The magazine Parallel Walking UK x ID, is a product of an international walk-based cultural exchange, exploring pedestrianism in Birmingham (UK), and Yogyakarta (Indonesia), with more expansive collaborations available at an online hub.
This is the story of what happened when an Indonesian walking arts collective invited a UK walking arts collective to explore their two motor cities from the pedestrian perspective. When it comes to walking in parallel, it’s how we walk differently as much as how our streets compare.
Commonalities and connection in urban walking
When Jalan Gembira, a female-led walking collective in Yogyakarta, approached Walkspace as part of their British Council ‘Connections Through Culture’ application, we quickly identified that we faced similar challenges that made our cities ‘less walkable cities’.
Although 7,500 miles apart, we felt connected from the start, chatting over Zoom about issues ranging from public versus private space, gentrification, and town planning that favoured developers rather than the local community.
Jalan Gembira were struggling to walk in city dominated by two- and four-wheeled motor vehicles. Meanwhile, Walkspace members were navigating a city redesigned post-war for cars, with sweeping road systems that submerged pedestrians into dank subways.
Off Yogyakarta’s traffic-filled main roads, people, businesses and life spilled out across the pavements and paths taking up pedestrian space. In Birmingham, walking was unattractive for other reasons with cut-throughs, subways, nature paths and alleyways often deserted and representing places of fear and threat to some.
In both city contexts, there were feelings of suppression for women walking alone in the urban environment, as well as general discomfort around walking as a tourist/visitor through the neighbourhoods of others.
Walking art as individual versus collective practice
While there were many overlaps in terms of challenges, the progression of the project also highlighted a fundamental cultural difference in our walking approaches.
While the three UK artists supported each other’s creative projects, they worked more naturally as individuals, using their disparate walk practices to explore different parts of the city and create distinct pieces of work as a result (a song, a collage, a public walk and recipe).
In contrast, Jalan Gembira felt more comfortable approaching the project collaboratively as one entity. They invited three female artists – an illustrator, curator and archivist – as well as members of the public, to walk through a particular neighbourhood, before workshopping a singular response through group storytelling sessions.
In retrospect both collectives acknowledged this difference between their cultures.
Key highlights of Parallel Walking UKxID zine
The resulting ezine, designed by Amarawati Ayuningtyas (Mara) in Yogya, was produced to enable to work to be shared more widely and to have a life beyond the project itself. It shows not only a breadth of work but how the different collectives rose to the idea of walking in parallel to share what we saw, listened, felt and experienced.
These highlights from Parallel Walking UKxID zine (selected by Fiona from Walkspace) show different narratives of walking alone and together in a series of less-walkable urban environments. The zine also has Indonesian translations of all the work.
“Walking in less-walkable cities might be a radical choice. But it was an attempt to get to know our city. Our perception of the city is no longer the same as when we saw the city through motor vehicles.”
Jalan Gembira walked as a group through Ratmakan, a district of Yogyakarta that is slowly gentrifying due to tourism and where “decent facilities are only built to attract people who would bring profits to the city”. This short video of their walks was created from photos by Anom Sugiswoto and Uniph Kahfi.
In the zine they presented as one group to raise questions around:
- what can be shared from the walking experience
- the different realities of tourists and local residents – and the absence of equitability
- the traces walkers leave behind – physical and immaterial impacts
- how to ensure that this walking activity does not add to the tourism and infrastructure problem for local residents
- patriarchy and masculine culture dominating public spaces
- the potential to use walking together as a collective radical choice to create safer mobility spaces in Yogyakarta.
The members of Walkspace rose to Jalan Gembira’s invitation as individual walking artists which led to three separate pieces of work.
1 Ode to Chad – Bethany Kay
Listen to Ode to Chad on Bandcamp.
Musician Bethany Kay created this song about a city river that courses through exclusive areas with limited public access. She sought out the elusive stream, recorded its sounds and wrote (and performed) this heartfelt plea for revealment.
O Bab, I want to set you free, we’ll surge with wild abandon
Our minnow love will grow to carp, your waters I will stand in!
Our city is off limits though, you sculpt so privately
It’s parcelled up and portioned off, withheld, but silently.
Female Calculations – Fiona Cullinan
From the collage and text piece:
“What will happen if I enter this space? A lone female walker in the city often brings a subjective algorithm of fear to her walk, one that factors in both positive and negative data points … You can optimise your personal algorithm to reduce the fear but the calculation still takes place. It informs how, when and where you walk … sometimes the simple act of going for a walk can feel like a psychological battle.”
Portalling – Andy Howlett
From the accompanying essay:
“As walkers in a city built for the car, we get the leftover spaces. Leftover space though is ripe for reimagining … On this walk we move like water, slipping into the flows and currents of the city, finding the cracks, gaps and openings. There is only one rule: whenever we come across a turning or opening that pedestrians may use but motor vehicles may not (like the subway), we must take it … We are in a different world now.”
What happened next?
The Parallel Walking project consisted of a series of walks involving six artists, international collaboration between collectives in Birmingham, UK, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It resulted in a parallel exhibition in both cities and a joint digital ezine launched in February 2022 and sponsored by the British Council’s Connections Through Culture programme.
Jalan Gembira has since expanded its Parallel Walking programme to other cities in Indonesia. Walkspace has since developed into a collective of 30+ members who hold walk projects both as individuals and as a group, hosting members-only and public walks.
The winners and honourable mentions of the Marŝarto Awards 2023 will be announced in February 2024.