donderdag 21 april 2016

The magic of the real thing: Diponegoro in Amsterdam

I wrote already about the presentation of the book by Harm Stevens on the history of Indonesia and the Netherlands as stored in the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam. Now I have read the book by Harm Stevens and I want to highlight some of its major issues.
Like everything connected with the colonial period, it is sensitive, and even modern Dutch people feel obliged to write in a very politically correct way and to apologise for thing the ancestors did. I do not think this is necessary. We can together with Indonesians look at what cannot be changed, what has happened and what is our common past: a colonial period.
There are two items in this book that are important for the religious sentiments related to this past. First are the banners, shield and sword, related to colonial fighting in Aceh. One banner, conquered onthe Acehnese in Barus, 1840, was taken by a soldier who died in the attack. It is a blood-banner and so the real thing. It is not a piece of art, selected for its beauty but for its story and the memory of the soldier, Carel Heinrich Bischoff, born in Germany like so many Europeans in the colonial army.

The second subject is Diponegoro. In the Rijksmuseum it is depicted twice. The first is a drawing describing the 'surrender of the terrorist' as the Dutch called him. It was made by Jan Bik, a colonial official who had te make drawings, but also functioned as the one who had to guard Diponegoro in prison. his drawing was not an official document and so  was used to make a lithography in 1835 to glorify the Dutch victory. It was later again used to be printed on the banknote of one hundred rupiah.

A second image of Diponegoro in the Rijksmuseum is called 'The surrender of Diponegoro', although others considers this as the moment of  the 'treason of the Dutch negotiators' who took Diponegoro by violence while he thought that he had come just to negotiate. The hero on this painting of Nicolaas Pieneman (in Amsterdam) probably based on a sketch by Francois de Stuers, son-in-law  of the Dutch General De Kock.It is not Diponegoro who is in the centre, but De Kock in whose honour this was made, but it still has the title of 'The surrender of the terrorist'. (However, in my second view it has something like the classical Ecce Homo painting, where Pilate shows Jesus to the Jews and asks whether he shall free Jesus or not!)
There is a third image of the event: at a later stage painted by Raden Saleh. Here Diponegoro stands slightly higher and at least more prominent in the centre than general De Kock and he is the most important person in the painting. Also the persons in front of him are not bowing so deep as in the Dutch painting by Pieneman. Although Raden Saleh stayed for a long time in Europe he seems here to depict somehwhat more the Indonesian feeling than those of the European colonisers.
If the museums are the new churches, their content is open for all kind of new interpretatyions, new emotions and feelings as well.

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