A museum of dioramas

A diorama from the independence museum in Bali, Indonesia

A diorama from the independence museum in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Jeffrey Mellefont

On a recent trip to Indonesia I was struck by how many museums were based around dioramas. Rather than how we usually think of museums — as a display of things from the past (objects) with labels and text — many Indonesian museums are solely based around snapshots of history, with no objects in sight. They are examples of how museum-makers quite literally construct the past for their audiences.

We often think of dioramas as an outmoded, old-fashioned display method. But in Indonesia they are quite an accepted way of communicating stories. Many tell a sanctioned, official version of history. But I was surprised by just how popular they are with audiences.

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A Pinisi fleet and the Bahari Museum – Indonesian maritime heritage in Jakarta

A row of Pinisis in the harbour

A row of Pinisis in the harbour

In August 2015 the Australian National Maritime Museum collaborated with the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Yogyakarta Indonesia in creating Black Armada — an exhibition about Australian support for Indonesian independence from Dutch colonial rule between 1945 and 1949. After installing and opening the exhibition I travelled to Jakarta and visited the city’s maritime museum and the working harbour with its surprising throng of wooden cargo vessels – called Pinisis.

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ANMM Chairman visits key maritime history sites in Indonesia

Borobodur, Indonesia

Borobodur, Indonesia 2015. Photo by Jeffrey Mellefont

Candi Borobodur, the great 8th-century Buddhist stupa in central Java, is rightly considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. With its backdrop the spectacular, active volcano Gunung Merapi, Borobodur is an hour and half drive from Yogyakarta where the ANMM exhibition Black Armada has just opened. (see curator Dr Stephen Gapps’ recent blogs about setting up and opening the exhibition).

When chairman of the ANMM Council, Peter Dexter AM, arrived in Yogyakarta after an intense schedule of meetings in Indonesia’s chaotic capital Jakarta, and with just a brief Sunday afternoon’s break before the official opening of Black Armada the following day, Borobodur was the absolute ‘must see’ priority. Not just Indonesia’s most iconic ancient site, it offers insights into the maritime significance of our archipelagic neighbour Indonesia, a significance as vital today as in the distant past.

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Installing an ANMM exhibition in Indonesia

A dilapidated Fortress Benteng Vredeburg

A dilapidated Fortress Benteng Vredeburg c. 1970

The Black Armada (Armada Hitam) exhibition about Australian support for the early years of Indonesian independence just after WWII opened at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 20 August 2015. You can see the display in the Tasman Light gallery over the next few months. Black Armada is a collaboration with the Museum Benteng Vredeburg in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. A travelling version of the exhibition opened there on 31 August.

Mr Peter Dexter AM, Chairman of the Australian National Maritime Museum Council, Curator Dr Stephen Gapps, Indonesian Ambassador His Excellency Mr Nadjib Riphat Kesoema and Museum Director and CEO Kevin Sumption at the opening of Black Armada

Mr Peter Dexter AM, Chairman of the Australian National Maritime Museum Council, Curator Dr Stephen Gapps, Indonesian Ambassador His Excellency Mr Nadjib Riphat Kesoema and Museum Director and CEO Kevin Sumption at the opening of Black Armada on 20 August 2015. Photo: Andrew Frolows

As curator of the display, I travelled to Indonesia to assist in the installation and attend the opening. Working with an Indonesian museum has been an amazing insight into Indonesian museums, history and culture.

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