Your Gold is Not Our Glory: an Introduction

"What we'll always have is something we lost."

― Ocean Vuong

During our long-term research residency in Hotel Maria Kapel, Dito Yuwono and I spent our days wandering the city of Hoorn and encountering history from multiple phenomenological dimensions. For us, it was an exercise and encounter with how a historical narrative was framed, constructed, and translated in this small city. The spatial-historic exploration became the starting point of our research into decolonizing (spatial) histories- specifically, how cities, as manifestations of collective memory and stories, can be renegotiated and reflected upon the partiality of the images we see daily.

In Hoorn, we are interested in looking into the city's so-called 'Golden Age'- a time of unprecedented prosperity in the 17th century, when the East India Company (VOC) was founded, and inhabitants such as J.P. Coen traveled the world for trade and colonization. The glory of the golden era in this city was translated into monuments that celebrate exploration, curiosity, and trade; as well as into the most mundane details in daily life, such as brand names of food packaging. But to whose expense? 

Upon returning to Indonesia, we looked into other monuments within the same period. We found how histories are imprinted in the bodies and memories, as much as what was written and told. 

Dito Yuwono decided to start from the tip end of Dutch colonial rule in 1945 - 1949 by following the trails of the Van Mook Lijn or Status Quo Line and created two new works: a video and a series of photographs on textiles. The Van Mook Lijn is a demarcation line that divides the Indonesia region and legitimates Dutch settlement right after Indonesia declared its Independence in 1945. Dito retraced this spatial division through some underrated small-scale monuments or monument-look-like, which span around 500 kilometers from Central Java to East Java. Those monuments are located where the military clash happened during the Dutch military aggression in 1948 or near the Status Quo Line stake and depicted through the memory of the people who experienced the conflict. 

Alongside Dito's new works, the exhibition brings together other older works by Ipeh Nur, Jompet Kuswidananto, Mella Jaarsma, and a piece for the collection of the Westfries Museum to form a more multidimensional narratives. 

Jompet Kuswidananto presents a video of a man struggling to discover and control himself amidst the roaring machine of the sugar factory. His dance is similar to that of a Jathilan dancer, attempting to get into a trance-like state as a culmination of ecstasy, rage, and cathartic senseless behavior. In a trance, a Jathilan dancer's body becomes a vessel for the restless spirits of the past, the spirits of the defeated, and possesses an inhumane power. This type of mysticism often resulted from the wave of spiritual and religious beliefs that catalyzed rebellion that fueled revolutionary movements since the days of colonialism. 

Ipeh Nur portrays the horror of the genocide in Banda Island on the orders of VOC Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen. The image depicts the execution of 44 orang kaya (rich people) in Banda on May 8, 1621. This hand-drawn batik is an interpretation of the painting "The Massacre by the Dutch on Banda in 1621," which is now on view at the local museum on that island. This work is presented alongside a collection and project by a local Hoorn museum, Westfries Museum: a miniature clove-ship from the 19th century and the online exhibition, "Pala – Nutmeg Tales of Banda," that provides a multiple perspective of Dutch colonial history. 

Mella Jaarsma collected packages of Javanese tea with designs derived from the colonial period, showing Dutch, Javanese, and Chinese graphic elements and the different languages. Some of these Dutch words remain in the vocabulary of the Indonesian language. At the same time, the best quality tea produced in Indonesia is still unavailable to the Indonesian people. Still, it is immediately exported and served to the upper classes worldwide. Through her video and costume installation, the artist explored how the different sides of this power construction are sometimes blurred or reversed. 

The exhibition aims to investigate some crucial turning points in Indonesian history and look into ways of living history around the monuments of the past. The 'monuments' of the VOC's golden age in Indonesia are present not only as buildings and infrastructures such as railroads, sugar, tea factories, or colonial bungalows but also in language, custom, and collective trauma and memory of oppression, pain, and resistance. Monuments are no longer about what is manifested in physical forms but also in the act of remembering and marking the past: a ghost that lingers in daily life.

click here to read more about the artworks

click here to read review in Metropolis M