De Nieuwe Kerk Amsterdam
Dam, 1012 NP Amsterdam, Netherlands
21/10/2023 - 01/04/2024
On Saturday 21 October, De Nieuwe Kerk will open The Great Indonesia Exhibition. Although there have been a number of exhibitions about Indonesia in the Netherlands, this one promises to be special. Earlier exhibitions often dealt with specific periods or art-historical themes from the long history of the world’s largest archipelago. The exhibition in De Nieuwe Kerk on Amsterdam’s Dam Square expressly opts for the larger story, from a contemporary perspective. A story that still gets too little attention in Dutch school textbooks.
The exhibition gives an impression of the eventful history and rich cultures of the country and its inhabitants down through the centuries, from the heyday of the legendary Majapahit Empire, colonial rule as opposed to Indonesian independence and the Second World War to the revolution and the proclamation of the republic by Sukarno, the Suharto era, and today’s Indonesia with all its promises and challenges. The exhibition is an ode to the great cultural diversity that has characterized the archipelago for centuries. Compiled as a polyphonic biography with attention to known and unknown facets, diverse perspectives and traumatic experiences. De Nieuwe Kerk intends the exhibition to interest a broad public that would like to know more.
A picture is painted of that long history with the help of hundreds of objects and countless stories. Each is expounded upon personally in audio and text by representatives of various communities in Indonesia and the Netherlands. The exhibition is a place for new stories and suppressed histories. We share a past, but that same past divides us. Resonating throughout the exhibition, therefore, is a dialogue that is far from over.
For this extensive exhibition, De Nieuwe Kerk is collaborating with a large number of historians, artists, students, museums, eyewitnesses and hands-on experts from Indonesia and the Netherlands. The Great Indonesia Exhibition will run for six months, until Monday 1 April 2024.
Museums, archives and contemporary artists
More than 300 objects will be on display, ranging from centuries-old archaeological finds, sculptures, historical documents and applied art to masks, wajang puppets, textiles, jewellery and fashions, as well as paintings, photographs and films. They come from dozens of museums and private collections. From the Netherlands collection pieces are coming from Wereldmuseum, the National Archive, Rijksmuseum, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and other collections. From Indonesia comes an extensive contemporary art collection that is at the heart of the exhibition. The chosen artists reflect on contemporary themes such as gender and climate change, and mostly make use of traditional techniques. On view soon will be works by Alfiah Rahdini (1990, Bandung), Citra Sasmita (1990, Bali), Eko Nugroho (1977, Yogyakarta), FX Harsono (1949, Jakarta), Heri Dono (1960, Jakarta), Timoteus Anggawan Kusno (1989, Yogyakarta) and many others.
Purpose and themes
The exhibition starts with a mini lecture about the country. Visitors then enter the colourful and multifaceted world of Nusantara, the centuries-old name for the place now known as Indonesia, with attention paid to its stunning natural environment and its biodiversity, but also to the challenges it faces, such as pollution and deforestation. The next focus is on ancient empires, with their centuries of trade, their world religions and their legendary dynasties, followed by a look at death rituals and ancestor worship within various communities, including those of the Moluccas and Papua. Then comes the Second World War, the Revolution and the young Republic of Indonesia, with a breathtaking layout portraying a tumultuous period in the struggle for independence. The exhibition then takes a closer look at resistance to Dutch oppression, which goes far further back than the familiar revolutionary period, telling of the many resistance fighters and the impact of the rise of nationalism. After that, the history shared by Indonesia and the Netherlands is central, from the sixteenth century when the first Dutch people sailed to the archipelago under the flag of the United East India Company (VOC) to the nineteenth century, when the Dutch fought numerous wars to extend their power further by violence. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people were enslaved during Dutch colonial rule is far from common knowledge.
When we come to the final theme of the exhibition, today’s Indonesia takes centre stage, and the younger generation has a chance to speak. Young people express their wishes for the future of their country, surrounded by contemporary artists who, in their work, reflect and criticize but also present hopeful prospects.
Slavery in the East
Few people realise that the Dutch history of slavery was not just about the transatlantic slave trade. In the former Dutch East Indies, hundreds of thousands were enslaved, traded and held in captive. However, Dutch history teaching on the slavery past is generally limited to the West. The fact that slavery in the East does not (yet) have a place in the collective memory prompts De Nieuwe Kerk to develop a special guided tour in collaboration with writer Reggie Baay. The tour on the history of slavery in the East can be booked not only for secondary schools and colleges, but for all visitors.
De Nieuwe Kerk is collaborating not just with different communities in Indonesia and the Netherlands but with many historians, students, artists, museum experts, archivists, collectors, writers, hands-on experts and eyewitnesses at home and abroad. The exhibition has been made possible by an exchange of knowledge and stories. A special collaboration with Museum Sophiahof in The Hague enables eyewitnesses and family members with diverse Indonesian backgrounds to have their say. Among other things, they talk about the Japanese occupation.
An extensive programme is being developed to accompany the exhibition. Various special evening events will be organized, in which well-known authors such as Reggie Baay, Thom Hoffman, Dido Michielsen and many others will tell stories about Indonesia.