By Linawati Sidarto, The Jakarta Post 6 October 2016
‘40,000 Homes and a Sense of Security’ by Tintin Wulia
An Amsterdam exhibition featuring 11 Dutch and Indonesian artists explores the countries’ shared history — and what it means for the current generation.
A row of old black-and-white photographs depicts young Chinese men and women lined up along a white wall, with definitions of “citizen” and “resident” written below them.
In front of the wall is a chair and a table with a stack of forms: replicas of what Chinese laborers had to fill in when applying to enter the Dutch East Indies a century ago.
Next to the stack are two stamps: one saying in Dutch Restitutie Verleend (accepted), the other in Malay Ditjabut (denied). On the side is a video showing Chinese-Indonesian identity cards, with a monotonous voice reciting names.
“FX Harsono shows us that often others decide where you do — or do not — belong. What is home? Is it what you feel in your heart, or what other people tell you?” says Marga Bosch, cofounder of the event Koneksi — Connectie.
In addition to the art exhibition “Rethinking Home”, which opened last month, there are theater readings and film screenings, culminating with an evening of music and dance featuring Dutch and Indonesian DJs later this month.
Marga and Ingrid Oud, both active in the arts world, came up with the idea as they both have family roots in Indonesia. “My parents were born there,” says Marga, adding that around a million of the 17 million people in the Netherlands have some connection with its former colony.
“We grew up with the sounds and tastes of that faraway land. And yet our parents or grandparents do not necessarily tell us a lot about their past,” Marga says.
Many Dutch and people of mixed European ancestry were interned in camps when the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies in 1942. At the end of World War II, Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands, followed by four years of war between the two countries.
“Many people of my parents’ generation left in very difficult circumstances.”
Marga and Ingrid aimed to have an event that would “look at the connection between the two countries. Not in the usual tempo doeloe [good old days] manner, which is what people usually do when speaking about Indonesia. We thought about doing it through contemporary art, since artists have a critical and fresh way of viewing the world”.
Curator Christine van den Bergh explains that the participating artists have done work surrounding the themes of identity, history and migration.
‘Memorabilia’ by Agung Kurniawan
The connection, she says, already happened during the production process: while creating their work, the five Indonesian and six Dutch artists — ranging in age between 36 and 67 — were each “coupled” with an artist from the other country and had the chance to discuss ideas.
Christine herself worked with co-curator Agung Hujatnikajennong of the Bandung Institute of Technology’s (ITB) School of Art and Design.
The art works vary in form — ceramics, metal and textile installations to photo, audio and video — as well as substance.
Kaleb de Groot and Iben Trino-Molenkamp traveled deep into Aceh to find descendants of those murdered by the Dutch during the three-decade colonial war in the late 19th century, resulting in the harrowing documentary Counter Memory 101.
Aceh was also the focus of Yogyakarta-based Agung Kurniawan’s artwork Memorabilia: he recreated drawings from a Dutch manual showing how to tie up captured Acehnese rebels with rope, and made colorful brass pins out of them. During the exhibition’s opening, a man and a woman went around the crowded gallery in black hijabs and had guests attach the pins to their veils.
Jennifer Tee’s personal interpretation of traditional palepai and tampan (ship cloth) from Lampung was to make tapestries out of dried tulip petals. Tee’s father went by ship to the Netherlands from Indonesia in 1950.
Meanwhile, Kevin van Braak, whose grandfather was in the Dutch military intelligence during the 1945-1949 colonial war, transposed old photographs taken during the war onto cloth using traditional batik techniques. The result is an indefinite image that seems to change shape when viewed close up or from a distance.
The most imposing structure might be Tintin Wulia’s 40,000 Homes and a Sense of Security, a towering installation comprised of hundreds of postcards. It reflects the historical and current role of the postal service, and the many hands needed to get mail from sender to destination.
Bali-born Tintin said she had one key element in common with Tiong Ang, her Dutch counterpart in the exhibition: the year 1965.
“We were both born in Indonesia. He was born before ’65 and I was born after ’65. But both our lives seem to be affected deeply by ’65,” she said.
“Unlike Tiong’s family who decided to leave, mine decided to stay, and even went back to the very location where my grandfather had disappeared to sort of prove themselves — an act that is still perplexing to me.”
Amsterdam-based Tiong Ang did a reenactment of a street demonstration scene from The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie about an Australian journalist caught in the midst of Indonesia’s political chaos in 1965. Tiong shot the scenes in Jakarta this summer, using local performers. Included in the footage are conversations with the young performers, who knew little about the historical facts of 1965.
Koneksi–Connectie’s evenings of theater and film screenings, followed by panel discussions among Dutch and Indonesian experts, were well attended by audiences in a rainbow of race and age.
Young historian Marjolein van Pagee, who moderated the film evening, spoke about “how differently the Dutch and Indonesians deal with history”.
Van Pagee, whose grandfather fought in the 1945-1949 colonial war, has initiated the Histori Bersama (shared history) platform “so that we can share our perspectives, and maybe eventually come to a better understanding of each other”.
These different perspectives are made crystal clear in the 1995 documentary Maar de foto’s waren mooi (At least the photos were pretty) about the problematic state visit of Queen Beatrix to Indonesia in August 1995.
The queen had planned to be in Indonesia on Aug. 17 to attend its golden anniversary. However, this changed after the Dutch public strongly opposed her plans: After all, the Netherlands only formally recognized Indonesia’s independence in December 1949.
With the events, Marga Bosch aspires to engage “a younger audience from both countries to connect with each other into the future”. Curator Christine van den Bergh hopes that Koneksi–Connectie might make its way to Indonesia, “but that will depend on funding”.