Darivisual Province: DKI Jakarta Regency/City: Central Jakarta Subdistrict: Gambir

Experiencing History: Bodily or Distanced?


This article is part of an anthology published by Forum Lenteng, entitled Diorama: Since History is Fiction (2016). We re-publish it on AKUMASSA’s website in the framework of “Darivisual”.

The dioramas in National Monument (Monas) is a part of Diorama’s constellation that owned by Indonesia. Other than the diorama of Monas, probably Lubang Buaya’s version of 1:1 diorama should also take into account in terms of understanding the State’s effort to established site as the history artefacts. I’ve visited these two dioramas before, the diorama of Lubang Buaya at Educational trip back then in 2006 when I was in Elementary School, and the diorama of Monas when I did this diorama Project with AKUMASSA-Diorama team in 2016.

The distance of time between these two experiences had different impression. When I visited the diorama of Lubang Buaya with my Elementary School friends, I felt terrified and confused. Before I began to feel familiar with the subject that was involved in this State’s Discourse, I already got planted in my head the idea of how there were people who had no fear to slaughter the Highest Direction of General to pursue their personal goal. Furthermore, how these group of people terribly tortured them, involving brutal act and inhumane followed by stuffingseven bodies in one small hole in which in this Diorama, there’s still the blood stains lingered around the hole. There’s not much that I could remember, but the impression which build up my imagination as kid, until when I watched the film of Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI then in 2008, back then in my Middle School, I cried for almost an hour, even after the filmed already ended. I experienced the history as a distanced experience, only through diorama’s building and audiovisual narrations through film. Without really knowing and understanding what actually happened, my mind was filled up by a horrifying impression of how this state was threatened by a group of people with specific interest whose not afraid to did a massive slaughter to state’s key figures. I didn’t even doubting the authenticity of this film, and the word fiction was far from my mind at the time I watched the film.

Ten years later for the very first time I stepped my foot on the tunnel of Monas which leads to museum of Monas, while previously I only visited the outside part of Monas once or twice with my High school Friends. This tunnel brought me to the portrayal of 51 dioramas, each of it sized 1x2m in an indoor terrace which could filled up by almost 500 people, also with not fully functioning air conditioner and several vending machines in the corners of the room. Here, there are diorama limited by a clear-looking glass portraying a made up action and historical event of Indonesia since an ancient age, colonialism era, the preparation and the proclamation of independence of Indonesia, ended up in the year of 1995 with diorama of official ceremonial of BJ Habibie’s Airplane which named Gatot Kaca. The experience of visiting the diorama of Monas which not only happened once or twice, often happened with a sight of school visits with dozens of students mostly in Elementary School with the their teacher as the guard whom narrating the text-book version of history using diorama as props. I, myself, also tried to read every text written as the explanation in the down part of diorama used as the bridge to understand the visual that offered.

Things that are displayed in diorama then interpreted with nowadays context: there is “me” involving, not distancing (talking about past experience and directly linking it with nowadays relevancy – but not in forms of how political in Indonesia exist today, or why the prices are so high lately in the market). I myself am very unfamiliar with the prices of daily basis commodity which sold in the market, even further the relevancy of this topic with the diorama. One of the historical experience that I knew and experienced myself was how my Chinese friends in college were scared and ranting about this in our class instant messaging group about the incident of November 4th 2016: how their parents forbid them to do things, and how this horrific terror is linked up to the potential of the year 98’s incident recurrence. They complained about their minority status and how our Muslim friends trying to calm them and give acceptance towards their condition. This is by far the most political and historical conversation that I ever had for the past few years of my life. The historical discourse was discussed and made relevant by my friends. The impression of this event is so real and so close, demand me to involve in it as a spectator with the conversation.

The impression which build up with the accumulation of my attempt to see and understand diorama, are impediment – a 20 years old kid living and going to school in the suburbs of Jakarta, with a very limited baggage of knowledge coming down from the residue of learning history back in school. There is a lot of subjects that I don’t recognize, a lot places that I don’t know, a lot of occurrence that I don’t understand, basically all visual or text that I see couldn’t really reach anything behind my back. This thing becomes clear when I had a discussion in one evening at Forum Lenteng with Bang Akbar (Bang is a word to address an older man in Betawi language), talking about the forms of history: that history is something open, even when someone reads a history, he is part of the history itself. Essentially, history has two approaches, objective approach when history is always try to seek an absolute truth using document and archives as a tools and reference to establish the past experiences that happened. This function often done by the state and its apparatus to establish what’s right and what’s wrong as a reference for its people. Objective approach in history then alienates the society from the objective discourse, while in fact society is the very core element of the historical event itself. The establishment of objective history produces knowledge that repeatedly reproduce until becoming a status quo in people’s mind.

This condition then making history as something irrelevant, he said, that I also experience and preached when I look back at my own experience in seeing diorama at Monas: distanced and irrelevant. There’s not much bodily experience that I could use as a bridge to relate myself with what I see in diorama. History is something that needs to be present, not represent. And attempts to represent history through reenactment in any kind of way will always leave room for distance, which require a decent baggage of knowledge to be able to understand the history itself. We don’t even talk about which version of history that we are talking about. At the end, history is only fiction, attempts to establish things that need to be established.

