Europalia Indonesia in Belgium

Founded in 1969, “Europalia” invited us to discover new perspectives on the “other” and ourselves through the arts, this European project being only successful if it takes the cultures of its member countries and the world into account…
… So, this year, after Turkey, in 2015 ; India, in 2013 ; Brazil, in 2011 ; China, in 2009 ; … ; in 2017, “Europalia” invite Indonesia, until the 21st of January 2018.
Three main exhibitions wait us to help us to learn more about this great Asiatic country, composed of 17.508 islands, only 8.844 having one name, 922 being permantely inhabited.
… And since we write about islands, we have to thing about the life on the sea, what is the goal of the nice exhibition “Archipelago, Kingdoms of the Sea”, till January 21st, in the museum “La Boverie”, in Liège, being located on one walking distance of the railway station of “Liège Guillemins”.
To start our visit of “Archipelago, Kingdoms of the Sea”, don’t forget that the Indonesian Archipelago has welcomed people and cultures from overseas, giving rise to powerful and wealthy maritime states, and assure the identity of this country through myths, religions, arts and artistic techniques that blended with local traditions.
Certainly the sea connects more than it divides, giving the opportunity, since thousands of years, for the Indonesian Archipelago to welcome people and cultures from overseas.
… And now, until January 21st. 2018, it’s time for “Europalia” to welcome Indonesia in Belgium, but also, with some events, in France, Germany, Netherlands and Poland
So, for the first time in the history, Liège welcomes one exhibition of “Europalia”, … and not for one little event, … “Archipelago, Kingdoms of the Sea” being one of the three most important events of “Europalia Indonesia”
… With, first of all, we find one life size traditional boat from Sulawesi, called “padewakang”, first constructed, according to the ancestral method, near Makassar, before to be constructed again, by some Indonesian carpenters in “La Boverie” !

“Padewakang”, in Liège (c) “Caracas”

If the “Royal Museum of Mariemont” and the “Marine National Museum of Paris” show us some of their best artistic pieces, most of them are coming from the “National Museum of Indonesia”, in Jakarta, some of them for their first ever journey outside Indonesia
… In “La Boverie”, with about 300 artistic worksour travel start with the extraordinary Austronesian adventures ; followed by the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms ; the first Sumatran and Javanese Empires ; the sustained relationships with China, India and the Muslim world ; the emergence and growth of Sultanates ; the first contacts with Europeans ; the Islam’s expansion (Indosesia being now the largest muslim country in the world) ; the independence and the subsequent development of the country ; one last chapter being reserved for some contemporary artistic works
Reaching Brussels, “Bozar” (“Palace of Fine Arts”) wait our visit of “Ancestors and Rituals”, til January 14th, to go further with our knowledge of this great country, being the third largest democracy in the world, following India and the USA, with a population of 237.641.000 people, living on one area of 1.904.570 km2, wich give us a density of 115 inhabitants/km2, Jakarta, the capital city being the second more important world metropolis, right after Tokyo.
With more than 700 languages spoken in the country, Indonesia, counting 300 ethnic groups, offer us one rich variety of cultures, about all of them offering ascribing one great importance to their ancestors, wich is really well explained troughout the route of “Ancestors and Rituals”, one main exhibition of “Europalia Indonesia” that we have to visit…
From Papoua to Sumatra, we follow the direct link between the Indonesian and their ancestors, this link offering a social harmony, being the source of fertility, assuring the future of peoples and cultures
… Like on Sulawesi, by the Torajans who exhume their deads each year, to wash, dress and parade them, one video showing us one real expensive funeral, the family of the dead(s) drinking some buffles’ blood, more than 200 of them being offered to their ancestors, during a three days’ funeral rites’ ceremony…, to help the deceased people(s) to attein the status of ancestor
Also, with 160 archaeological and ethnographic treasures loaned by the “National Museum of Indonesia” (some of them being shown for the first time out of Indonesia) and others coming from different Indonesian and European museums, as well that some coming from private collections“Ancestors and Rituals” present us different testimonies of Buddhist and Hinduist cultures being really important in the past (and still right now in Bali), before the introduction of the Islam (wich is, in Indonesia, opened to the pre-existing ancestral cults, respecting, by exemple, in Java, the Hinhuist Temple of Prambaman, dedicated to Shiva, and the Buddhist Temple of Borobudur), in the 13th century, knowing that migratory peoples, who left Taïwan more than 5.000 years ago, came overthere with their Austronesian culture, the Vietnamese culture, knowed for its bronze’s mastery, being also present, Catholicism and Protestantism being introduced by Portuguese and Dutch colonialists, starting in the 16th century, the Indonesian independance being proclaimaid in 1945.
So, this exhibition focuses, as well, on the commercial exchanges with the European countries, introducing the Indonesian spices in Europe, coming mainly for Ambon, in the Moluques’ Archipelago, knowed like the “Islands od spices”, or, also, the sandalwood being imported from the island of Timor, without to forget, the “batik” (this word being created in Java), this technical textile printing being registered, since 2009, by the “UNESCO”, on the list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.
We find, also, videos, with some Indonesian people offering us an actual testimony on their country, ancestors and rituals
And about the contempory Indonesian art, “Bozar” present us the third main exhibition of “Europalia Indonesia”, “Power and other Things”, til January 21st, showing us some examples of the Indonesian Art, since 1835, exploring the recent, and often turbulent history of Indonesia, seen trough the works of 21 Indonesian and Western artists, who created their works directly inside “Bozar”, starting with the Dutch colonialist period, at the time the actual Indonesia was included, in 1800, in the Eastern Netherlands Indies, and during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), the status of women and immigration are among the themes this exhibition tackles in order to understand contempory Indonesia.

