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Urban, Reflection
Jim Supangkat

Prolog: Urban 1950
Art Deco houses in Indonesia are no longer numerous today. These houses were generally built during the colonial era. Indeed, as often happens in many ex-colonial states, Indonesian cities were built and developed during the colonial period. That is why, houses with such style are known here as "Dutch houses."

The tenants of these Dutch houses are usually high officials in the government or the military, public servants, judges, attorneys, business people, and professionals - doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, scientists, teachers, and accountants. They are the middle class society with influence in determining the course of social, economic, and political developments in Indonesia. This, at least, was reflected during the Public Election of 1955.

The lifestyle, taste, awareness, and the beliefs of this layer of society in 1950s, showed that this was the civil society. The urban society. Civilians, however, were not their main identity. They were respectable people as they formed an elite, educated group. There were not many of them, as during the colonial period, education was not open for everybody.

They did not exist in the Indonesian urban areas all of a sudden. These were not the people who resided in the Dutch houses as the original Dutch tenants left the Indies after the Indonesian independence in 1945. The middle class had been present in the colonial cities since the end of the 19th century, when Indonesia was still a colony of the Dutch. There is a history behind the civil society of the 1950s in Indonesia.

The History of the Indonesian Civil Society
At the end of the 19th century, Indonesia was still a colony of the Dutch. The Indonesian cities of the time grew along with the emergence of the middle class society. Some historians call the emergence of the middle class as the emergence of the "capital era" - i.e. when the private sectors succeeded in obtaining their rights. The growth of trades and private plantations in turn made this civil society gain political power to urge the colonial government to provide public facilities.

As a result, the colonial government started to build schools, health services, telecommunication networks, postal services, and train, shipping, and tram networks. Due to the urging of this group, the government then also arranged for mortgage facilities, credit services for trades, housing credit, and credit services for the plantations.

It was during this time that the native clerks grew in number and entered the systematic bureaucracy of the colonial government. Their numbers kept on growing as many colonial workers moved to the many private companies blooming at the time. At the end of the 19th century, the colonial government was forced to create educational institutions for the natives, with the objective of creating the much-needed professional workers.

This group of native workers and professionals helped to create the Indonesian middle class. These were the educated people, with incomes that were generally higher than the average native residents. They had the awareness, beliefs, and thinking capability that were on a par with the Dutch middle class.

As portrayed by historical novels - the novels of Pramoedya Ananta Toer deserve to be mentioned specifically - the native middle class lived just as the Dutch middle class did. They used the Dutch language to communicate, wore European clothes, and believed in the moral ethics.

The traces of their traditions became almost invisible. History records, however, that they were never culturally European. In many things, they had different perceptions with the Dutch middle class. The basic difference could be seen in how they viewed public rights. The Dutch viewed these as civilians' rights; the natives, on the other hand, viewed these as rights to freedom.

The formation of the middle class society in the 19th century was the beginning of the civil society, whose signs were still obvious in the beginning of 1950s. The 50-year growth depicts the history of the Indonesian civil society. The different perceptions between the natives and the Dutch, however, make it difficult for us to view the history of the Indonesian civil society merely as the history of the urban society. The native components of the civil society betray a significant relationship with the formation of the concept of "Indonesia" as a nation and a state.

Such relationship complicates the history of the Indonesian civil society. The formation of the civil society cannot be understood without analyzing the development of a new culture that served as its foundation. This was the culture that brought the native society to enter the middle class society. This was also the culture that enabled the natives to be aware of their rights as a nation.

This new culture was the culture in the "third space," existing between traditions on the one hand and the European culture on the other. This culture was the result of encounters between the natives and the Dutch colonials. In this new culture, the natives' awareness about a new, exclusive, and homogenous society emerged, albeit having come from various groups with a myriad of different cultures and traditions.

Indonesia is a post-colonial state, i.e. a state whose boundaries are similar to those of the colonial areas. The formation of the Indonesian state and nation had been based on nationalism in its original meaning. In 1882, at the Sorbonne University in France, the orientalist Ernest Renan first introduced nationalism as a signifier for the construction of a homogenous exclusive society. The signifier arose and was applied because of the unstable conditions due to the racial and ethnic signs. Nationalism, on the other hand, does not carry ethnic or racial traditions.

