Yale Indonesia Forum Workshop: Narrative History and Memory in Indonesian Arts and Culture

Yale Conference

Saturday, April 12, 2008
11:30 A.M. – 5:30 P.M.

Yale Indonesia Forum Workshop

Narrative, History, and Memory in Indonesian Arts and Culture


The past can be memorialized in any of a wide variety of ways. Monuments, archival records, and political rhetoric all carry forward memories and narratives of what has gone before. In Indonesia, though, history is preserved by very different means, and the popular narrative of events is often found in arts and media.

As important as the arts are for discovering the past, though, the past is also important for the creation of art. Memories and historical events constitute an important topic for literature, music, dance, film, and other art in the archipelago. Often art is inspired by a desire to promote or preserve a narrative of struggle or success.

The Yale Indonesia Forum Workshop 2008 wants to look at the reciprocal relationship of narrative, memory and history with arts and culture in Indonesia. It aims to address, yet hopes not be strictly limited to, some of the following questions: What is the relationship between contemporary art forms and regional or national identity in Indonesia? What are the continuing influences of religion and nationalism on the arts? What are the creative and dynamic interactions between ‘traditional’ art forms and more contemporary? What are the evolving relationships between Indonesian art form and Western modernism? What have been the effects of an increasing commoditization of and international interest in the Indonesian art world? What is the role of art criticism within the Indonesian media on shaping the arts there, and what are the roles of external influences? How do local discourses about the arts differ from global or academic discourse? How has state sponsorship for the arts changed in the reformasi era, and how have artists responded? 

Bringing together three pairs of a senior and a junior scholar, the conference organizers hope to achieve a balance between academic research that addresses these questions, by Indonesians and others, as well as bring in people actively and creatively engaged in contemporary Indonesian arts, media and culture.



Tony Day is an independent researcher living in New Haven. He was Visiting Professor of History at Wesleyan University in 2006-2007 and taught again at Wesleyan in Spring 2008. His most recent publications are an edited volume of essays, Identifying with Freedom: Indonesia after Soeharto (Berghahn, 2007), and an essay for a special issue on world literature for the journal MLQ, “Locating Indonesian Literature in the World.”

Intan Paramaditha is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Cinema Studies, New York University. Her articles on gender, sexuality, and nation in Indonesian cinema and literature have been published in, among others, Jump Cut, Journal of Asian Cinema, and RIMA (Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs). Her anthology of short horror stories about women in Indonesia, Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman), was nominated for the national Khatulistiwa Literary Awards in 2005.

Sumarsam is an Adjunct Professor of Music at Wesleyan University, teaching performance, history, and theory of gamelan. He is a graduate of the Indonesian National Academy of Music in Surakarta, Central Java. In addition, he holds an MA degree from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. He is the author of numerous articles on gamelan and wayang, in English and Indonesian publication. His book Gamelan: Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1995 (Pustaka Pelajar Press of Yogyakarta published its Indonesian version in 2003). As gamelan musician and a keen amateur dhalang of Javanese wayang kulit, he performs, conducts workshops, and lectures throughout the world.

Julia Byl earned her PhD in ethnomusicology in 2006 at the University of Michigan, with a dissertation entitled “Antiphonal Histories: Performing Toba Batak Past and Present.” Her research combines historical and ethnographic research to find out how North Sumatran history is relevant within Toba musical performance. Since 2006 she has been intermittently translating and researching in Southeast Asia. This fall, she will be associated with the Center for Historical Analysis at Rutgers. 

Abidin Kusno is Associate Professor at the Institute of Asian Research and Faculty Associate of Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Behind the Postcolonial: Architecture, Urban Space and Political Cultures in Indonesia (Routledge, 2000) and Penjaga Memori: Gardu di Perkotaan Jawa (Gatehouses in Java: A Political History) (Ombak Press, 2007) He is completing a book on spatial politics and historical memories in the post-Suharto Jakarta titled Appearances of Memory and New Times in Indonesia to be published by Duke University Press.

Gareth Barkin is an assistant professor of Asian Studies and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Puget Sound. He was previously on the faculty of Centre College, and has taught at Washington University and the University of Missouri. Barkin earned a B.A. from the University of California, and a master’s and Ph.D. from Washington University. His research concerns commercial television production in Indonesia, and how religious, government, and economic exigencies shape the development of national identity models in popular media. He has been conducting ethnographic research among producers in Jakarta since the late 1990’s, and has published a number of articles on the subject; he is currently working on a book manuscript titled Producing Indonesia: Derivation and Domestication of Global Media.

Aryo Danusiri is a Ph.D. student in Visual Anthropology at Harvard University. His ethnographic films, documentaries and short films have been screened at various festivals including Amnesty (Amsterdam), RAI (UK), The Margaret Mead Film Festival (USA), as well as in Singapore, Brisbane, Taiwan and Rotterdam. Danusiri is executive director of Ragam Media Network, an NGO that develops visual media as a catalyst for cross-cultural learning and community knowledge management. His current projects are “Connexxcreen for Countering Fundamentalism in Indonesia” (sponsored by HIVOS) and “Playing Between Elephants”, an ethnographic film about Aceh’s reconstruction processes.


*Photo by Ugoran Prasad

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