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Reviewed by:
  • Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian, 1950-1965
  • Suryadi (bio)
Jennifer Lindsay and Maya H. T. Liem, eds. Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian, 1950-1965. Leiden: KITLV Press (series Verhandelingen 274), 2012. 544 pp.

In the course of Indonesian history, the years of the 1950s and 1960s have attracted the widest scholarly attention. However, most studies of the country dealing with this period focus primarily on political turmoil, particularly that relating to the September 30, 1965, coup d'e!tat,1 which leaves other areas of study largely unexplored. Although the essays in Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian 1950-1965, under review here, also deal with politics, the ambition of the editors extends beyond politics to explore the cultural life of the young nation during this period.

The book consists of essays developed from two workshops, one held in Leiden (April 2009, "Indonesia's Cultural Traffic Abroad, 1950-1965") and the other in Jakarta (October 2009, "Culture and Nation: Arts in Indonesia, 1950-1965"). The workshops were organized under the auspices of the collaborative research project called "Indonesia Cultural History, 1950-1965: In Search of a Lost Legacy," the bulk of which was financed by a grant through the Australia-Netherlands Research Collaboration (ANRC).

As Jennifer Lindsay, the project's principal grant applicant and one of the book's editors, states in her introductory essay, the aim of the project, which to some extent has been successfully realized in this book, is really quite ambitious: to understand how Indonesian national culture, in its infancy at the time, was translated across the country and how it was articulated and developed in daily life during the most difficult period of the revolution (1950-65). During this period, the country can be said to have been squashed by the conflicts and rivalries between the world's two largest ideological blocks, capitalism and communism, that shared a common imperial instinct. To comprehend the cultural life of the newborn nation-state during this period, the project asks some key questions (pp. 5-6), such as: How did Indonesian artists and intellectuals interrelate? How did their ideas and activities stimulate one another? How did they relate to the world outside? What was the interaction between exposure to the world and cultural developments back home? What was daily cultural life like? How did areas outside of Java or Jakarta relate to the cultural debates and divisions occuring there? What did "national culture" mean locally throughout Indonesia over this period? and How were commitments to it influenced by local events?

The essays in this collection, apart from Lindsay's introduction, are divided into two parts: Part 1, "Cultural Traffic Abroad," comprises seven essays, and Part 2, [End Page 145] "Culture and the Nation," contains nine essays. The manner in which the content is divided reveals the project organizers' basic assumptions regarding the development of Indonesia's national culture. Part 1 covers the promotion of Indonesian ethnic cultures abroad as well as cultural contacts between some of its intellectuals and cultural figures with their foreign counterparts, and Part 2 reports on various cultural activities at home, the bulk of them undertaken by elite cultural figures who had espoused diverse foreign ideologies (religious as well as secular).

The seven essays in Part 1 include Keith Foulcher's extensive discussion of artists', writers', and intellectuals' cultural expressions in the bi-monthly "cultural political and literary journal" Konfrontasi (1954-60), which was affiliated with Sutan Sjahrir's Partai Sosialis Indonesia (PSI, Indonesian Socialist Party); Liesbeth Dolk's investigation of cultural links and collaborations among Indonesian artists and with their colleagues from the Netherlands through the Dutch Cultural Foundation (Stichting voor Culturele Samenwerking, STICUSA) which existed from 1948 to 1956; Hairus Salim HS's tracking of Usmar Ismail's, Hamka's, and Bahrum Rangkuti's visit to Egypt and Pakistan and their cultural perceptions of these two Muslim countries; Tony Day's examination of "the nature and formation of prevalent notions" about Indonesia in America and about America in Indonesia between 1953 and 1957 (p. 119); Budiawan's analysis of the cultural links between "bangsa serumpun" (nations of the same descent) Indonesia and Malaysia in the field of literature...


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