In Indonesia there were - and still are - more than 300 ethnic groups, who had never been considered as one nation according to ethnology. During the colonial period, the ethnology analysis served as the foundation for the colonial government to view their colony, which they called the Dutch Indies, never as one distinct nation. This was the perception that would then be turned upside-down by the natives, serving to prove that the inhabitants of the colonial area were indeed of one nation.

The Beginning of the Encounter
The new culture reflected by the native middle class at the end of the 19th century has a long history. The encounter of the natives and the colonial public, which had been the basic of this new culture, had shown its signs since the beginning of colonialism, when the Dutch colonial power grew in the form of the trade company in the Far East, known as the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).

The early encounters took place in the 18th century in several courts in Central Java. One important signpost is the signing of the Giyanti Agreement in 1755. The agreement was actually an effort of the VOC to spread its power. When the agreement was signed, VOC had conquered the areas on the northern coast of Java-Banten, Surabaya, Cirebon, and Semarang—and spread its influence to inner Pasundan in west Java. Mataram at that time was a great, influential court, weaken nevertheless by wars. After the Giyanti Agreement, Mataram was split into the Sunanates of Surakarta and Mangkunegara; and the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and the autonomous area of Pakualaman.

VOC directly saw the opportunity. After the Giyanti Agreement, VOC nurtured administrative, governmental relationships with the residents who were no longer within Mataram's hold. VOC, however, did not stay for long to take advantages of the networks they created. At the end of the 18th century, VOC was bankrupt due to chaotic management and corruption.

In 1795, when the French ruled over the Netherlands, VOC's "board of directors" known as the "17 Masters" (Heeren XVII) was disbanded. Its role was taken over by a committee founded in 1796. The committee became a part of the governing structure in the Dutch Kingdom. When VOC was duly dismantled in January 1880, its entire stronghold came under the rule of the Kingdom. This was the area known as the Dutch Indies.

With much difficulty, the new ruler had to handle the financial problems caused by VOC. They tried to gain maximum profits by taking advantage of the network of power the VOC once built, this time using more open ways and no weaponry.

Under the rule of General-Governor Daendels (1807-1811), the bupatis were given positions under the préfet, a local ruler appointed by the Dutch. The préfets were known more as the residents, who were initially Dutch employees. Under the residents, the bupatis were officially held as the employees of the Dutch Kingdom, which meant that they could use the official stamps of the Kingdom and had the power to manage various public affairs, including religious ones.

Daendels also issued many regulations of etiquette and attitude, which created changes in the protocols of the Javanese courts. These regulations forced the Javanese courts to admit the equality between the Court and the colonial administration. Such admission was materialized in the form of various court protocols; one of them was the protocol to welcome Dutch officials in the Court. The Javanese kings were forced to prepare guest chairs with the same height as that of the throne.

The stripping of the king's rights took place also in the king's personal sphere. Daendels created personal troop to guard the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The troop consisted of people from Ambon and Bengali, and the members were specially selected by Daendels and placed in the structure of the colonial government under the responsibility of the resident.

The various regulations of the colonial government were the early signs of the encounters between the natives and the colonials. The regulations were an effort to limit the kings' power and influence. This was because the colonials believed that to erase the kings' power altogether would only create havoc.

The Emergence of a New Culture
The kings' attitude in accepting these limitations had not been baseless. The trade politics of the Dutch Kingdom was more open and free compared to that of the VOC, which had ruled with violence. Daendels had built communication infrastructures to develop an open trade system. This policy opened the path for private companies from England, France, and America to start trading in the area. Through this trade route, relationships begun between the foreign traders from England and the kings and princes of the Javanese courts. The ideology behind the French Revolution and the Enlightenment entered the archipelago.

The Arab traders from Hadhramaut also took advantage of the opened network. The spirit of Islam reformation that they brought along resulted in profitable trades in various locations in the archipelago, starting from Aceh, Minangkabau, and the coasts of Java, and subsequently entered the Javanese inlands.

The accepting attitude also found its roots in the desire to hold on to the peaceful condition, after the trauma of the long-winding wars among the Javanese courts before the Giyanti Agreement. The agreement proved to have brought peaceful time and enabled the progress of culture and critical traditions. The encounter between the colonials and the foreign traders triggered the spirit of reformation in the Javanese culture. It was during this time that myriad of Javanese traditions grew and were enriched. In the 18th century, the Javanese culture saw much progress, especially in its critical traditions.

