Colonial Photographer Exhibition: Jakarta, West Java

The old black-and-white pictures of life in the Dutch Indies on show at Erasmus Huis gallery were once education materials for school children in the Netherlands. The photographs, called schoolplaten or school plates, gave pupils in the Netherlands a glimpse of life as it was far away in Borneo, Papua, Sumatra, Java and other areas across the vast Dutch territory.

The photos today are part of an exhibition called “Through the Eyes of the Past“, and they give visitor’s a glimpse of what happened long ago in this country as Evi Mariani explains.

Curator Firman Ichsan categorized 150 pictures into several groups including transportation; education; industry, agriculture and mining; towns and settlements; and people.

Most of the works, however, include people. Some of them were obviously posing for the shot, but some photographs are candid, like the portrait of men playing cards.

In the gallery on Jl. Rasuna Said in South Jakarta, Firman arranged the pictures so viewers can comfortably see the photos according to theme.

These pictures do not give credit to the photographer — only the name of the publisher of the pictures, Kleynenberg in Haarlem, and the year of publication, 1913, is included.

Firman said it is believed all the pictures published by Kleynenberg in 1913 were the works of Jean Demmeni, the son of a royal Dutch soldier of French descent.

In his explanatory notes around the exhibition, Firman says it was a Dutch antiquities collector, Leo Haks, who first investigated in 1984 the photographer who shot the pictures he bought from an antique bookshop.

Some of the shots are known among collectors. His search found an answer at Museum of Cultural Anthropology in Leiden, the Netherlands.

“Jean Demmeni was relatively unknown compared to other colonial time photographers like Woodburry and Page, for example,” Firman said.

“His works were relatively more renowned than his name.”

Later Haks, with Paul Sach, wrote about Demmeni in a book titled Indonesia Images from the Past published in 1987 by Times.

Haks’s collection changed hands and now it belongs to avid collector Hauw Ming, who calls his collection of art works, old watches and photographs the “Kartini Collection”.

After a discussion with Erasmus Huis’s director, Hauw Ming agreed to put the collection on loan for public viewing.

Through the Eyes of the Past
Jan. 18 to Feb. 22, 2008
Erasmus Huis
Jl. Rasuna Said Kav. S-3
South Jakarta