Tue, 04 Jan 2000

Indonesia 1999: A cultural retrospect

By Edi Sedyawati

JAKARTA (JP): The year 1999 began with reverberations of what had happened in 1998, when although entangled in an economic crisis, Indonesia managed to organize two major international culture events, in Jakarta.

The first was the 15th conference of the International Association of Historians on Asia (Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, 1998), and second, the Second Art Summit Indonesia (Performing Arts, Sept. 19 to Oct. 19th, 1998).

In a way, these two events, attended by many foreign participants, contributed something to make a better image of the situation in Indonesia, which otherwise was exposed by foreign press agents as being desperately in turmoil countrywide.

Within the year 1999 itself, there were several cultural activities worth noting, which we may recall in a combination of classified and chronological order.

The classification would run as follows: (1) international cooperation; (2) the world of children; (3) the promotion of local cultural potentials; and (4) the promotion of facilitating agents for the development of a conducive sphere for the formation of a national culture.

Aside from all those cultural activities, 1999 also saw a general problem of the role of culture in the development of the nation. Social unrest in certain places, in fact, put cultural tolerance to a test.

Artistic collaboration

The fruit of an international artistic collaboration was seen at Teater Tanah Airku at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, in February 1999, featuring a theatrical rendering of William Shakespeare's King Lear. Acting, music, dialog and dance, as well as costume and stage design, were composed into an integrated whole.

What made it special was that different elements of all those ingredients were taken from diverse stage traditions: Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Malay, Minangkabau and Thai.

Surprisingly, the performance was remarkably good; the dominant feelings reverberate genuinely despite the multiple sources of techniques. The unimpaired strength came from the fact that all the composing and performing artists were masters in their own right.

In March, a bilateral agreement brought about an exhibition of Indonesian Gold from the National Museum's collection in Jakarta to Brisbane, Australia, at the Queensland Art Gallery, and subsequently moved to Sydney. It was hoped that the feelings of Australian visitors who viewed the exhibition noted the cultural refinements of Indonesia and were duly aroused. It was meant as compensation for political and media hostilities between the two countries.

There were, moreover, three international festivals held in Indonesia attended by participants from many countries. The first was the 20th Festival and Conference of Asian Composers League held in Yogyakarta and Surakarta from Sept. 2 to Sept. 9, organized by the Association of Indonesian Composers with the full support of the Directorate General for Culture.

Then there was the Indonesian Dance Festival held in Jakarta, from Sept. 16 to Sept. 21, organized jointly by Institut Kesenian Jakarta, Dewan Kesenian Jakarta, Taman Ismail Marzuki and Gedung Kesenian Jakarta.

Another festival attended by foreign participants was the Makassar Forum held in Makassar, in mid-1999. The presence of foreign participants at all those festivals, again, gave an opportunity "to show the world" that Indonesia was not as bad as it appeared in media coverage.

Culture for children

Another category of cultural activities is that related to children. In February, the Directorate of Museums held an exhibition of children's toys and games, accompanied by a discussion and demonstrations.

This complex of activities was held in the National Museum, Jakarta. A lot of interest from visitors was expressed, mostly with the hope that all those children's games could be revived, to be experienced and enjoyed by our children today.

The wish is, indeed, a challenge for educators, parents and entrepreneurs. A seminar with the same theme, Dolanan Anak-anak (Children's Play), was later held by the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, on July 13.

It is worth noting that some games or plays include songs, of course in the respective local language, and use the specific tonal system of the local culture. Thus, learning a traditional game will also mean learning a musical tradition at the same time.

Enriching the musical experience of children is a problem at hand. Besides the diatonic system, other tonal systems, such as the pentatonic, should also be presented to children. The visual aspect of musical presentation also needs assessment.

At present, too many TV programs feature children's video clips in which children are made to move and dress as coquettish adults. Therefore, the performance of music for children such as that given by the Midori Orchestra during National Education Day celebrations in May is something that needs to be presented more often.

The Indonesian Wayang Week VII, held from Aug. 7 to Aug. 14 in Jakarta (organized by the National Secretariat for Wayang, which took place in a special venue built for wayang in the vicinity of Taman Mini), also featured wayang Kancil, a puppet performance telling educational fables meant for children.

Demonstrations or short performances of the many different styles of wayang (puppets) performances from different places in Indonesia were also welcomed as a means to develop appreciation among the newly acquainted spectators, including children.

In October, a special Children's Theater Week was held for the first time in Indonesia, organized by the Directorate for the Arts, also at Taman Mini. The plays were written in Bahasa Indonesia, but the staging allowed local interpretations. Hence, we saw a great variety of presentation styles from all the participating delegates from many provinces. These creatively constructed performances, which were then observed and evaluated by professional theater artists and experts, should be made accessible to a wider audience.

Local potentials

On Aug. 21, a local and private art center was inaugurated. It is called Pondok Seni Boediardjo at Tingal, a small hamlet near the famous Borobudur temple. It is the legacy of the late air marshal and art lover (also ex-minister and ambassador) H. Boediardjo.

Alumni from several art academies gathered there to help the Boediardjo family develop programs to expose local artistic potentials, as well as to present rare traditional Javanese performances.

For different cultural areas, a remarkable joint-festival was organized in September and October. It was the Festival Budaya Nusantara, coordinated by Pudentia and supported by The Ford Foundation.

It comprised: (1) a performing arts festival at Karangasem, Bali, organized by the Society for Indonesian Performing Arts, from Sept. 9 to Sept. 14th; (2) a festival of Dayak rituals, ethnography and oral language, organized by the Institute of Dayakology in Pontianak, from Sept. 22 to Sept. 23; (3) a Malay Culture Feast organized by the Tanjung Pinang office of the Directorate for History and Traditional Values, from Oct. 7 to Oct. 9; (4) a symposium on manuscript studies and an exhibition of manuscripts at the National Library, organized by the Association for Nusantara Manuscripts, held in Jakarta from Oct. 12 to Oct. 19; (5) a seminar, festival and book launching organized by the Association for Oral Tradition, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 16, at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta; and (6) a conference on local languages organized by a joint committee, also held at Taman Ismail Marzuki, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 19.

This integration of activities makes an exemplary work of synergy, binding together several professional organizations, government offices and foreign agents. Because of its dimension, it had a demonstration effect, letting people know that many studies and vitalization efforts regarding local traditional cultural expressions have indeed been done from time to time.

Tolerance tested

Alas, due to inadequate socialization of intercultural understanding (through four channels: community circles, schools, mass media and cultural industry), cultural (and religious) differences have been exploited for political ends to generate conflicts and to fan fights and riots.

Expertise in understanding and tolerance is needed. It is now high time to see that social and cultural matters are central in problems of social welfare. It should be put as a higher priority, at least at the same level as economic and public facilities development.

What is urgently needed now is an integrated and well- structured combination of efforts to fight ignorance and intolerance of cultural differences thought all four channels mentioned above.

The writer is the professor of archaeology at the University of Indonesia and former director general for culture.