Unfortunately, the peaceful time did not last long. When Java was handed over temporarily to the British, there was much commotion. The British Governor-General Stamford Raffles, who held the power in Java during 1811 - 1816, wished to develop modern economic system. This writer of History of Java then issued a regulation limiting the traditional rights of the Javanese kings' and courts, and erased their rights to land. Following the European system, Raffles also applied taxes on land and lease the courts' land to the private companies in order to develop the plantations. The Javanese courts were furious.

Tension upon tension created several small-scale rebellions. The situation deteriorated when the economic crisis took place after Java had been returned to the hands of the Dutch in 1816. The long crises until 1825 resulted in a big war known as the Diponegoro War. The war lasted from 1825 to 1830 and had cost the colonial government dearly.

The politics of Daendels and Raffles are important as we analyze the emergence of new culture during the colonial time. The politics surfaced precisely when the natives were enjoying a time of peace and saw the progress due to the open trade. The politics of the two governor-generals seemingly destroying the good image of the colonials betrayed the dualism of the colonial power.

In post-colonial analyses, this dualism caused the ambivalence on the part of the people in the colonial area vis-à-vis the colonial administrators. This ambivalence showed how there had always been a fluctuating attitude between acceptance and rejection.

According to Homi K. Bhabha, an expert in post-colonial theories, the ambivalence was due to the basic attitude of colonialism. The colonial government never actually wished to develop the colony, fearing that progress might cause the people in the colony to demand freedom. This was precisely the root cause of the devastation of the colonial power. The ambivalence among the people in the colonial area would invariably led to attitudes of rebellion, which were subsequently followed by ideas for freedom.

The Governor-General Johannes van den Bosch, who came to power near the end of the Diponegoro War in 1839, changed Raffles's politics. He reinstated the traditional rights of the Javanese courts with regard to land, annulled the tax on land, and continued with Daendels's idea to develop the infrastructures. Behind the seemingly kind regulation, however, lay the ideas for profit making.

Johannes van den Bosch issued the cultuur stelsel policy and applied it to all residencies. This was the obligatory sowing of export plants in one-fifth of the most fertile land in each residency. The land-tax said to be erased turned out to apply still, albeit in a different form, this time in natura in the forms of the export-plants produce.

The development of the export-plants estates took place with the means of obligatory work on the part of the people. The obligatory work included the making of trade infrastructures, such as roads. Johannes van den Bosch used the power of the residents to oversee the sowing, the harvesting, and the transporting of the export plants. Supply of such land-products was guaranteed due to the bonus and incentive system for the residents, enabling the colonial government to use only a small number of Dutch employees - and that was also only to oversee the work of the residents.

Realizing the farmers' obedience to the Javanese nobles, the colonial government increased the number of the native employees. It had a positive impact; the cost of the cultuur stelsel was reduced and the colonial government gained even more profits.

The recruitment of the nobles forced the Dutch employees to work even more closely with them. Thence emerged the towns in central and west Java. In the beginning, the employees of the colonial governments, native or otherwise, started to build houses around the resident's house in the vicinity of the court of patih (the second in power in the Javanese court's hierarchy). In this settlement, various facilities were built, such as schools, churches, theatres, and "club houses."

The encounter between the colonial and the natives entered the stage of the formation of a new culture. Still with the economic-political interest behind the cultuur stelsel in mind, the colonial ruler realized the importance for the European administrators to understand the Javanese culture and language. The Dutch colonial power then established the Instituut voor het Javaansche Taal (The Institute for the Javanese Language) in Surakarta, in 1833.

When the institution was developed, its cultural aspect became stronger. In 1840, the Royal Academie in Delft took the institution under its wings. It was then taken over by the Leiden University, which actually had already a Javanology center founded by Taco Roorda, an expert in the Javanese language.

Within the institution, myriad of cultural researches were conducted. The experts on the Javanese culture there even delved into the ancient Javanese language. With the help of scientific systems and methodology, the institution managed to reconstruct the past of the Javanese culture. This provided the trigger for some Javanese nobles to go to the Netherlands to study there.

