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In Session: Performing Islam in Indonesia
1: Imbricating Islamic Tropes in Leftist Indonesian Drama, 1950–65
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
National University of Singapore, Singapore
This paper examines the work of several Leftist Indonesian playwrights, most of whom were members of the communist-affiliated arts organization, Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (LEKRA, Institute for People’s Culture). Chief among these are Agam Wispi’s Gerbong (1957), Sanusi Pane’s Manusia Baru (1940), Utuy Tatang Sontani’s Si Kabayan (1959), and Joebaar Ajoeb’s Siti Djamilah (1962). Counter-intuitively, these leftist playwrights’ attempts to forge a new, humanistic dramatic idiom remained embedded in a cultural framework to which Islam was integral. Telling stories of war, bereavement, and labor organization, these playwrights nonetheless invoked specifically Islamic tropes or frames of reference, because Islam’s enduring cultural resonance made it difficult to create art without reference to Islam. The playwrights themselves often had deeply nuanced religious views, as did much of the Indonesian political spectrum during this period. These plays provide an entry-point for understanding the political and religious cultures of the constitutional democracy (1950–59) and guided democracy (1959–65) periods of Indonesian history, which are studied primarily for their political instability rather than their religious efflorescence. A holistic understanding of Indonesian Islam during these periods requires us to study not only the political struggles over Islam's relationship with the state, or military struggles invoking Islam. It requires us to engage with Islam's role in cultural production, and how fundamentally Indonesian identity was imbricated with Islam. To that end, this paper will analyze the modalities of Islam’s embedment in pre-1965 Indonesian performance art.