Light / Dark mode

Unfinished Dialogues: di sini, d.l.l. at Museum MACAN

“We the people of Indonesia 

declare the independence of Indonesia. 

Matters concerning the transfer of power,

et cetera, will be executed in an orderly manner 

and in the shortest possible time.”

Nearly 78 years ago, on the 17th of August 1945, the nationalist Sukarno declared Indonesia’s independence with these statements. This pivotal moment, which took place shortly after Japan surrendered to the Allies during World War II, marked a new page as Indonesia began to progressively define itself as a nation. Indonesia’s search for identity in relation to manifestations of power, the political landscape, and the understanding of locality has undergone various discussions, changes, and tests of time since then. 

Throughout various moments in Indonesian history—the pre-independence era, the birth of Indonesia as a nation, the New Order, and the contemporary age—artists have played their roles as witnesses. Furthermore, their works direct our attention to issues that may be overlooked by the country’s general historical narratives.

Di sini translates as “here”, while d.l.l. is a short form of “dan lain lain”,  referring to the abbreviation that was used in Sukarno’s speech. Presenting Museum MACAN’s exceptional collection, the exhibition di sini, d.l.l. departs from the ambiguity that this abbreviation reflects. On one hand, the phrase is placed in a sentence that seems to indicate a certain urgency; on the other hand, it remains unelaborated.

Through the exhibition’s five sections—namely The Rise of a New Nation, The Polemics of Landscape, Dreams of the Tropics, A World of Parallels, and Invisible Presence—visitors can engage in dialogues that are often absent from Indonesian history. Critical themes explored in the show include narratives surrounding femininity, exoticism, environmental degradation, and ethnic discrimination.

On Independence

Highlighting the period right after Indonesia’s independence, which was marked by the Dutch attempt to regain control of Indonesia after Japan’s surrender in 1945, is a 1966 painting by Dullah entitled Bung Karno di Tengah Perang Revolusi

The scene depicts male revolutionary fighters holding their weapons, as well as the country’s red-and-white flags, which stand out in contrast to the overall sombre tone of the painting. Among them is Sukarno, also known as ‘Bung Karno’ (“Bung” is an Indonesian term which literally means “Brother” or “Comrade”, to address a respected male figure). He is identifiable by his attire, seen here in a white shirt and trousers, and his signature peci (a type of cap commonly used by Muslim men in Indonesia).

With a clenched hand raised up in the air, the first president is depicted delivering his speech in front of the men, referring to how Sukarno convinced and encouraged Indonesians to get together and resist the Dutch between 1945-1949. 

As realistic as it may seem, this scene does not depict a real event—although art historians note a resemblance between this scene and Sukarno’s speech at the Ikatan Atletik Djakarta (IKADA) (Djakarta Athletic Association) held on 19 September 1945. Under the watch of Japanese troops, in front of thousands of people, Sukarno emphasised in this speech that Indonesia was to keep its proclaimed independence. Similar to what is depicted in Dullah’s painting, the speech at IKADA showed Sukarno’s determination to resist the occupation and called for Indonesians to continue defending their independence.

As a painter who later became the caretaker for the Presidential Collection during Sukarno’s rule, Dullah deeply sympathised with Sukarno and the revolution. He painted this piece as a reminder for all Indonesians to unite in times of turmoil. 

The nature of Java

The Polemics of Landscape showcases responses to the style of landscape paintings created during Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) began colonising parts of Indonesia in the 1600s. During their occupation, they sent draftsmen to Java to map the archipelago, as a way for the Dutch to plan their strategies.

The desire to document the Indonesian landscape gradually formed an idealised beauty of Java, which Raden Saleh, one of the earliest Indonesian modern painters, depicts in his works. 

Saleh realised the two paintings in di sini, d.l.l. upon his return to Java, after spending two decades in Europe studying and pursuing his career as a painter. The painting of a waterfall Indische Lansdchaap is meant to romanticise the beauty of Javanese nature, while Javanese Mail Station portrays the progress of Dutch infrastructure. Reflecting this is the artist’s depiction of The Great Post Road, a major road which facilitated the movement of goods and information. Both beauty and individualism characterise European Romanticism—an artistic style that greatly influenced Saleh.

In Tak Berakar, Tak Berpucuk, Painting #09 (No Roots, No Shoots), contemporary Sumatran painter Handiwirman Saputra responds to the Mount Merapi eruption in late 2010. Situated between Central Java and Yogyakarta, its eruption affected the surrounding environment. The monochromatic painting illustrates his personal observation of the natural environment covered in ash. For the artist, this event also serves as a contemplation on transformation and how places and objects assume new forms following change.