Thence a new culture evolved; which one day would be called the Javanese Classics. This was no longer an "original" culture. The traditions of art and thoughts in this specific culture, delineated as they were in systematic writings, showed that the bases of this culture were no longer similar as those of the other ethnic cultures in the Archipelago.

Between the 19th and the early 20th century, a new wave of colonialism emerged, basing itself more on imperialism. According to Edward Said, imperialism is theory, practices, and mindset in one metropolitan center that wished to control dominantly its territory.

Imperialism, therefore, infiltrated the cultural realm. The influence of the European culture became more pronounced during this period. The actors behind such process were no longer powers under the colonial government, but also forces in the society: industrialists, businessmen, traders, religious clerics, researchers, scientists, artists, and even adventurers.

During the imperialism period, modernization was introduced to a small group of the native society living around the colonial centers in the cities. The European liberals supporting the modern ideology spread modernization through personal relationship; it is therefore difficult for us to ascertain which force that had given rise to modernization in the colony. The impact, however, was obvious: from imperialism emerged the desire to let go of the colonial powers.

In Indonesia, the imperialism era was signified by the modernization process in various areas outside Java. The progress in terms of modernization took place among the elites, usually the nobles living in the vicinity of the colonial powers. In Java, the imperialism period was signified by significant progress among the Javanese nobles, who had undergone the modernization process earlier. The nobles started to control the trade and economic system, and practiced the ideas of modernization.

Since 1836, plantations belonging to the Javanese nobles in Surakarta and Yogyakarta grew rapidly. The progress of the private plantations of the natives could compete well with the plantations belonging to the European businessmen and with the colonials who still ran the cultuur stelsel program. There were thus strict competitions among them, especially in recruiting workers.

Faced with such competition, the colonial ruler then limited the private sector's right to rent land. This regulation sowed protests from the private businessmen. The European businessmen fought against this regulation through the Dutch parliament. The Liberal Party, seeing the advantages of the private businesses for the progress in the modern world, supported the planters' arguments.

In 1848, there was a change in the constitution, bestowing the Dutch parliament the right to meddle in the colonial matters. Soon after the new constitution was applied, the oppositions - the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats -united in the parliament to demand changes in the colony. The demand was based on the interest of the Dutch middle class that had grown from the profits made in the colony. The oppositions asked for the reduction in the government's role in the economy of the colony, in the form of the annulment of the regulation that had limited the movements of the private sectors in Java. The oppositions also demanded the erasure of forced labor and oppression toward the people in Java and Sunda (west Java).

The Social Democrats went on further and asked for the colonial government to improve the welfare of the natives in the colony. They strongly demanded the moral responsibility of the Dutch Empire toward the natives in the Dutch Indies.

Amid the strong tides of these demands, it was difficult for the colonial government to hold on to the cultuur stelsel program. Criticism and oppositions against the program spread inevitably among the Dutch people.

In 1860, one former employee of the colonial government, Eduard Douwes Dekker, published a novel titled Max Havelaar in the Netherlands, using Multatuli as his nom de plume. The novel told of the oppressions and corrupt attitudes of the colonial government and its employees in Java, and was used by the Liberals in the Netherlands as a means for propaganda against the Dutch oppression. Various articles appeared in the mass media, demanding the Dutch government to fulfill its moral responsibility toward the people of the Dutch Indies.

One of these articles was "Nederlands Rechten en Verplichtingen ten Opzichten van Indie" (The Dutch Rights and Obligations toward the Dutch Indies), written by Robert Fruin, published in the Dutch influential daily De Gids in 1865, the article viewed the practice of retained earnings in the cultuur stelsel as a colonial policy that was not in line with the Dutch law. The article had a big influence on the Liberals in the Dutch parliament, who then stated the urgency for a moral movement questioning the policy.

The Civil Rights, the Rights to Freedom
The mixture of the social and economic issues in the middle of the 19th century enabled the Liberals in the Dutch parliament to strive for the demands of the private plantations in Java. In 1870, the Dutch finally issued Agrarian Law, which marked the end of the cultuur stelsel. The Law annulled almost all cultuur stelsel programs, and opened the path for the private companies to invest in the various sectors of the colony previously under the sole control of the Nederlandshe Handelmaatscappij.

