Jayanto Damanik Tan


Jayanto is a visual artist whose practice to date includes installation, performance and poetry. He uses materials related to his Chinese-Sumatran heritages and his current home in Australia, all of which carry specific meanings and histories that expose different senses of belonging.

The Memoir of Red Tortoise Cake

Every time he goes to the temple,

the fragrances of the incense,

remembering him well to the scene commemoration of his Taoism father.

It was 45 years ago, he only five.

At that time, he couldn’t understand what it about

Next day, he wept to his Christian mother,

I saw Dad in my dream, mother. He was taking away by the light!

His mother wished him not to fear death

There are no perfect or ideal humans she said

She wished him also to face his fears

But he couldn’t understand what his mother meant

He saw his mother grieve in the cassava farm


He’d been through rough and traumatic times in his youth

his ‘friend’ dragged him to Sunday church

he loved him

 I was sick they said

            no messiah from the heaven

come with us, we will take you to the ‘GOD’

as he was attracted to boys

we will heal you, a happy, healthy and normal life…Halleluiah!

All his friends were Judases.


He found home in his solitude

he kills the lonely days by writing poems,

Poetry could save his adolescence.

KOMUNIS BANCI!, kicked the ball like a man, they screamed

recalls him from the old days, Sunday school.

Kids humiliated him in the football game

he felt like being choked,

people laughed at him

he missed all the balls.


His Indonesian community called him Banci kampung

behind his back! Awas AIDS!

He had no friends, he didn’t realise how sad it was

He was beaten almost to death

He couldn’t keep a secret any longer

            he was burning inside

he ran away from his family home

From Fujian Province to The Straits of Malacca by boat

From Dolok Masihul via Villawood Detection Centre, a Police recorded

Shame on me, he said

he blamed himself, all his fault!

he was a coward, a man with tit

born into this skin ruined his life and his family.

an ugly duck soy sauce fairy, said the white Australian

takes him a while to pull himself together

you‘re never good enough! whispers in his ears

He had to remain hidden in the shadow

for shame and guilt


I was not into the gay scene, he said

Places like 357 will do, in love with random men in the dark

He will get AIDS! Someday

NO ASIAN! White queer men said,

he doesn’t fit into white men’s ideal.

Hate himself so much

he was the rubbish of Pak Suharto

where was my heritage name Pak?

he couldn’t find red tortoise cakes any longer

it was danger dancing in Moonlight Discotheque at Hayam Wuruk

get’s fined cruising in Lapangan Banteng

lancioa lang, a curve lotus, Hokkien people said

He’s tired of his spiritual journeys


He knew his time would come

when he touched him

his eyes already closed, his body already cold, his ears already deaf

he was the pieta

and he becomes art

his art was his passion

passion fluent to his spiritual journeys

the memoir of red tortoise cake in his hands

also bunga pacar air and offerings.

A gorgeous man who promised him once,

when I see you again, I’ll give you a kiss,

the kiss that I refused to give you before.

a soft red tortoise cake.