Sketches, stitches, and negotiations: Unravelling Indonesia’s national history through its visual representations

Jembatan Merah (Red Bridge) in Surabaya (c. 1969). Photo courtesy of Griya Seni Hj. Kustiyah & Edhi Sunarso.

Edhi Sunarso may well be the only artist who worked with all regimes, all throughout the time, including after Reformasi. Artists from Sukarno’s era are generally attached, or associated in whatever ways, to the Indonesia Communist Party or its cultural under-bow, LEKRA. This means that during Soeharto’s regime, they would have been either annihilated, silenced, or put in prison, at the very least. Right after Reformasi, artists who worked under the Soeharto regime would have been skipped from the public reference, as they’d be considered allies to the oppressive and cruel government. So, how could Pak Edhi work with all these regimes? While we were chatting with Pak Edhi, the artisans in his studio were building two state-commissioned monuments. The first was of the nationally acknowledged hero, Diponegoro; and second, two horses interacting in joy. Both monuments were for the city government of Makassar. Mind you, this was 2014, so almost two decades after Reformasi and at the fourth president after the military regime was over.

“I made almost all of the dioramas in Indonesia. I made almost all of the dioramas in Indonesia. Firstly, of course, Monas [Museum Sejarah Nasional/National History Museum in Monumen Nasional/National Monument, in Jakarta],” Pak Edhi began his story. Two hours of conversation was not enough. We kept coming back to Pak Edhi with more and more questions and eventually he allowed us to unpack all of his photo albums and boxes of documents. Naturally, we started organizing them to make sense of things. Everything else slowly follows.

Museum Sejarah Nasional (National History Museum), located in the basement of Monumen Nasional (the National Monument) in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of Tom Nicholson, Ary “Jimged” Sendy, and Hyphen —

This research have found its public encounters through:

Van Lith School in Jakarta (c. 1969). Photo courtesy of Griya Seni Hj. Kustiyah & Edhi Sunarso.

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