The Past is a Foreign Country

The Past is a Foreign Country

Indonesia dealing with the colonial past

Since a few years a remarkable phenomenon shows up in big cities all around Indonesia: ‘plesiran tempo doeloe’. A new leisure activity in which men and women, young and old, recreate aspects of the colonial past by dressing in period costumes and role play .

The long period of the great kingdoms dominates the official version of history taught in Indonesian schools as a reference point for modern history. In contrast, the colonial period is especially found in personal stories and memories.
Sixty-five years after Indonesia’s war of independence and the Dutch withdrawal, the colonial period is re-emerging as a kind of popular leisure activity. People ride through the streets on antique Dutch bicycles, parade in colonial garb, re-enact police raids and 'ghost' tours are organized along old Dutch villa's.
Is it nostalgia? Is it a form of activism? Is it a new way of viewing history or is it superficial entertainment without any deeper meaning? This project, in collaboration with writer Arnold van Bruggen, attempts to find answers to these questions. The project explores the complex emotions that underlie this confrontation with the past and offer the possibilities for different interpretations.

‘The Past is a Foreign Country’ is the first in a series of annual photography and video commissions by the Tropenmuseum. The aim of the series is to bring the museum’s huge historical photographic collection into contemporary focus.