Indonesia Dreaming

As we move to the Dreams of Tropics category, a bold and profound installation by the late Barbadian artist Ashley Bickerton greets us. The section revolves around Bali as a romanticised myth and a paradise in the eyes of the Western world, marked by the arrival of European artists in Bali in the 1920s and 1930s. Here, audiences can encounter works by Balinese painters who actively portrayed their own interpretations of Balinese life, depicting its tropical nature, communal traditions, and spirituality. 

On the other hand, Bickerton, given his nomadic background, connects with Bali by poetically depicting the ocean as a place for human existence in this world. His works inspire reflections on the themes of home, belonging, and otherness.

Bickerton’s installation, which features a pair of silver and orange lifebuoys attached using a metal bracket to an ocean-coloured cuboid, is titled Seascape: Floating Ocean Chunk No.1. Made of resin, fibreglass, oil paint, enamel, aluminium and plywood, this unique multimedia work is a continuation of the artist’s Ocean Chunk series. The series was realised prior to Bickerton relocating from New York to Bali in 1993, which became his home until his passing in 2022. 

Having dealt with the harsh New York winters, Bickerton longed for the warm tropical waters and imagined the works in the Ocean Chunk series as his portals to faraway seas. The installation symbolises how personally significant the ocean was to the artist. Apart from Bali, the artist had also spent his life in Giyana and Hawaii, following his father’s frequent moves as a linguist. 

Exploring intersections 

The World of Parallels showcases works in which cultural binaries converge. Having grown up in a syncretic culture—being raised in an Islamic household, and yet exposed to Hinduism and Animism in Java—Arahmaiani’s works often reflect on the unification of such distinct and often opposing influences. 

Here, audiences can witness her iconic early work Lingga – Yoni, in which she combined the Hindu symbols Lingga and Yoni with fragments of Jawi script. The Lingga and Yoni represent male and female genitalia respectively, and suggest the balance and peace between the two equal forces. The first line of the Jawi script reads “nature is a book”, signifying the artist’s proximity with nature and Animism.

On the other hand, Arahmaiani’s recent work, such as the Flag Project, has taken her to diverse communities around the world, with whom she engaged in conversations centred on environmental issues.

Shifting from painting to video, we can also find Nadia Bamadhaj’s Terpesona dengan Kegelisahan (2022), whose title translates to ‘Charmed by Anxiety’. The piece is a slow-motion film performing a choreographed routine to the song ‘Terpesona’, which describes charm and attraction. What’s interesting is the juxtaposition of the lyrics’ innocence and romanticism with the masculinity of the military troops, reflecting the differences between such opposing natures. 

Memories of violence

Towards the other end of the exhibition room, a captivating contemporary installation by Irfan Hendrian awaits. Corrugated Panels (2022) is a series that illustrates the artist’s unique approach of crating three-dimensional forms using paper. Through a meticulous process of cutting and layering sheets of paper, Hendrian recreates familiar objects. This results in works such as Corrugated Fences on Concrete Barricade (2022) and Corrugated Steel Panels (2022), which reflect his concern towards ideas of urban development. 

These works are particularly notable for featuring materials that reveal the artist’s Chinese ancestry, which is deeply significant in light of Indonesia’s history of violence towards the ethnic group. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were confined to their homes, that the artist’s father began openly discussing this aspect of his heritage. At home, the artist came across his mother’s collection of interior design magazines and hu paper (Chinese talismans), which his grandmother had given him annually since he was a teenager. Peer closely at the works and you’ll see that the artist has incorporated the hu paper sheets into the works, serving as personal archival materials.

Placed in The Invisible Presence section of the exhibition, the work recalls the unease experienced by those of Chinese ethnicity in Indonesia. It brights to light how the ethnic group had been violently targeted and scapegoated in events, such as the tragic 1965 mass murders, the peak of the Asian Financial Crisis and Suharto’s fall in 1998. In this context, the artist’s family history becomes especially prominent, as it reflects the historical tensions between different parties and ideologies during the transition from the Old Order (1945-1965) to the New Order (1966-1998), as well as the end of the New Order. 

These enlightening pieces are among the show’s 50 artworks, which aptly highlight the forgotten events and lived experiences of artists in Indonesia. Reflecting a variety of styles, techniques, and historical periods, the exhibition unveils the political upheavals, memories of colonialism, environmental issues, and racial trauma that have continuously haunted Indonesia’s development. In this critical show, the featured artists offer a novel perspective on what lies at the country’s heart: persistent, unfinished dialogues.


di sini, d.l.l. runs at Musem MACAN until 8 October 2023. Click here to find out more. 

Feature image: Image courtesy of Museum MACAN

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