“Ganesh, Son of Shiva”, in Liège (c) “”

About this exhibition, Riksa Afiaty, the Indonesian curator said : “In ‘Power and other Things’, artists reflect on how colonial thinking has shaped modern and post-modern Indonesia, up to the present day. By broaching an array of different subjects like the influence of the imperial Dutch colony and the Japanese occupation, or the relationship between the Arab, Chinese and Indonesian communities, they try to find other ways, besides  the postcolonial one, to understand the present.”

Charles Eschen, the second curator, coming from the U.K. add, explaining why this exbition on the contemporary art start in 1835:Many exhibitions on Indonesian art start in 1945 with the country’s independence, but it’s better to see the story in a longer trajectory. That’s why we start the exhibition with three painters from the 19th century. Raden Saleh was the first artist to leave Indonesia and to receive one European education in the Netherlands and, importantly, to return to his country in order to understand his dual identity. The Indonesian-born Jan Toorop moved to the Netherlands permanently, but continued relating strongly to Indonesia. Aside from a short stay in Brussels, Emiria Sunassa spent her entire life in Indonesia, dreaming of a more advanced education in the Netherlands. In different ways, these artists lived in a kind of colonial tension, neither here nor there.”

Leaving the European Capital, we chooise to recommand one more exhibition, in the really interesting “International Museum of the Carnival and the Mask”, in Binche, presenting, from November 10th until March 03d, “Leather Gods, wooden Heroes”, to discover Indonesia trough his mask and puppet theatre practices.
Designated by the “UNESCO”, in 2003, as a “Master piece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, the “wayang puppet theater” is waiting for us in the city of the “Gilles” (also recognized by the “UNESCO”). So, we will enjoy to discover the puppets, cut out of leather, of the “wayang kulit” shadows’ theatre, but, also, the three dimensional wooden pupets of the “wayang golek”. Sure, by visiting this exhibition, with your children, you will immerse in the enchanted world of the Indonesian puppets, discovering their costumes, stories and legends, while being carried away by their beautiful music, played by their balinese and javanese musical instrument, the “gamelan”, made up, predominantly, of percussive instruments. By the way, this theatre’s culture will let you discover a clever mix of reinterpretations, adaptations and creations, closely connected with diverse Buddhist, Hindu and European influences wich have marked the country’s history

“Ciberon Mask Dance” (c) “Indonesian Culture”

But if you visit this museum for the first time, don’t miss to discover the permanent collection, wich will help you to learn more about some traditions of other Asian countries, as well of different regions of Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe, including, of course, one section reserved to the history of the “Gilles of Binche”.

Coming back with “Europalia Indonesia”, other exhibitions can be seen in Belgium, in Antwerp (“MAS”, until 01/21st, and “M HKA”, til 01/07th), Brussels (“Palace of the Stock Echange”, with two exhibitions, one until 11/24th/2017, and the other one until 12/16th/2017), Ghent (“S.M.AK”, until 02/18th, and in the Zebra street, until 11/12th/2017), Hornu (“Mac’s”, until 01/21st), Saint-Gilles/Bruxelles (“Loci”, until 01/30th, Strombeek (“Cultural Center”, till 12/13th/2017), and in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam (in de “Oude Kerk”/“Old Church”, til 11/15th/2017) and in Leiden (“Museum Volkenkunde”/“Ethnology Museum”, til 05/28th).

Yves Calbert

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