2020 Design Studies Thesis Prize: Angela Mayrina’s “A Guidebook to an Empty Land: Kalimantan and the Shadows of the Capital”

Map of land ownership and forest zoning in the new capital area

by Angela Mayrina (MDes ’20) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize

Indonesia is an archipelago of 17 thousand islands that were once made of separate kingdoms. The history of the islands and their political recognition is linked to their colonial past and practices of extraction. Years after its independence, the colonial legacy has continuously influenced the way the nation looks at its people, nature, and resources, as well as the interaction between its islands within the national planning, initiatives, and policies. Today, the legacy of past forces is especially prominent in the government’s decision to move the capital from Jakarta (in Java) to East Kalimantan (in Borneo). None of the proposals for the new capital talk about the impact of the move on the current social and environmental ecosystem in Kalimantan. The island is mostly discussed in terms of potential: an empty faraway land, a perfect location for the nation’s new capital—but of whose visions? Throughout history, the “emptying” of the land becomes a method of claiming space by ignoring its existing memory, history, and cultural practices.

A Guidebook to an Empty Land is an ongoing research project that seeks to archive the lives of different inhabitants of Kalimantan that are shadowed by the grand narrative. The archive attempts to reveal the complexities of human and nonhuman beings that are constantly intertwined in the conversation of this empty land. By de-emptying the land with stories, the archive provides an alternative where the history and inhabitants of Kalimantan should be considered and included in the conversation of the moving capital.