Unity in Diversity: Archaeologic Excavation of the Peranakan Tionghua
Solo exhibition by Yuli Prayitno
7 - 30 March 2014, Main Gallery
Unity in Diversity: Archaeologic Excavation of the Peranakan Tionghua is Yuli Prayitno’s first solo exhibition in Singapore. This exhibition examines the overlooked histories of the Peranakan Chinese in Indonesia through the lens of Jogjakarta’s first photographer, Lim Guat Bing who was also Peranakan Chinese. Yuli Prayitno adopts what he refers to as an ‘archeologic’ approach to his work. The artist recovers examples of Pernanakan cultural artifacts, which he 'excavates' from dilapidated Peranankan houses. The objects, primarily pieces of furniture, porcelain and Chinese texts, are re-interpreted by the artist. In doing so, the artist makes visible the lost knowledge and wisdom of the Peranakan Chinese as a community, who form a part of Indonesia’s cultural diversity.
The title of the exhibition makes references to the Garuda Pancasila, which was adopted as the national emblem of Indonesia on 11 February 1950 under the orders of then President Sukarno. The venerated Garuda symbolises the virtue of knowledge, loyalty, bravery, power and discipline as the vehicle of Vishnu who maintains cosmic order in the Hindu tradition. The Garuda is depicted holding a shield to defend the peoples of Indonesia and clutches a scroll bearing the national motto of Indonesia on old Javanese script: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity. Under Indonesia’s former President Sukarno, the Garuda Pancasila embodied the Pancasila principles to unify a culturally diverse Indonesia while respecting cultural pluralism. This changed under Suharto’s New Order in post 1965 Indonesia as the country’s national identity was interpreted narrowly as Javanese culture, resulting in the suppression of other cultures, including the Peranakan culture in Indonesia, causing its decline. The Garuda Pancasila as the national symbol of unity in cultural diversity has been emptied of meaning even as it continues to be displayed in government buildings and the military. The national emblem’s promise to defend cultural diversity, democracy, humanity, social justice, and unity is a lost hope, an unrealised dream.
The exhibition seeks to recover the contributions of the Peranakan Chinese in Indonesia’s national project forms part of the story of other ethnic minority groups in the country whose histories have been overlooked. Yuli’s works reveal that any understanding of postcolonial Indonesia’s national modernity must include the contributions of other ethnic minority groups within its frame. Each culture carries with it its own wisdom and knowledge that should be studies and understood rather than suppressed. Collectively, this exhibition reveals the Peranakan Chinese in Indonesia as cosmopolitan mediators of global capitalism with their hybridised culture and embracement of modern technologies that unified Indonesia in its dissemination of knowledge through its vernacular publications using the printing press that created a national consciousness and enriched a culturally diverse country with its hybridised culture that drew from the different confluence of cultures that make Indonesia what is today.
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