Still in the 1870, the Netherlands Train Company (NIS) started to operate a train network. In the beginning, the network was solely used to transport sugar canes from around Yogyakarta and Surakarta to the Semarang port for export or to be transported outside Java. The network was subsequently developed to connect big cities in Java.

It was during this time that the civil society in the Indonesian cities emerged as a sign of the formation of the middle class, consisting of Dutch and the native people. The fact that this was the seed of the civil society was reflected in the society's awareness about their rights.

They soon reacted against Article 111 in the Government's Regulation banning the people in the colony to form political alliances. The Article also regulated the ways to assert one's opinion to the parliament, saying that the opinion must be written in a letter, which would then be processed in stages through all the political hierarchy, starting from Batavia (in the State Office), then in Bogor (where the Governor-General resided), and then to The Hague (the Dutch Parliament). In fact, most of the letters never arrived in The Hague.

The difficulties in cutting through the blockade of the colonial bureaucracy gave rise to the issues of emancipation, of equality among the citizens of the Dutch Indies. The issues grew and gave birth to the idea to make the Dutch Indies an autonomous area free from the Dutch mother country. The Dutch people in the colony also saw the opportunity to develop their businesses should the colony gain an autonomous status.

The native component in the civil society of the end of the 19th century was not truly involved in the struggle for the citizens' rights. The difference in their status caused the natives not to have equal rights with the Dutch society in the colony. As colonial subjects, the natives had ambivalent views on the struggle for the citizens' rights. They saw it not merely as the citizens' rights, but also as a right to freedom.

Just as in any civil society, the mass media played a big role in building communication among members of society and in being a means for publishing people's aspirations. De Locomotief, a newsletter founded in 1863 in Semarang, formally became a daily in 1879, and grew into an influential media. The readership consisted of planters, traders, industrialists, educated natives, and employees of the colonial government. This power made people accept the visions of De Locomotief as the visions of the people in the Dutch Indies at the time.

P. Brooshooft, the editor in chief in De Locomotief, was a reformist concerned about the rights of the natives, especially the farmers and plantation workers. He saw them as members of society who had helped enrich the colonial government, but whose welfare had been ignored. Brooshooft was the one who had triggered the debates about the Ethical Politics.

The base for the Ethical Politics had been formed since the cultuur stelsel policy gained criticism and was viewed as an immoral oppression. The Ethical Politics was the continuation of such view, a definition of a political concept which according to its proponents must be taken by the Dutch Government as a moral responsibility. De Locomotief was the first media that dared to talk on end about the rights of the natives.

Enter the 20th century. The struggle for the Ethical Politics showed positive results. In her New Year remark before the Dutch parliament on January 1, 1901, Queen Wilhelmina stated the result of the investigation of the Mindere Welvaarts Commissie about the conditions of the people in the Dutch Indies. In the same year, the Dutch parliament formally accepted the Ethical Politics. The Governor General Idenburg soon applied the Ethical Politics in the colony, in the form of education programs and improvements in the farming system.

Several universities were established on Java. The educated natives from various corners of the Archipelago gathered in Java to further their education. Albeit having come from different cultural backgrounds, the educated natives found it easy to communicate and connect among them as they came together in Java. They introduced a new culture and used the Dutch language for daily communication. Their most pronounced identity was the identity of the urban society. Such gathering of educated natives on Java helped in creating the concept of Indonesia.

During the development of the critical middle class, a rupture arose between the Dutch and the natives. The natives viewed the Ethical Politics using an anti-colonialism perspective. In history, the rupture was marked by the distribution of pamphlets under the title "Als Ik een Nederlander Was" (If I Were a Dutch) written by Soewardi Soerjaningrat (Ki Hadjar Dewantara) in 1913. The pamphlets intrigued the Dutch and the makers and distributors of these pamphlets—the trio Soewardi Soerjaningrat, Tjipto Mangunkusumo, and Douwes Dekker—were arrested and sent to the Netherlands. They were viewed as acting against the regulations of the colonial government.

In 1916, the Volksraad, the parliament of the Dutch Indies, was founded. The political power was thus no longer under the sole grip of the colonial government. Through their representatives, the people could control the laws and regulations of the colonial government.

