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Projects/ Fragments of Migration

Fragments of Migration

About identity, collective memory and history of the Chinese in Indonesia

'My current work has a substantial relation to identity, and specifically the collective memory and history of the Chinese in Indonesia. This time my interest is in the position of the individual as a person, and as an object of law.'

At first glance, the photo ID archives are records of self-expression, of individual human beings with distinct physical traits, choice in clothing and even in background of the photograph itself. It shows the individual's personae in a social and cultural context, and in them we also find a variety of languages: Dutch, Chinese, Indonesian in the Van Ophuijsen ortography to the renewed spelling system (EYD), typography, stamps, et cetera, that expand on who the person was.

Meanwhile, ID papers also show the journey of identity and history as an object of law. Although the records look similar, they differ fundamentally from one another. On the one hand, while the individual seems to be free to express him- or herself, this perceived freedom is very much bound by regulations and law. Surely, freedom may exist and may be applicable, though as long as it is within the strict corridor of laws that are decided by the particular ruling regime at that particular period in time.

For migrants, such as the Chinese in Indonesia, the Identity Card becomes a particularly important object. The 'Identity Card' becomes decisive in almost every aspect of life, such as trade, education, rights and obligations as a migrant, citizenship status, etcetera. Stamps or chops furthermore, show which government of the era - either the Dutch colonial or the Indonesian government - issued the ID cards. Thus the stamp is also an insignia of power over a geographical area where the individual in question lived. 'For me this is a type of social, political, and also cultural trait related to territory, as well as a historical trait for the Chinese community in Indonesia.'

The lives of these members of the community also depend on - and are decided by - regulations connected to their citizenship status, and refer to the political, social and economic interests of the rulers. Here again, the position as a human being is not only related to cultural and social interaction, but also to the limitation of activities as regulated by the law. Stamps or chops are the insignias of power over a territory populated by a heterogeneous community of which a specific group is singled out and obligated to fulfill complicated regulations, which is clear evidence of a discriminative political journey.

While the waves of migration from the greater Asian continent to the Indonesian archipelago had happened throughout different generations, some policies imposed by the Dutch Indie colonial government at least since the 19th century had institutionalized the status of ‘indigenous’ and ‘non-indigenous’ people in Indonesia. Following the enactment of Wijkenstelsel –which resulted in the relocation of Chinese community’s residential areas in big cities in Java– the Dutch Indie government issued the Passenstelsel (1816) that required the Chinese Indonesians to bring along a legal card pass whenever they would travel out of the region.

FX Harsono’s long-standing interest on the history of Chinese Indonesian people in Indonesia has created interesting intersections with the idea of ‘home’ as the main concept of this whole exhibition. Through his research, Harsono attempts to investigate how the colonial immigration systems in the past have played a crucial role in the shaping of the Chinese Indonesian identity. Using some rare colonial archives, he creates a series of work comprising digital print, video and an interactive installation, which urge the audience to reflect on how the notions of ‘residence’ and ‘citizenship’ are actually created to control, and at the same time, to regulate the different ways people perceive and express themselves.

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