Jember Regency in East Java is famous for its annual Jember Fashion Carnaval (that's not a typo, it's really written as "carnaval" instead of "carnival") where performers parade through the streets using extravagant costumes a la the famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
It's a popular event and tourist dram, but this year's edition of JFC has received quite a bit of criticism from religious groups over the costumes worn by some of the performers, particularly those worn by Indonesian actress Cinta Laura Kiehl, who acted as this year's brand ambassador for the festival.
The young actress, who first rose to fame as a sinetron (soap opera) star and has gone on to land roles in a few Hollywood films, wore two different costumes at the festival, one a mini gold dress and another a Dayak-themed costume that was inspired by a dance performed by the Dayak tribe of East Kalimantan called Hudoq.
While the costume's Cinta wore would be considered positively tame by the standards of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, in conservative Indonesia they earned the criticism of religious groups such as the Jember chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI Jember), which called the JFC organizing committee "careless" for allowing their performers to wear costumes that revealed their aurat (parts of the body that are supposed to be covered by Islamic standards of modesty)".
"Apparently, [Cinta Laura] came all the way to Jember only to show off [her] aurat. A costume like that isn't appropriate to be shown in the public sphere! There was nothing to be proud of. Such appearances can destroy the morals of the young generation," MUI Jember head Prof. Abdul Halim Subahar said on Monday, as quoted by Detik.
In addition to MUI Jember, the festival was also criticized by the Jember chapter of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the head of which denounced JFC immoral and haram (forbidden).
JFC CEO Suyanto told reporters on Monday that the controversy surrounding the costumes is a "common thing", because everyone has their own perception of modesty. He claimed that he didn't have know exactly what Cinta's costumes would look like as they had only seen parts of their designs before they were debuted.
"[Cinta Laura] is a star from outside [the regency] and she doesn't come every year. It's about the [perception] of each individual," Suyanto said on Monday, as quoted by Kumparan.
Yesterday, a meeting to discuss and evaluate the festival was held at the Jember Regent's office between the JFC's organizing committee, the regional leadership forum (Forpimda), religious figures and organisations including MUI Jember and the local chapter of Nahdlatul Ulama (PCNU), as well as members of the public.
In front of media, Jember Regent Faida gave a statement of apology for the controversy surrounding the festival.
"I, along with the Vice Regent Kyai Muqit would like to apologize [regarding the revealing costumes at JFC]. Although this event has its own management and the local government wasn't involved in the content planning in detail, everything that is held in Jember is part of my responsibility as Jember Regent," Faida told reporters yesterday, as quoted by Detik.
Faida promised to be involved in next year's JFC, particularly in terms of whether performers could potentially violate societal norms of morality or decency through their costumes.
"Any event taking place in Jember should obey the norms of eastern culture and not show something that could violate decency in general. This will be regulated as a form of responsibility by the local government," Faida continued.
However, not everybody agreed with FPI and MUI's criticisms of the festival, with many taking to social media to denounce their moral policing of what Cinta and the other performers at the JFC wore.
"They are just a bunch of people, and they got the nerve to ask a festival that has been held regularly for years to stop. If they thought [the festival] is immoral, simply don't watch it. What's the fuss. I see the costume as artistic. So beautiful. I don't know what they see. Maybe the crotch?" – Deanno (@Deanno_d) August 6, 2019
"You only want everyone to adhere to your wishes, but you said we need to understand each other. This event is enjoyed not by one religion only. Isn't it so weird to go to such event while wearing the sharia version of regional costumes? Mind your own sins, then you can talk." – malee (@NRmalaa) August 7, 2019
"Dear FPI, whether something is haram (forbidden) or not. Where are you from? You didn't make creations such as JFC, you didn't donate, and you judge them. Why not establishing your own country, your own MUI, instead of being angry all the time. Take care of your role model who ran away because he's afraid of going to jail." – tyas (@kakatiyyas) August 6, 2019