Despite that fact, this heritage of historical artefact is still visited by youth, including me. Aside from students which accompanied by teacher or parents or relatives, there were also lot of youth coming with their friends, or alone like me, with our own interest. We, the youth, are actually not unwilling to visit Monas. When I visited Monas, there were always youths, wanting to involve in historical event. But then in what forms that these youths involving themselves in historical event, it’s another thing that we should closely talk about. These youths, including me, looked at diorama one by one. In terms of seeing and observing, many of them did it in groups and felt the needs to say what they were talking about and what they knew when they saw a potential to include themselves in it, for example by saying, “Hey look at this one, look like it’s your father smashing the rock!”, commenting what they see. Or, stop observing and decided to take a group selfie, or asking their friends to take a picture of them. They often using flash, when took a picture, in which it reflects in the glass, making the object behind the glass didn’t appear in the photos. The fact that after the photo taken, whether the photo is going to be posted or not, nobody really knows. But I see all of it as an act of performativity, did by youth in attempts to involve themselves in historical event.

How to address that history is fiction, another approach of seeing history rose up: public history, coming from the fact that history is owned by the people that bodily experience it. Differ from objective history that hunt down precision, it stresses on impression, on collective memory to interpret what they understand and experience. This attempt already did through film The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer that claimed as a documentary film, while what he actually offers was not using any historical document. But he’s talking about impression and memory of violence which very effect to leave a deep trace on how to see a past experience.

And then my own attempts to see the diorama of Monas itself, using public history spirit, is then how to experience the history itself as a performative bodily experience. Probably for youth nowadays, diorama is no longer relevant as a reference in talking about what’s important for them. Also not used as reference to did a flashback of Indonesia’s track record of journey as a nation. Perhaps, what I assume is true, that history couldn’t be represent or displayed again as it is. No matter how sophisticated the attempt to do it, it could never beat the history which present and experienced by the spectators. The relevancy of diorama for youths is then how they could freely respond to it, with light talks relate to their life, or with camera that they own, or clearly not paying attention to it and just lay down in the floor or charging their phone. Then, are they neglecting history?

My friends and I are trying to see diorama through our own framing using camera as the technology, playing with zooming and choosing frame to shoot, then understanding our shots, and make it relevant whether through historical context or with our knowledge or daily experience. I saw the form of culture: appearance of cigarettes and tea as an authentic commodity in Indonesia that keep on transforming through time (as a treats for assembly, visiting others, relaxing, even discussing), collective nuance (working together to build up temple, having war, gathering, and talking in front of the house; and maybe the form of communication that we have is no longer in front our houses, but through social media), the typical gesture of tropical people that’s not stiff and straight, often leaning back and squatting, and also the tendency to be very expressive in certain occasion (pointing or being pointed, raising hands, tiptoeing and clenching hand, peeking because we basically always want to know things), individual awareness of being in group (sitting facing each other or making a circle, kneeling or cross-legging, lining up disorderly order, whispering with one another, and gossiping) and also the appearance of mass communication tools varied from bedug, pentungan, bells, microphone, toa and a massively huge screen that directly connect to a camera that broadcast a live report of the assembly for all the participants to look at, and presence of open spaces like pendopo, balai, terrace of houses that often becoming a place to gather.

This findings come from the enlargement that I do with camera as an performative act becoming way more relevant for me to interpret in terms of seeing Indonesia’s past experience because this forms that I see are still exist and I can still experience it. The development of what I see and how this forms transform through time and spaces until now, provide me a connecting bridge to make this history relevant because I can see myself in it. This findings are result from out performative acts, which trying to not take things for granted and instead looking at small things, refuse to full accepted big things that were trying to convey.

Then, the discussion that I had with my friends in AKUMASSA-Diorama team again I see as an act of performativity to consistently give meaning and interpret our findings with camera. With our varying background as student (Communication, Administration, Broadcasting, Criminology, Fine Arts, Music Ethnography, International Relations) making it interesting for us to collide our interdisciplinary thoughts and knowledge. Apart from our findings, I personally understand that essentially, State has a discourses that exercise through media, and on this occasion, diorama. In this diorama, there are two narrations: big narration, and small narration. Big narration identical with centralistic approach or objective history, while small narration has pluralistic perspective and varied, aligned with public history.

History is fiction! With a lot of version based on interest. It will become nothing if it’s only neglected in the back of our head as information, without any actual way to link that up with how history then could be experience or understood through impression or through bodily experience. I experience diorama with public history approach: with selecting what I see and believe in my own capacity to give meaning into it. I don’t focus on big narration that I honestly incapable to fluently talk about. The text doesn’t help. But after I did the selecting through enlargement, I experience it. For me, diorama in this case, is a way of visual portrayal to represent history by spectators at that time with their own interest, in which waiting for the participation of the spectators that then always present in front the visual portrayal itself to produce an impression that relevant to their time with doing performative act to experience the history itself. History is fiction and for me there is no right or wrong way to do it, other than bringing it to bodily state and experience it, instead of see it as something distanced. ***

About the author


Ryani Sisca Pertiwi

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