Longser Antar Pulau: Indonesian cultural politics and the revitalisation of traditional theatre

Abstract: The dissertation investigates the ambiguous role that cultural politics have played in the process of formulating an Indonesian national identity. Three case studies exemplify how cultural politics have been used by the state for the purpose of disciplining ethnic sentiments, at the same time as other groups have used the same discourse to express ideas contrary to the government controlled ideology. The first case study is a presentation of the cultural politics that were implemented by Orde Baru, the regime led by President Suharto from 1965 until 1998. This part of the dissertation deals with written policy documents and the presentation of cultural identity in state controlled arenas such as TMII (a theme park outside Jakarta), and the celebration of national independence. The second case study, which is the main part of the dissertation, focuses on Longser Antar Pulau, a theatre project pioneered by students at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bandung. This section is intended to give an understanding of how the members of this theatre group contextualise cultural politics and fill the ideological concepts with a meaningful content. Their effort to revitalise traditional Longser theatre is compared to cultural revitalisation as presented in the government policies. The third case is ASTI, the academy where Longser Antar Pulau is situated, and where the controlling powers of the state and the creative forces of individual artists meet. The concluding remarks pull these three cases together and discuss them from the perspective of national and local identity. The members of Longser Antar Pulau conceive of themselves as a group in-between the concepts of national and local identity, and they maintain a certain distance to both. This distance allows them to foster a form of self-reflectivity which, although they are situated in the centre of a hegemonic discourse, permits them to formulate alternative ideas about the role of art and cultural traditions in Indonesian society. However, this creative force is censored when they try to introduce it into national media and this censorship of the group is one example of a missed opportunity to create a viable national identity in Indonesia.

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