Framing Indonesian Art

This research project focuses on how ‘Islam’ was collected, categorized and exhibited in Dutch museums, in particular the almost total absence of Indonesia in the narrative of Islamic art history.

The National Museum of World Cultures, comprised of the Tropenmuseum, the Afrika Museum and Museum Volkenkunde has one of the largest and most important collections of art and material culture from Indonesia. Despite this long history, few objects in the collection have been classified as ‘Islamic’ and there is no terminology to denote ‘Indonesian-Islamic’ stylistic influences. The situation in other museums with Indonesian collections – be it in Europe or Indonesia itself – is not much different.

The exclusion of Indonesia from the field of Islamic art can be traced back to the late 19th century when Western art historians and museums started to study the artefacts they collected from Muslim regions, and Islamic art as a field of enquiry emerged. Framing Indonesian Art: Colonial Discourse and the Question of Islam will focus on a group of objects from Indonesia, that were collected during the colonial period, as a case study to understand the historical conditions leading to the Western disregard of Indonesian Islamic art and to investigate alternative approaches to the concept of ‘Islamic art’ in an Indonesian context.

The objective of the research project is twofold:
- to gain insights in the historical conditions that led to the exclusion of Indonesian art from the field of Islamic art.
- to investigate alternative interpretations of Indonesian Islamic art.


As a contemporary visual artist my main research focuses on heritage institutions such as the ethnographic museum: its role in society and its colonial roots.


Mirjam Shatanawi
Curator Middle East and North Africa

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