We caught up with Indonesian designer, model, actress and environmental activist Fahrani Empel (Fa’) to talk inspiration, eye wear and the birth of her son Matahari-Biru Anzus Pawaka-Sloth.
Fa’, it’s been a while and several dozen tattoos since we last spoke … what have you been up to?
I’ve relocated to Berlin after my 10th year in Bali, five summers ago to be exact. The initial idea was to mingle with different mindsets, to understand the mentality and value of Northerners, to experience the change of seasons emotionally – and to actively explore different avenues of my creativity. I went from happy land, the sunshine, shirtless island, into a dark and gritty corner of the world. I dove in deep, and re-birthed my company PAWAKA in the city. I also recently just got married and have been blessed by a little sun. We named them* Matahari-Biru Anzus Pawaka-Sloth.
Can you tell us about the process of transformation you’ve been through since you were younger… have you changed inside as well as out?
I think the most significant change that has happened to me came from the inside out. The outside only shows the internal evolotions. Once I had moved on from the endless summer in Bali it just felt like I started a new chapter in my life – adulthood. Being in a “cold” place really shifts a lot of one’s perspectives and priorities. For the better.
Who is cutting your hair these days?
I have a friend in Berlin who does my hair, but when I am on the road I usually go to any barber in the area, I’m not so fussy about it. I always know what I want to do with it, it’s not that difficult to instruct someone to get it done, especially with my short hair.
You’re here at the moment, right? And shooting a movie … what’s the story there?
I was – I literally just left as I’m typing this back to you. My work partners and I came for a film production in Bali, our very first short to be premiered during Berlin Gallery Weekend in April this year. We are trying to capture the dark/light of the spirit world in a contemporary way, based out of our collaborative art piece, but keeping it sincere at the same time. It’s a project initiated by the artist Max Gartner, in collaboration with DUENDE and myself. The title is GHOSTSANDGODS.
On the last day of production I gave birth to our first child in Ubud, two months early during a full moon. It was a very hectic moment in my life as we were meant to fly back to Berlin a few days later. So we were stuck in Bali for four months, being away from home, where I thought I was going to deliver my baby, and absolutely unprepared for the arrival. It was the divine plan all along, so we surrendered to it. Now the dust has finally settled, I can take a breather on the surface and answer this interview 🙂
Your sunglasses and optical brand is rocking it … where did the name PAWAKA come from, and how has the business grown?
PAWAKA is a name that my grandfather was given during World War II as his secret code name. He then adopted it as his last name, so I am a third generation Pawaka. The name in Sanskrit means Fire. We are about to get into phase two in the business, expanding into Asia, Australia and the Middle East this year. It’s been a crazy hard ride these last three and a half years and I am lucky enough to have solid souls building quality structure around it.
How do you see the state of the world right now?
It makes me nervous. I am not going to lie, but I remind myself to see it in a positive manner. It will get worse before we can heal as a planet. I think the bottom is not so far away. I try my best to create my reality without getting distracted by the rest of the world.
How do you stay focused?
I have to cut out many external distractions that come in different forms – energetically, physically and mentally. I have also learned to be a good friend to myself, that I don’t need anything except my breath, so I try to work on this. Breathing and meditation. This right here helps me go through some uncertain and hectic times and keeps me focussed on being present.
Do you ever doubt who you are? If so how do you deal with that?
I have an ability to remove things that don’t serve me and move on. From memories, problems, to bad conscience. This serves me pretty well, I can quickly remove any negative notions and get on with life. I am rarely in doubt – my instinct guides me.
Do you ever experience discrimination or criticism, as a woman, an Asian, or a fashionista? And if so has that always been while you’re abroad?
Funnily enough the only discrimination and criticism I have had so far has come from my own people. I get it on a daily basis on my social media. Most of them criticize the way I go about my free life. It’s quite absurd actually, when the one thing that is free in this world is our life. I believe we must live it with the deepest truth of who we are. With no boundaries.
For anyone who knows you, this is probably going to seem like a weird question, but we’re going to ask it anyway: is your appearance a weapon?
I am aware that my appearance sparks many different reactions in people, and most of the time it’s a great conversation starter – a way to connect with others. I am not mad at it.
What would you say to your 20-year-old-self today?
Nothing at all. She has to go and get lost in order to find herself, and she will always manage.
Fa’, thanks so much for your time.
*Fa’ uses ‘them’ in the gender neutral sense.