Carving creative spaces in conservative Banda Aceh

Despite the imposition of Sharia law, artists, musicians, dancers and skaters still thrive in this part of Indonesia.

Thomas Cristofoletti | | Asia, Indonesia

Banda Aceh, Indonesia - Banda Aceh is an autonomous province in the north of Sumatra Island, and the only place in Indonesia - the country with the world's largest Muslim population - where Islamic law is currently in effect.

Aceh was the area hardest-hit by the 2004 tsunamiMore than 170,000 inhabitants lost their lives.

Many Acehnese viewed the disaster as punishment for their lack of devotion to God. Although Islamic law was introduced in 2006 as part of Indonesian government efforts to appease the Free Aceh movement separatists and end the conflict, some believe the natural disaster helped religious authorities accelerate growing religiousity within the province. 

Alcohol, gambling, not dressing in accordance with Islamic code, premarital relationships, and adultery are now outlawed and punishable by public flogging. A 'Sharia police' team issues warnings and reports transgressors to the relevant authorities.

Still, in underground subcultures, artists, musicians, dancers, skaters and surfers find their own creative spaces within this conservative setting. 

But it isn't always easy. They must often go against the will of their families, dodge the prying eyes of neighbours and avoid the 'Sharia police'. 

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