Indonesian Folklore-Inspired Tale Launches in Manila

It was a lively and educational evening celebrating art, literature, and shared cultures last September 14, 2017 as Adarna House, Asia Society and Kawi Content celebrated the launch of Si Dru at ang Kuwento ng Limang Kaharian, the Philippine translation of the Indonesian-folklore inspired Dru and the Tale of the Five Kingdoms. The launch, preceded by a forum on art and technology, took place from 3-7PM at the Yuchengco Museum at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City.

Written by Clara Ng and brought to life through the vibrant illustrations of Renata Owen, the novel that was inspired by Indonesian folklore was first published in Indonesia in 2016. Enjoyed by little ones and adults alike for its rich and exciting story accompanied by dreamy and detailed drawings, the book weaves the tale of a feisty young girl named Dru and her fantastical adventure to get back home after she finds herself stranded in a magical land of Tiger Kings, mischievous faeries, and many more fantastical creatures. The September 14 event marked the first time DRU was brought out of Indonesia. 

The back-to-back events kicked off with a forum entitled, “New Horizons: On the Use of Technology in Art”. Dannie Alvarez, Administrator of the Yuchengco Museum welcomed the audience to the museum and relayed his joy at being able to host such events, as Yuchengco is one of the few museums to support art and innovation in equal measure. Suyin Liu Lee, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippines, followed by providing the audience with a background of Asia Society, and how the launch of DRU fit perfectly with the organization’s mission of allowing people to better understand their neighbors. “We hope that DRU inspires readers to reflect on the unity of two neighboring cultures, through a shared, significant human experience of a young girl’s journey home,” said Lee.


The forum was hosted and moderated by Rommel Joson, Illustrator and Lecturer at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Fine Arts. Indonesian artist and DRU illustrator Renata Owen, and Filipino graphic designer and illustrator Dan Matutina were also onboard to talk about their work, experiences, and the ways both technology and their cultural backgrounds influenced the way they create their art.

Students, educators, illustrators, and artists were in attendance as Joson formally began the forum with a simple yet impactful observation: that due to fast-improving advancements in technology, art or artworks, are now visible and accessible to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The statement well-situated the forum’s discussion on the impact technology has had in art and art creation.

Renata Owen, who had flown in from Jakarta to support the Philippine launch of the novel, took to the stage to relay her journey in developing the whimsical illustrations that bring life to the pages of DRU. Owen narrated that all the artwork began with one pencil sketch that had been born out of inspiration from visual style references such as Alice in Wonderland.

She explained the challenges of character design, specifically character expressions, since she had previously only focused on branding and fashion. She detailed the intricacies that went into character development. An example of this is Dru’s scarf, with all its peacock feather details, and how it took on much more vibrant colors when she entered into the magical realm.

For the characters in the magical realm, Owen went back to her roots as an Indonesian artist, as she injected Indonesian folklore into as many characters as she could.

Much to the entertainment of the audience, Owen then featured the book’s layout process and how technology had aided her work. Flashed on screen were pencil-sketched drawings next to the completed work as done on a computer, or next to text as seen on the actual book’s pages.

To complement the Indonesian guest illustrator, Asia Society invited Filipino graphic designer, Dan Matutina, co-founder of Plus63 Design Co. and the Hydra Design Group. Matutina narrated that he had grown up around science and math, but decided on an art course in college. Matutina then displayed a series of early works that were heavily influenced by the illustrations found in the encyclopedias he had grown up with and had been fond of. He also shared how growing up in Leyte allowed him to find inspiration in the banig (Filipino woven mat)—the pattern of which he tries to use as a design in his work to promote and showcase his Filipino background.

Matutina also fondly touched on the “generation gap” he feels between him and up-and-coming artists. Once, when asked by his colleagues about the medium he uses when beginning any work, he calmly said, “pencil and paper”, expecting the same response all around. He was surprised to find out that a younger colleague skipped paper entirely and went straight to digital.

Matutina closed by emphasizing the importance of having a good story behind one’s work, as this is what allows one to best deliver or display their message.


Joson’s discussion with Owen and Matutina was most insightful.

Both artists were initially on traditional, technical career paths before stumbling upon a magazine that stole their attention and inspired them to become artists instead. Matutina had initially been interested in science and math, while Renata Owen was drawn to architecture.

