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When Indonesia Tatler entered her room at the Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta, Dr Etty Indriati gave us a warm and friendly greeting that truly reflected her personable nature. As we asked about the paraphernalia scattered about the place, she proudly showed us some of her Sumbanese textile collection and some of her past works: a mystery novel, entitled Cokelat Postmortem, and a book about Sumbanese textiles that she wrote as part of her anthropological research: Tenun Sumba: Membentang Benang Kehidupan published by Gramedia.

Moreover, we found that Etty has packed many things into her amazingly varied life, ranging from academia to writing and art—and also being a parent of two. For her, the keys to managing all of her roles are discipline and time management. “I usually make plans for several months and list down what I will do during that time,” she said. “The bottom line is that you need to use your time wisely, and don’t spend too much of it idle.”

Etty is a forensic anthropologist by profession, which means she deals with human remains. It was the late Prof. Teuku Jacob who gave her her first job at the laboratory of Universitas Gadjah Mada’s Faculty of Medicine, in which she had to identify the bones of homicide victims. Being a dentistry graduate at that time, she could identify the ages of the deceased from their teeth with no difficulty; however, identifying bones was quite a challenge for her.


“I needed to learn from forensic anthropology books written by foreign authors and, it turned out, these were mostly books written by Wilton M. Krogman PhD and Jane E. Buikstra PhD,” Etty told us. She then decided to write an application letter to Prof. Buikstra to apply for a position in a doctorate programme under her supervision, and, afterwards, she went back to UGM armed with a PhD. Continuing her work in forensics, she helped identify the bodies of victims of natural disasters such as the Merapi eruption, the early ‘00s hotel bombings in Jakarta, plane crashes, and other high- profile cases.

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Besides forensic anthropology, Etty also has an extensive interest in art: she studied sketching at the Art Institute of Chicago and mixed media painting at the Central Saint Martins in London. Having to work with unnatural causes of death in her job clearly influences how she expresses herself artistically. “It tends to put me into a gloomy mood, which, in turn, I express using greyish colours. I contrast those monochromatic colours with lively and bright shades to represent warm feelings,” she added.

Thus far, Etty is most proud of a watercolour painting of her daughter, Ceria, which she painted as an assignment set by her tutor, Suryantoro Adi, while she was learning painting at Sanggar Sapaku at Prof. Laksono Trisnantoro and Dr Ida Safitiri Laksanawati’s house. Her love of art and culture further encouraged her to amass a batik collection that, for five months, was borrowed by the Art Institute of Chicago for an exhibition called Batik Textile of Java, which opening day coincided with Kartini’s Day 2017.

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This story appears in the February 2020 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe here.