious advantages. The fact that we know each other, it's easier to communicate and not beat around the bush; it's easier to provide clear and constructive feedback and to collaborate. I personally find it more difficult to collaborate when I don't know the person that well, it's easier to emphatize when I know the person and how they would feel. It's easier to help, also shape their voice. The reason we liked that zine so much is because it’s a zine about love, where romantic love is the only type of love that we don’t discuss. There’s an interview about group sex and how to conduct that safely, what happens, do people share towels?  Haha. There’s also an essay about having a crush and what that means. To go back to Ula’s zine-comic book, there’s a phrase, cegil ('cewek gila', or crazy girl), in Indonesia, that means unhinged girls. The zine is like a mix of Broad City-type of vibes mixed with culture. Aca and Ica are two best friends, they’re snobs, who talk about film and music. It took us back to our early twenties, when we had a lot of time on our hands and we consumed art and culture and would get stoned and party. They’re not perfect, it’s like Kat said. We like that particularly because there’s not a lot of space for women to be imperfect and to be gross! 


One of the best things I read last year was Izumi Suzuki’s enduringly cool Hit Parade of Tears, which I think you’d love. A darkly toned short story collection from the Japanese underground writer about a series of spiky tongued, bad girl narrators whose lives are hilariously altered by supernatural occurrences. My Guy, the first story of the collection opens with a stilettoed ‘blondster’ running down the street away from a total ‘creep’ and accidentally into the arms of a mysterious alien guy, who she mysteriously and strangely falls in love with only to find out that his mission was to spread his seed far and wide and she left to raise their extra-terrestrial child alone. In The Covenant a fectless teenage girls begin to believe they are alien rather than human due to their lack of emotion and plot to kill an older man trying to hit on them. In Trial Witch a fed-up housewife is granted temporary powers which she uses to turn her violent husband into a series of animals, inanimate objects and eventually a shrivelled-up piece of beef jerky. 


Ka: Izumi Suzuki has been in my to-read for a while! I think we have stocked Terminal Boredom, her other short story collection, at the store along with other Verso releases at one point. Thanks for mentioning–it might be what it takes to push it up my to-read list this year.


Av: I’m so glad that we published, Rizky’s collection of essays too. Because it was a Master’s thesis, it gives a different dimension, because we’re not just talking about queer cinema, we’re talking about radical queer cinema. We discuss what it takes for a queer cinema to be radical because of course there are films out there that are produced and published by Netflix or other streaming platforms, that portray queer culture or queer people, that don’t necessarily represent accurately. 



Images courtesy of Agnes Houghton-Boyle / Cahyati Press


Outside of Netflix and streaming services, are there film festivals dedicated to or programming radical queer cinema in Indonesia and Bali?


Av: There were, but I’m not sure if they are active anymore… Regulation wise, there’s not yet a way to criminalise queer people. But it’s obviously not a popular topic. For safety reasons I don’t think people screen that work at festivals here. We do home screenings however, with friends, people that we trust. Rizky also just came up with this collective for radical queer cinema collective, Kamerad, about camaraderie.


Ka: There used to be one called Q! Film Festival, but I don’t think they’re active anymore, the last one was in 2017. It’s not a film festival, but I would like to shout out Queer Indonesia Archive (QIA) for doing the important work of preserving pieces of queer history. Gita, who works with us at Cahyati, is an active volunteer there too. We did a collaboration with them last year, where Avi hosted a zine workshop using their archive materials–photos and clippings from old magazines. We loved seeing the results.



Author of 'Queers Shoot Back' Rizky Rahadianto at Cayhati in December 2023. Images courtesy of Cayhati Press.


It’s amazing that you’re publishing work that might not otherwise have had a chance to start, and that you’re helping to form the voices of these writers. I noticed that one of the books you had on your display table in the store is A Girl is a Half Form Thing, the radically experimental, daring and dark debut novel by Eimear Mc Bride. A stream of consciousness, void of commas or speech marks, from the perspective of a young Irish woman with a troubled sexuality, which took Mc Bridge over nine years of continuous rejection to find a publisher. Of course, finally, in 2013 it was picked up by what was then a very small print, run out of a bookshop in Norwich, Galley Beggar Press. They took a chance on the book and had to borrow money to give it the 1000 print run which catapulted the novel to instant success, winning the Goldsmiths Prize for fiction. There are so many fantastic titles in your shop, Melcher and Ferrante and Heti to name a few. Are you focusing specifically on female and queer publishing? 


Ka: We are currently collaborating with one of our friend Ndari and half of the books that you saw at the store are from her curation, including A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. She runs an online store called There But For the Books, which I think she started during the pandemic too, but is currently taking a break. We asked Ndari to be the guest curator for this month, it’s really exciting to be focusing on women’s writing. Cahyati’s own curation is similarly women and queer-focused, in both the pieces we are publishing and the books we are sourcing. Also; Good spot! I love Fernanda Melchor, and Sheila Heti is one of Avi’s favourite writers.