The reason behind the attraction to digital work was similar— developing art digitally was simply much more efficient. “Creating art by hand teaches you discipline, but I don’t want to go back!” Matutina shared with a laugh. Though, going back to it (paper and pen) is a “breath of fresh air,” he added.

Joson pointed out that the advent of social media gives artists an easy platform to share their work. Owen agreed, saying that the maintenance of online profiles is important for an artist’s personal branding. Danone Aqua, an international bottle water brand that had given Owen her first big break by featuring her designs on their bottles for a nationwide campaign, had actually approached her based on the work she uploaded on DeviantArt, a portfolio-sharing site for graphic designers. Owen also cautioned about the difficulties of social media, as it is time consumming to maintain social media accounts and there is added pressure to maintain the quality of work that one posts.

However, social media has also allowed artists to give back in some ways, by mentoring younger designers who are just starting out. Owen began her career by watching tutorials on YouTube and now tries to regularly post content that will be useful for other designers.

Both Matutina and Owen praised the crowdfunding website Patreon, a platform that allows artists to find funders in exchange for pieces of artwork. Patreon has, in a sense, allowed artists to crowd-fund their livelihood, noted Joson.

On servicing corporate clients, the priority is always answering the client’s needs, but Owen tries to produce work that can be considered as “art pieces” as well.

Joson then asked the two if they believed that digital art and design can also be considered “art” – ones that are comparable to what is seen in museums. Matutina and Owen both believe that art is subjective, it is in the way one looks at the world around them. “Art can be anything,” said Owen.

An audience member asked if the inspiration for DRU was purposely set to be Indonesian folklore. Owen replied that the entire Indonesian-folklore inspired elements were explicitly requested by the book projet team, though she personally makes an effort to inject Indonesian elements into her work, to bring the culture to more mainstream audiences.

Matutina supported this, saying that he also always looks for ways to help his country and its culture through its work.

Joson concluded the forum with an insightful similarity between both artists: that they have a common love for art and the support for their own culture.



A highlight of the 6PM book launch was the reading of an excerpt by journalist and filmmaker Atom Araullo. Araullo read from the fourth chapter of DRU, which detailed Dru’s encounter with Tanti Pala, the first king she encounters in the magical world.

Nanoy Rafael, the book’s translator, then took to the stage to talk about his work in translating the novel. When doing work as a translator, Rafael noted that he tries to position himself more as a co-author, rather than just a translator of the text. He cautioned that the act of translating is not just converting text from one language into the other, but also ensuring that the translated text retains the essence and message of the original material. It was this thought that always forced him to pattern the translations after the original Bahasa Indonesia material, rather than the rough English translation that was provided to him.

Rafael described that the act of translation is a political act—it has a message and agenda. He noted that the translation of DRU, an Indonesian young adult novel, into Filipino signifies four messages: the first is that Filipinos value and celebrate cultures that are different from theirs. The second is that children are important. They have rights and needs, including the right to have stories that they can call theirs, and that represent them. The third is that Filipinos give importance to their national language. Rather than choosing to translate the novel into English, the text was translated into the Philippine national language—showing that it is important to strengthen the use of the national language, and that literature should be accessible and available to the masses. Lastly, DRU pushes Filipinos to find peace within themselves through the story it tells—emphasizing the use of imagination peaceful means, despite present-day violent times, to find their way back home.

During the question and answer portion open to the audience, Joson seconded a point made by Rafael: that it is important for Filipinos to have literature in their own language and to have literature written for and about Filipinos, to show the youth that the Filipino is worth writing about.

Asa Montenejo, Vice President for Operations at Adarna House, closed the day’s program by emphasizing the role of literature in understanding culture. “Literature provides the perfect point of connection for cultures to get to know each other,” shared Montenejo. “We are confident that through translations of the works of our Asian neighbors, Filipino readers will be given an understanding of others, and consequently, an understanding of themselves.”

SI DRU AT ANG KUWENTO NG LIMANG KAHARIAN: A Forum and Book Launch was organized by Adarna House, Asia Society, Kawi Content, and the Yuchengco Museum. It was presented by IP Ventures, and sponsored by Air Asia, Golden ABC, Malayan Insurance, WorldRoom Inc., and the Picasso Hotel. Food and beverage were provided by Restoran Garuda.