11 March 2016

Historia Docet Historia Vitae Magistra – The Other Side Of History

Different take: Welcome to Neo-Capitalist Country by Ahdiyat Nur Hartarta is on display at the Historia Docet Historia Vitae Magistra art exhibition at D Gallerie in Jakarta until March 17.

Twelve contemporary artists retell and reinvent Indonesian history in the ongoing Historia Docet Historia Vitae Magistra art exhibition at D Gallerie in Jakarta. In 1961, master sculptor Edhi Sunarso created the Welcome Statue at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, figuring a man and a woman gesturing to welcome participants of the 1962 Asian Games.

Vakantie in Indonesie by Agan Harahap

Five decades later at the Historia Docet exhibition, Edhi’s grandchild, Ahdiyat Nur Hartarta, presents three images, reimagining the monument if it had been built under different regimes.
In a late-capitalist country, the woman is holding shopping bags, while under a fundamentalist Islamic regime, the statues have their heads cut off.    The most thought-provoking image is perhaps Welcome to Indonesia, in which Ahdiyat draws the statues brandishing a hammer and sickle.

‘I didn’t only observe the monument and the history behind it; I also listened to the stories from the sculptor, my grandfather,’ Ahdiyat said. ‘[The statues] spark a romantic memory, but at the same time present an ideological contradiction.’

Presented by France’s Martell Cognac, the bi-annual art exhibition is running for a month until March 17 at D Gallerie in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta. Like Ahdiyat, many artists participating in the exhibition make powerful yet provocative statements about Indonesia’s past. Welcoming visitors in the entrance hall of the venue is a collection of old black-and-white photos.

The photos, compiled by artist Agan Harahap, show the behavior of Dutch settlers during the archipelago’s colonial era. A white woman in a swimsuit, with a broad smile, poses with a hog. Two nude women run carelessly on the beach. Two white children, under the supervision of what appears to be a local maid, play in a muddy rice field. The photos, titled Vakantie in Indonesie (Vacation in Indonesia), is Agan’s ‘revenge’ against the Dutch colonists. ‘I remember a workshop on the emergence of photography in Indonesia. It was mentioned the Dutch often photographed our Indonesian ancestors in an exploitative way,’Agan explained. Jakarta-based artist Saleh Husein recounts racial segregation in colonial-era Indonesia through his acrylic painting, Inverted Conversation.

Inverted Conversation by Saleh Husein

It takes us to the Societeit Simpang Club in Surabaya, a club for the Dutch elite, with a warning posted at the entrance: ‘Locals and dogs are prohibited from entering’. The painting captures the moment when Hamid Algadri, the son of the sultan of Pontianak, was evicted from the club.

The brief yet traumatizing Japanese occupation is highlighted in two works.   On a table, Bandung-based artist Meicy Sitorus has placed a book of photography entitled Nona Djawa (Javanese Maidens), which takes a close look at the lives of jugun ianfu (former Japanese military sexual slaves) and their families 72 years after the traumatic era.

Meanwhile, Mahardika Yudha presents a video installation that features the Japanese regime’s version of the Indonesian national anthem, Indonesia Raya (Great Indonesia). Artists Octora, Theresia Agustina Sitompul and Yudha ‘Fehung’ Kusuma Putera use clothes as their artistic medium.

On a wall, Octora has attached a translucent military jacket to suggest how a military uniform hides the fragile side of human beings. In Domestic Print, Theresia uses carbon sheets to print the clothes and toys of her and her children.

Yudha meanwhile parodies displacement in his work Seniman Senen Hidup Lagi! (Senen Artists Live Again!), for which he photographed garment sellers at Pasar Senen, Jakarta, wearing the important secondhand clothes they sell.

In the background, Yudha attaches the sceneries of countries from which the clothes may have originated; a castle backdrop for a man wearing suit and tie, a snowy mountain backdrop for a man in a ski jacket.

Curator Chabib Duta Hapsoro said the artists ‘creative way of using historical archives could help the public to better understand Indonesian history. ‘The artists show their subjectivity in order to destabilize the singular and fixed interpretations that have prevented the public from gaining better understanding about an event,’ Chabib said.

Photos by JP/Yuliasri Perdani