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  • Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian 1950–1965 ed. by Jennifer Lindsay and Maya H. T. Liem
  • Howard Federspiel (bio)
Jennifer Lindsay and Maya H. T. Liem, ed. Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian 1950–1965. Leiden: Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) Press, 2012. 529 pp.

The title for this book, Heirs to World Culture, comes from a statement made in 1950 by an influential group of Indonesian intellectuals associated with the Siasat weekly magazine. The statement, given the title of “Testimonial of Beliefs,” was a declaration of intent and provided a general guideline for Indonesian artists and writers over the next decade, and is quoted in Lindsay and Liem’s introduction (p. 10): “We are the legitimate heirs to world culture, and we are furthering it in our own way.” Accordingly, the articles in this anthology examine the landscape of the Indonesian artistic scene in the period generally known as the “Sukarno era,” to test the legacy of that effort to advance Indonesian culture. The array of subjects is sufficiently broad to describe the many facets of the scene in those years and also rich enough in information and findings to invigorate studies of an era that has passed, yet was so pivotal to Indonesian national and societal development.

The volume was prepared by independent scholars associated mostly with universities and think tanks across the world specializing in Indonesian studies. The group was organized by the prestigious Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asia and the Caribbean (KITLV), which has a record of a century and a half in sponsoring scholarly research on Indonesian themes. In this case, funding was provided by a grant from the Australian-Netherlands Research Collaboration program for two seminars that brought scholars together to discuss their findings and explore common themes in preparation for publishing a volume presenting the results of the research. Jennifer Lindsay and Keith Foulcher, two important scholars on Southeast Asia, were the primary movers of the intellectual part of the project. The effort aimed simply to bring together the important research being done on the era to give it common exposure. It was not expected that this publication would be a definitive study of the era under discussion, but rather a stepping stone to future research and understanding of arts from that era. As such, it has great value to other scholars, but less importance to groups looking for final answers.

There is great range to the presentations in the volume. One group of studies centers on regional, ethnic, and religious diversity. Accordingly, there are studies about artistic development on Bali, among the Sundanese, at Medan, on Sulawesi, among the Indonesian Chinese, and with certain Muslim elements. A second collection addresses international audiences that were exposed to Indonesian culture through the efforts of these artists, notably the United States, Communist China, the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, and the Netherlands. A third category, which is really the heart of the study, centers on the organization known as Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, the Peoples Institute of Culture), a communist cultural front, which acted as a dynamo for intellectual and artistic development during the latter part of the era under [End Page 109] study. The final group, less clearly defined, but still apparent in general terms, deals with efforts in the sub-eras of this time frame.1

The first group, on regional diversity, is illustrated by Marje Plomp’s article on Medan in North Sumatra, which for a time in the early and mid-twentieth century was renowned for being the region’s capital of pulp fiction. The article describes the growth of a group of intellectual writers who contributed to a distinctive style of writing detective novels set among Malays in North Sumatra, Singapore, and the Malay Peninsula. This genre used the jawi script2 as its principal medium between 1950 and 1965, the writers interacted with the rising cultural elite in Jakarta, thereafter turning away from detective novels in favor of novels embracing the realism of the post-World War II Indonesian literary movement. This change in direction drained off many of the best writers and led to a waning of the influence of...


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