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Dance Technique in Indonesia Militarized Zone

Framing Violence: Dance Technique in  Indonesia Militarized Zone

by Diyah Larasati


Focusing on Indonesia, where histories of colonialism, dictatorship, genocide and global tourism have intervened in the creation of the dancing body, my research interest centers on theoretical questions about the political economy of dance in the construction of national identity and the emergence of  centralized violence by the state. An integral piece of my project questions the vanishing of dancing bodies and the effects of Indonesia’s state-sponsored cultural reconstruction after the 1965 massacres (Robinson 1995),  that in some parts of Indonesia, East Java for example, the massacre continued into early 1970 (Larasati 2006). I interrogate the specific ways in which female dancing bodies have been dealt with by the state: vilified, punished, then replaced with idealized, state aligned bodies who must nonetheless continually prove their allegiance and adherence to nationalized culture.

Many cultural practitioners were accused of embodying Communist ideas, especially those suspected as a member or in alliance with Gerwani, a women’s movement during the 1960’s of Indonesia. A violent identity created by the national discourse on women opposition activity attached onto these suspect cultural practitioners. (Wierenga 2002) Forbidden from practice, a presentation of the “cultural” as emblematic of traditional values and as part of a national identity needed to be strategized using newly trained and conceptualized bodies. This de-contextualization of dance and other art forms from practitioners and embodied meanings created a sense of national alterity, while the state’s use of the cultural to construct the national through the signification of the body acted as mimesis. Thus, the state’s practice of mimesis by replication enacted a reproduction of knowledge through plain imitation, taking forms with no reciprocation or reference to the bodies that once practiced them.

Following Spivak’s comments (In Other Worlds, 1998) on Bakhtin and the politics of textuality, I analyze the embodiment of dance technique which simultaneously produces and is produced by replica bodies and citizen/audiences, transmitting, defining and absorbing ideology as imposed by state narratives in which art, artist and viewer are embedded. However, in his critique of Benedict Anderson’s concept of nation as imagined commonality existing and reproducing itself in “homogeneous empty time” (the Location of Culture, 1994: 230-229), Homi Bhabha also serves to complicate Spivak’s understanding of nation and the creation of ideology.

Likewise, I present the state aligned, replica dancing body as, simultaneously, a producer, product, and potential destroyer of the nationalized culture, a sort of ideological time bomb whose immanent explosion is always both repressed and sensible. Because this body contains fragments of embodied memories of a “time of the ‘before’ of signification”– in this case an actual cultural history prior to the New Order – the replica dancing body as sign both speaks and disturbs a sense of the nation as a natural entity and originary present, creating a discourse which performs the problem of totalizing the people and unifying the national will.


In my analysis, I examine “forgetting” as a strategy used by the government to affect unruly bodies, particularly those of cultural practitioners whose suffering was actively wiped from public memory by the state’s Amnesia Project. The Suharto regime, replaced the memories of these artists, their bodies, and the injustice they experienced.  The regime carefully and forcibly wiped from these artists from public memory replacing their bodies with “replicas,” and re-writing their lives by the discourse presented in the film, entitled Penghianatan G30S/PKI (The Betrayal of the Indonesian Communist Party) (Arifin Noer 1982). State endorsed public memory was reserved for the deaths of six Indonesian army generals and one high ranking military officer killed during the failed coup d’état of September 30th (later revealed to be October 1st) 1965 by the communist party. This event, clearly put forth by Suharto and echoed in the film, gave him reasoning for the elimination of all suspected communists, suggesting a justification for the murders of millions of unruly bodies and legitimizing the rise of the New Order.

I examine the lay-out of the ways in which fabricated knowledge of an event may be created.  The memory of the witness does not exist because the replica, or simulacrum, is constantly produced and reiterated through the many apparatuses of governance and/or state controlled systems, including the media. I draw upon Leslie Dwyer’s (2004) and Saskia Wierenga’s (2002) arguments regarding sexual politics in Indonesia, to help analyze the tactics of brutalization and intimidation of women by dominant powers through sexual images, rape, and harassment. This power play was then actively reversed media portrayals, picturing women’s identity as aggressive, horrific and barbaric (John Roosa  2006)  their dances as immoral (Larasati 2006), and their agenda as working against the honor of idealized Indonesian womanhood (and by association, manhood). Such misrepresentations strategically built alliances between the state, military, religious patriarchy and specific nationalized women’s organizations, allowing certain cultural practices to be taken from stigmatized women. These art forms were then taken over by those “legitimate” organizations under the protection of the state.



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