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Outside Within The Colonial Theatre: an Audio Guide

Podcasts 06 Jun 17 0

This three-parts audio guide is a site-specific intervention realized by the research collective KUNCI Cultural Studies Center (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) in the Netherlands East Indies permanent exhibition at the Tropenmuseum. The guide has been produced in the framework of KUNCI’s 6-week research residency at the Tropenmuseum, a project facilitated by the independent platform Heterotropics and the Research Center for Material Culture. The audio guide can be found online on radio.kunci.or.id  and can thus be accessed by everyone, both inside and outside the museum.

The storyline within this guide functions as an alternative reading of the objects being displayed in the permanent exhibition. Inaugurated in 2003, the exhibition is fashioned as a colonial theater which was made to illustrate the century-long colonization of nowadays Indonesia by the Netherlands. Through hyper-realistic life-size mannequins and artifacts of different kinds, the colonial theater aims to provide the audience with narrative sceneries of the daily life in the so-called East Indies, exploring different macro-areas such as ‘Education’, ‘Art’, ‘At Home’, ‘Commerce’, ‘Discovery’, and ‘Presentation’.  The audio guide content is exclusively developed as a critical attempt to address the ineffable gaps lurking in between the spectacular materiality of colonial gaze. Its aim is to unsettle the museum’s visual syntax and rhetoric through the use of sound and its impalpable, ubiquitous, evocative power.

The story that you will be listening to in the guide is voiced by Sulastri, the main fictional character of Buiten het Gareel, a novel written by the Javanese feminist teacher and anti-colonial activist Suwarsih Djojopuspito and published in Dutch in 1940. The novel –which was published in Indonesian only in 1975 under the title Manusia Bebas, or the ‘Free Man’–  chronicles the life of a female teacher and her husband, who organized a ‘wild’ (illegal) school in late colonial West Java. Her narrative moves from personal conflicts to the more political ones–financial difficulties in running the school, challenges in dealing with the school’s internal dynamics and oppressive colonial system. The figure of Sulastri is represented in the museum by a mannequin portraying an Indonesian teacher in the section about “Education in the East Indies”. This mannequin was originally made for the Netherlands East Indies pavilion in the Paris World Exhibition of 1931 and entered the museum’s collection in 1934. Throughout the years this human prop served different roles and assumed different identities, bearing testimony to the various representational practices of Dutch colonial history in the museum.

In this audio guide, the contradiction in Sulastri’s fictitious existence is emphasized by using her body and voice to travel through the time tunnel of history–as the evidence, the eyewitness, the observer, the observed, the victim as well as the survivor of the colonial and postcolonial politics of representation. In our guide Sulastri’s voice weaves a multifold narrative that brings the visitor in and out of the museum, amplifying what is hidden beneath what is obvious. Her voice is presented as an antithesis of the museum’s gaze and as a medium for reclaiming colonial history. The routes in the guide are the sensuous paths  that we choose to zoom in our knowledge and our lack of that history as well as to reposition ourselves towards colonial knowledge formations.

Credits:

Sulastri’s voice: Nuraini Juliastuti

Scriptwriter: Brigitta Isabella, Nuraini Juliastuti, Syafiatudina

English translation: Ferdiansyah Thajib, Fiky Daulay

Recording technician: Fiky Daulay, Syafiatudina

Audio editor: Syafiatudina, Fiky Daulay

Download the audio file via this link.

Colonial Past in European Memory

Podcasts 06 Jun 17 0

A conversation between KUNCI ( Brigitta Isabella, Ferdiansyah Thajib, Fiky Daulay, Nuraini Juliastuti, Syafiatudina), Sara Giannini (curator of heterotropics project) and Chiara De Cesari, an anthropologist and assistant professor with a double appointment in European Studies and in Cultural Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Cesari’s research broadly focuses on memory, heritage, and broader cultural politics and the ways in which these change under conditions of globalization, particularly the intersection of cultural memory, transnationalism and current transformations of the nation-state. She is also interested in the globalization of contemporary art and forms of creative institutionalism and statecraft.

The conversation was centered on how the inertia of cultural institutions such as museum, facing colonial past in relation to rising discourse of European memory. The discussion was followed by question of materiality of museums’ archive: does the idea of remembering colonial past depart from abundant materials?; do museums see its materials as economic resources or as object of knowledge? The discussion took place in Riouwstraat, on 4th June 2017, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The recording was edited by Fiky Daulay. Download the audio file via this link.