(P63) Suffering, victims and photographic ‘evidence’ in contemporary histories of Indonesia and East Timor
Fri 13:30-15:00 K10 | 2.25
- Susie Protschky Deakin University
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Beyond Atrocity: Anti-Chinese Violence and FX Harsono’s Reparative Images
Karen Strassler The Graduate Center, CUNY/Queens College
This paper examines a set of photographs that document violence against the ethnic Chinese minority during the Indonesian Revolution—and a set of artworks by FX Harsono made in response to and with these images. Contrasting these photographs with the kinds of atrocity images by which human rights claims have typically been made (Sliwinski 2011; Batchen et al 2012; Hesford 2012), I argue that while the images of the revolution-era massacre perform evidentiary work, Harsono’s artwork subsumes their evidentiary function within a reparative frame of care and mourning. I argue that Harsono’s work draws out latent dimensions of the images and issues a “summons to relationality” (Silverman 2015: 85), inviting the viewer into an ongoing, present-day and future-oriented work of care and mourning. Rather than a liberal-humanist, generic empathy towards “human suffering,” moreover, these reparative images invite a familial form of affiliation that entails obligation as well as recognition. In a context of ongoing anti-Chinese sentiment and persistent historical erasure, I argue that Harsono’s reparative art opens up a space for recognition and repair in contemporary Indonesian society.
Domestic work and survival sex in militarised context: Indonesian women in Dutch army barracks during the Indonesian National Revolution’
Susie Protschky Deakin University
This paper revisits the vexed question of historical evidence for sexual violence and coercion against Indonesian women during the Indonesian National Revolution (1945–9), focusing on those who worked in Dutch army barracks as domestic servants. I analyse Dutch soldiers’ amateur photographs, a vast yet partial and problematic archive that raises ethical and epistemological questions about the use of perpetrator photographs in historical understandings of war and decolonisation. In using this archive, I do not rely on photography’s evidentiary burden of proof to enumerate victims of violence and instances of atrocity; rather, I develop methods for clarifying continuity and change in forms of gendered and racialized violence across decolonisation. Dutch soldiers’ photographs reveal how barracks concubinage, which had a long history in the colonial army (the KNIL), was introduced for the first time to the conscripts and volunteers of the ‘Royal’ Dutch armed forces (the KL and KM) after 1945. These soldiers’ photographs show how Indonesian women supported ‘domestic economies’ inside Dutch army barracks, performing crucial emotional as well as physical labours that had long supported soldier morale in colonial subjugation campaigns. Finally, using methodologies derived from feminist and subaltern studies, and attending both to ‘blind spots’ (Lydon) and to patterns of repetition ‘along the grain’ (Stoler) of the archive, I show how Dutch soldiers’ photographs mediated a picture of Indonesian women performing domestic work and survival sex in a militarised context, one built on colonial class and racial hierarchies developed in civilian as well as wartime practices.
East Timor’s 1979 “famine” photographs’
Vannessa Hearman Curtin University
In 1979, two Australian newspapers, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, published an article by Australian diplomat turned journalist, Peter Rodgers, that was accompanied by several photographs of extremely malnourished East Timorese children. The images created a sensation because of their rarity, coming as they were from a territory that had been annexed by Indonesia in December 1975 and then underwent a war of pacification until the end of 1978. Taken in Laga in East Timor’s Baucau district, the photographs were promoted by human rights advocates, aid and church groups as evidence of a famine induced by the Indonesian military operations in the former Portuguese territory. Although Rodgers himself later wrote in response that the photographs did not depict deliberate Indonesian policies in East Timor, they came to symbolise the Indonesian annexation after they were used also by East Timorese roving diplomat, Jose Ramos Horta, to campaign at the United Nations for international intervention and over the subsequent two decades by pro-East Timor groups. This paper examines how these photographs contributed to the internationalisation of the East Timor issue, such as the drawing of parallels between East Timor with the Holocaust and the deliberate starvation of civilians in Biafra (1967–70).
Visual History as Subversion: Re-examining Official Indonesian Photographs from 1965–66
Geoffrey Robinson UCLA
This paper, part of a larger work of visual history, re-examines a body of official photographs documenting the annihilation of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-66. In marked contrast to typical “atrocity photographs” that aim to evoke empathy for the victims of violence and revulsion toward its perpetrators, these images seek to depict the victims as abject, treacherous, faceless, and inhuman, and the perpetrators as heroic (and weirdly non-violent) defenders of national stability, security, and order. Viewing these photographs as multi-valent historical artefacts, the paper explores the political work they were intended to perform, but also their potential, when re-examined, to radically subvert those intentions. It argues, first, that the official photographic record of 1965-66 helped to embed the Army’s perverse official version of history in Indonesian social memory and to stifle the emergence of alternative social memories and historical narratives. The cramped and spurious visual record has also concealed the most basic human dimensions of this history, effectively rendering it invisible, and depriving successive generations of any sense of what it meant to millions of ordinary people. At the same time, the paper argues that through careful historical contextualization and critical reading – that is to say, through the work of visual history – the same photographs have the potential to tell a radically different story, and to lay the foundation for new social memories and a more complex historical understanding of the events of 1965-66.
This panel examines how artists, journalists, and amateur photographers in Indonesia and East Timor have used photography to support or refute political narratives of suffering and victimhood in a variety of contexts, including famine, anti-Chinese violence, the Indonesian National Revolution, and the mass killings of 1965-6. Whereas the quintessential genre for
representing political violence remains the journalistic atrocity image, our papers will address a broader, shape-shifting image ecology within which violence and suffering come into appearance. Tracking how journalistic images are made to do new kinds of communicative labor beyond bearing witness to violence, the papers also examine other image-genres, such
as documentation by perpetrators, art images based on photographs, family photographs, and identity photos. We aim to investigate the important role of local and international viewers of such images – not just their makers – in shaping social and political consensus, dissent, and change. We hope to engage with theoretical debates about evidentiary versus creative
frameworks for understanding photographs of suffering and atrocity in ethnographic and historical approaches to interdisciplinary scholarship on disaster, conflict, and dissent in Southeast Asian studies.