Tell me about your recent collaboration with the South East London based studio and press, Em-Dash, who also make their own zines as well as take on and assemble publications and facilitate collective making. How did your collaboration come about?


Av: When we first opened, Saundra, who has run Em-Dash along with Ru, for the past three years in London, came to visit us at the store. She’s Indonesian and was visiting Jakarta and Bali to see family, but also in a mission to be less scared about where she came from after spending so many years abroad. So we talked about potentially collaborating next time she visited, we agreed it would be perfect and so Em-Dash helped us get exposed to different zines and art books in the UK. It really opened up our horizons as to how other people do zines and to know that there is a risograph machine that is used in the UK – whereas in Indonesia even a second hand one is still quite expensive. So in September she came to Bali with a suitcase full of zines which we sold across the course of a three day exhibition. On the first few days of the exhibition we made it so that people could buy their zines but were not allowed to bring them home yet, to ensure that more and more people could have access to the work – to touch it and read it. On the last day people could bring home the zines they had bought and a lot of people from the UK donated theirs to our library. We would hate for these zines to be hoarded, we wanted to make sure the work is available at the store so when people visit they can browse and read and it is accessible to anyone. That was the goal. It was really fun doing something like that.


Ka: It’s really inspiring, just how much they put out. Also, they were the ones who suggested that we have a kind of library at the store. I think we learnt a lot from each other.


Av: We also did a screening of Shy Radicals, a really cool film by Tom Dream, based on the Hamja Ahsan book, and featuring Arlo Parks singing. We screened it at the front yard, literally where we were having breakfast yesterday, on a makeshift screen. It was heartwarming. 


What are the benefits of working at Cahyati for you?


Ka: It’s really rewarding to be able to publish our friends' work, and friends of friends work. I really enjoy the brainstorming process with the writers and the artists, seeing their vision and bringing it to life. I think because it’s such a small team, it’s really intimate and it’s very productive when we get together and collaborate. Also, when we’re at the store it’s really nice to meet people and hear about how they know about us and what they like. We take recommendations from people, it’s not just a one way street. It’s also a great way to have gotten to know artists on the island, and people who are visiting. It’s just really fun to talk to people and hear what they like.


Av: I enjoy the editing process the most. It’s quite different to the process with others I think. Like with Rahad’s essays, I was tasked with repackaging in a way that would be accessible language wise to the general public, because otherwise academics can often only be understood amongst themselves. The Some Type of Love Zine was really cool, because it was based entirely on speculation and Christabelle stayed in Bali at my house for a month to finish all the writing. So the brainstorming part, as Kat said, has been really fun, to bring our friends' visions to life and to meet new people. Of course, there are other book stores on the island as well as Indonesia generally, where have Periplus the chain book store who also have great books - but for me personally, what’s really missing as a customer maybe, not even as a book shop owner, is the lack of interaction, or the lack of genuine connection – like if you like this book you should check out this book, knowing that this is the last book that someone else has read perhaps makes you appreciate or enjoy it differently. Everything is so automated with computers and algorithms and the environment is not very supportive of us reading hard copy on the spot, whereas I grew up with bigger chain stores like Gramedia, where I could sit for hours reading. My parents would only allow me to buy one book at a time, one book a month, so I would sit on the floor and read as many things as possible while I was there. That’s the kind of environment we’re trying to create at Cahyati. There are new operational hours now too, we open Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday – outside of those hours people can make an appointment. Over the last year we were only open by appointment because we wanted to make sure visitors had uninterrupted time in such a small space that gets easily crowded. We do want to make sure that people also get the space to themselves and can browse and read on the front porch or inside and talk to us about where they’re from and what they’re doing – a lot of the time we find out that they’re artists or creatives too. Moving forward we are in the process of securing our first risograph printer, we received a grant from It’s Nice That, a London based organisation, for £2,500 to help us pay 50% of the rent and securing our first risograph printer. There isn’t one on the island so people typically go through digital printing or offset to print their work, therefore, they have to make sure that it’s perfect because the cost is quite high or they have to print in large amounts. We thought that if we have a risograph printer people can just show up and experiment with the medium and it’s a lot of fun for everyone.


Illustration by Diane Roussille for It's Nice That

On the flip side, what are some of the challenges of running an independent press?


[They laugh]


Ka: Maybe actually making a profit. 


Av: I wish this could be my full time job, and because I have that dream that challenge is making that come true, whereas at the moment we both also have full time jobs in order to support this, so I feel like with more capital, we can hire more people to be in our team and we can grow. We don’t want to be the biggest, we like to stay small, but this way we could have more clear divisions of labour and maybe we could be more effective and productive given the time and resource allocation. 


Ka: For me, when we’re working with our artists and writers, we want to make sure their work can be printed in high quality and then sometimes there’s challenges to that and we have to compromise because of lack of resources. What we want, sometimes doesn’t make sense, in terms of cost and we have to do a bit of compromise. 


 

Agnès Houghton-Boyle is a critic and programmer based in London. Her writing features in Talking Shorts Magazine and Fetch London.

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