- Heirs to World Culture: Being Indonesian, 1950–1965 ed. by Jennifer Lindsay and Maya H. T. Liem
On 18 February 1950, two months after Indonesian independence was internationally recognized, a group of artists and intellectuals wrote a testimonial of beliefs that opened with the sentence, “We are the legitimate heirs to world culture, and we are furthering this culture in our own way” (p. 10). [End Page 707] This frames the concerns that the authors of Heirs to World Culture addressed in international workshops and collaborations between scholars around the globe. The final book provides different perspectives on the interdependence of arts, culture, and internationalism in forging the new Indonesian identity in the years 1950–1965.
The book’s introduction gives an excellent overview of major political and historical events by noting different advantages and disadvantages to different historiographic approaches. Historians look back, but the authors argue, 1950–1965, the period of Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, was a time of looking forward. Because 1965 ended in mass killings of suspected leftists, including artists and intellectuals, work of this period is often overshadowed by its ending, but the authors strive to write about it “in its own terms, and not in retrospect from a 1965 perspective” (p. 5), using the post–New Order openness, now that President Suharto’s regime (1965–1998) is over. In sixteen chapters with one section titled “Cultural Traffic Abroad” and the second titled “Culture and the Nation,” the book examines how Indonesians used the arts to negotiate differences between regional and national identities. The book desires to balance previous research by looking at popular, rather than Javanese “high-brow,” culture of selected arts and regions to examine arts and artists crucial to the nation.
Part 1 examines how Indonesia used art, literature, and performance to articulate national identity in other countries while drawing from other cultures and incorporating those foreign elements into an Indonesian identity. Most of these chapters are on literature and media and explore how Indonesia, struggling to form its own identity, rejected anything Western or capitalistic and remained wary of communism. Chapter 2, by Keith Foulcher, describes the efforts made by the journal Konfrontasi to reclaim the role Asia had played in the history of science and the arts. The troubled attempt by Dutch officials to establish cultural exchanges with Indonesia after independence is described by Lisbeth Dolk. Budiawan explores how literature and politics are intertwined in his study of how Indonesian writers influenced Malaysian culture and identity-formation. Maya H. T. Liem provides an excellent complement to Budiawan’s work by exploring world literature’s influences on Indonesia through how and why foreign works were translated into Indonesian.
Film and theatre are discussed to some extent. Hairus Salim HS examines networks of communication and culture between Indonesia and Islamic nations such as Egypt and Pakistan through the lives of three influential leaders in the arts: Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah (Hamka) (1908–1981), Usmar Ismail (1921–1971), and Bahrum Rangkuti (1919–1977). Hamka, from the Department of Religion, often traveled to Egypt and, in addition to politics and religious access, developed programs of translation and cultural exchange. He saw that “for Indonesian Muslims, Egypt in this period was an example of how Islam and progress could be joined together to form an intimate interrelationship” (p. 80). Through exchange programs, translations, art exhibitions, and theatre events at his home mosque, Hamka strove to share Egyptian ideas of modernity with the Indonesian public. A footnote [End Page 708] describes one play, about the life of Mohammad, in 1961 that was attended by more than thirty thousand spectators and at one point featured thirty horses onstage. Salim asserts that a visit to Egypt was a political turning point for the father of Indonesian film, Usmar Ismail. Bahrum brought the influence of Pakistan to both Hamka and Usmar. The chapter, though sometimes difficult to follow, demonstrates through their stories the role of Islam in the formation of a global cultural identity in Indonesia. Tony Day...