The colonial government also decreed the application of the law enabling the people to form alliances and organizations. Upon their return from the Netherlands, Soewardi Soerjaningrat, Tjipto Mangoenkoesomo, and Douwes Dekker formed the National Indische Partij in 1919.

In 1923, the word "Indonesia" was used openly for the first time as the name of an organization of Indonesian youth, Indonesische Vereniging. The organization published the magazine Hindia Poetra. In the following year, the magazine changed its name to Indonesia Merdeka or Free Indonesia. This change resulted in strong reactions among the Dutch.

In responding to the controversies, the Indonesische Vereniging simply changed its name in 1925 to Perhimpunan Indonesia, or Indonesian Alliance. In 1928, youth organizations in Jakarta asserted their opposing stance and declared the concept of Indonesia in a manifesto titled "Sumpah Pemuda" or the "Youth Pledge."

Epilogue: the Betrayal of the City People
In the Indonesian cities of the day, the characteristic urban planning betraying the development of the civil society could no longer be seen. Most of the Art Deco houses, which had once showed the marks of the middle class life in Indonesia, had been torn down. In their place, palatial-looking houses were built, frequently using ornaments and forms of the European buildings of the 16th century. These houses betrayed the signs of the bourgeoisie.

The history of the civil society in Indonesia seemed to stop as it turned to another bend in the road. The physical developments in the cities no longer show readable signs of urban society's development, no signs of the middle class with influence on the social, political, and economic developments of the nation. The developments of today precisely betray the influence of centralized political powers, dictatorial politics, or the power of capitalistic economy ruled by strong businesses and monopolistic government's endeavors.

The pre-independence commitment of the civil society, which was not limited to mere civil rights but also to the rights of the poor people outside their circle, has not shown real results. The commitment appeared merely in political statements without any realization. The militancy of the educated urbanites had decreased in drastic measures.

The programs professing to support emancipation have failed in many places. The failure of the government's education program could not create equal education level, and this must be singularly noted. This unequal education due to the inequality of education facilities had been a matter already raised and criticized during the colonial era. The issue of the rights of the people to receive education had been one of the issues put forth as the right to freedom was claimed.

The progress and modernization which have begun and developed among the urbanites during the colonial era continue in the city. Developments in all sectors take place in the cities, resulting sometimes in the creation of mega-cities.

There have been massive urban migration, betraying only one sign: the believe that progress, welfare, economic improvement, and the mechanism to put forth one's aspirations can only be gained in the cities. The cities are crowded by the migrants, and poverty spreads.

There have been many "betrayals" by the city people. The betrayals started soon after the Indonesian independence, as the civil rights were no longer seen as the rights to freedom. This betrayal took place because there has been too much trust on the role of the middle class in determining the social, economic, and political developments. The ideology supported by the middle class has been about the progress and modernization, reflected in the change from rurality to urbanity. The results are obvious today: only cities grow. Only the urbanites experience progress as they have started to undergo the process of changes since the colonial time. The majority of the people who had been ignored during the colonial period, are again ignored in the time of the independence.

The pre- and post-independence conditions of the country reflects the condition of a developing state, where the urbanites living in the cities are a minority. The perception about progress that believes in the inevitable change from rurality to urbanity shows the domination of this minority group. Such domination is reflected in the continuous effort in defining urbanity, the continuous endeavor to delve and recognize the various problems of the urbanites. When our middle class talks about urbanity, they actually talk about themselves. Rurality in this discussion is viewed as a condition that must be left behind. In this perception, rurality has the same position as tradition in the perception that makes the contradiction between tradition and modernity an indispensable condition.

The reality in the cities of the developing world today shows how the idea of progress is true merely for a small number of urbanites. The idea of progress has failed totally in developing all the people as a nation. Amid the situation where the majority of the people are not urbanites, the question arises as to why the middle class does not view rurality as a possibility. Why don't they make rurality as a base for the thoughts on welfare; make rurality as a political base and a base for development programs? They in fact know how history shows that when modernization is made indispensable, when the dreams about the change from rurality to urbanity are celebrated, tragedy ensues.

