The Indies on canvas

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics | Indonesia Project

Event details

Indonesia Study Group

Date & time

Wednesday 31 July 2013


Seminar Room B (Arndt Room), Coombs Building, Fellows Road, ANU


Jean Gelman Taylor, University of New South Wales


Indonesia Project
+61 2 6125 5954

Across 300 years Dutch artists illustrated Indonesian peoples and places in pencil and in paint. Theirs is a record of deepening engagement in Indonesian societies as kin and conqueror. Seascapes were followed by port and market scenes wherever Dutch East Indies Company officials did business. The first Asian arts they encountered were Chinese, Japanese and Islamic arts. Batavia’s art market was operating by 1627, just eight years after the founding of the Company’s headquarters, and already Chinese paintings were being offered for sale, suggesting the development of new tastes and aesthetic sensibilities.

From the mid-19th century the camera complements the painted record. The moving picture offers novel perspectives on colonial society from1912. Individuals from multi-ethnic private households and palaces were artists, apprentices, viewers and purchasers.

We see progressions from painted and photographed ‘representative types’ to named individuals. Indies contributors to these visual genres were Dutch, Indonesian and Chinese. Nineteenth century Dutch and Javanese painters turned nature into landscape. Dutch and Chinese photographers recorded the destruction of forests for commercial agriculture. Dutch and Javanese artists imagined history in paint; photographers captured contemporary society. We see Indonesian wage earners taking up jobs in office, factory and clinic. We see new lifestyles, and the development of colonial civil society in the photographs of Masonic, benevolent, musical, sports and political associations. Family photographs document the ambiguities of colonial life. Indonesian family albums record the emergence of a modern consciousness of self. The images shown during the presentation will also suggest the problems in using visual records for history.

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