The work of the Chinese painter Yue Minjun in the CP Biennale 2005 is an expression about such tragedy. The work is a combination of the three paintings he made between 2003 and 2004; each titled Olympia, Bayonetting, and The Angelus. Only Bayonetting showed the characteristic signs of paintings by Yue Minjun. The other two are allegorical paintings showing no traits of Yue Minjun's oeuvre. Both paintings are incomplete copies of two works by 19th century painters, Edouard Manet and Jean Francois Millet.

The painting titled Bayonetting, like other paintings by Yue Minjun, is a sign of the loss of personal identity among the urbanites. The "I" in this painting is the de-substantialized "I" as the self can move easily from one realm of meaning to another.

Yue Minjun's face in the painting is other people's face, too. The meaning of the self in this painting is more closely related to the reflection when the self carries with it a group identity. The personal portrait in this painting is a portrait fragmented as the portrait of others' and the society's.

Without strong moral ties, the fragmented portrait brings a hidden terror with it. In this painting, Yue Minjun shows how "I" kills "I" with an illusory bayonet; how "others" laugh about "I" as the "I" kills "others"; and how "others" kill "another" by laughing.

In the process of change from rurality to urbanity, where a crash of civilization invariably takes place, the moral ties are loose, violence escalates, and various dilemmas of life come about. The socialistic artists in Europe had recorded the various changes in the 19th century Europe, following the industrial revolution. Their works were full of signs and stories about farmers dreaming about improving their status and economy by becoming workers, about beautiful village girls dreaming of a celebrity status by selling their bodies.

Yue Minjun's imagination took him to this era. He then discovered two works full of signs, and used them to record the signs of the day, similar to those depicted in the original works and arising one-and-a-half century later in another part of the world. Not in Europe.

Yue Minjun adapted Edouard Manet's 1863 painting, Olympia. The naked woman in the painting is Olympia, a famous whore whose beauty provided her with access to the French bourgeoisie. The flowers in the hands of the black slave next to the couch where she lay were flowers sent by an adoring client. The painting could not be exhibited at the time, as Manet was threatened by angry clients of the whore.

Manet depicted the dark side of life in Europe in the 19th century, where there were frictions between the morality of the decadent French bourgeoisie and the bitter reality of the poor. Social changes and poverty made the beautiful women of the poor decide to let their nakedness as a source of pleasure of the bourgeoisie.

Olympia is not present in Yue Minjun's painting. There are only traces of Olympia: an empty couch. It seems Yue Minjun is trying to say that in another time, another place, there will be other Olympias taking her place.

Another painting Yue Minjun has adapted is The Angelus by Jean Francois Millet, a painter who in the 19th century was known as betraying the tendency of the Barbizon naturalism. The tendency grew in England and took natural landscapes in the four seasons as its subject matter. Millet, who had studied in France, was the first painter using the elements of human beings in the Barbizon naturalism paintings, which generally depicted empty landscapes.

In 1849, Jean Francois Millet returned to Barbizon and started to develop the tendency. His paintings grew to portray the relationship between human beings and the nature. The Angelus is recognized as his best painting. The painting depicts a farmer-couple living in harmony with the nature. A peaceful life in the village with no influx of changes.

Yue Minjun's painting does not depict the farmer-couple. There are only traces of them. It seems Yue Minjun is saying that the couple has left their comfortable life in the village and moved to the city, living subsequently in the slums, entering the harsh life where people are ready to kill others in order to survive. Their daughters become whores.

Jim Supangkat
Chief Curator


The historical data in the writing has been provided by Agus Mediarta, using the following sources:

Feith, Herbert and Lance Castle. Pemikiran Politik Indonesia 1945-1965. Jakarta: LP3ES, 1996

Ingleson, John. Perhimpunan Indonesia dan pergerakan kebangsaan. Jakarta: Grafiti, 1993

Legge, J.D., Kaum Intelektual dan Perjuangan Kemerdekaan, Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti

Locher-Scholten, Elsbeth. Etika yang Berkeping-Keping: Lima Telaah Kajian Aliran Etis dalam Politik Kolonial 1877-1942. Jakarta: Djambatan, 1996

Lombard, Denys. Nusa Jawa: Silang Budaya: Kajian Sejarah Terpadu: Batas-Batas Pembaratan. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 1996

Lombard, Denys. Nusa Jawa: Silang Budaya: Kajian Sejarah Terpadu: Jaringan Asia. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 1996