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Organizer: Cecelia Levin, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Chair: Deena Burton, New York University
Discussants: Kaja M. McGowan, Cornell University; Jan Fontein, Boston Museum of Art
The 1930s acquired legendary status in regard to Western scholarship on the subjects of Javanese and Balinese culture, for it was during this decade that an array of talented artists and intellectuals gravitated to these islands and embraced the artistic expressions of their new environs. Notable among these were Gregory Bateson, Jane Belo, Rudolf Bonnet, Miguel Covarrubias, Claire Holt, Jaap Kunst, Margaret Mead, Cohn McPhee, Walter Spies, and Willem Stutterheim.
This panel focuses on three figures from this decade: Claire Holt, Colin McPhee, and Willem Stutterheim. The dance ethnologist Holt pioneered studies in the field of Javanese dance and introduced a multidisciplinary approach to an understanding of Indonesian artistic phenomenons. The composer McPhee studied Balinese music and his book Music in Bali remains a classic. The archaeologist Willem Stutterheim was a prolific scholar best known for his interpretations of the great religious monuments of the Classical period.
In addition to spanning three disciplines, these scholars efforts mark profound differences in approach ranging from creative composition to direct involvement to pure academic study. Despite these disparities there were common bonds; all three shared the intellectual environment of their time and held the same identity as expatriates living in an exotic and foreign land.
By examining how these individuals methods and viewpoints contrasted with those of the earliest generation of cultural scholarship, the dramatic shifts in perspective associated with the 1930s can be identified. Further, it has been recognized that the landmark efforts of Holt, McPhee, and Stutterheim formed the foundations for subsequent decades of scholarly research and analysis. Therefore, as the century is now brought to a close, it is appropriate to evaluate how their findings resonate with contemporary concerns and newly delineated methodologies.
Claire Holt: A Dancers Vision
Deena Burton, New York University
This presentation examines the life and work of Claire Holt (19011970), author of Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change (1967), and Dance Quest in Celebes (1939), as well as numerous articles on Indonesian art and performance. This analysis of Holt focuses on her involvement in the field of Indonesian dance, examining her writings on the subject and her experience studying dance in Java in the 1930s. I explore her background in dance and sculpture prior to her arrival in the Dutch East Indies in 1930, and how this affected her encounter with Indonesian culture.
For Holt, sculpture and dance were both expressions of movement. This conceptual framework would prove crucial to her studies in Java, and to her work with the archaeologist Dr. Willem F. Stutterheim, who was one of her mentors, and with whom she shared her life in Java throughout the thirties. Her other two significant mentors from this period were her dance teacher, Pangeran Ario Tedjakusuma of the Yogyakarta court, founder of the dance school Krida Beksa Wirama, and H. H. Mangkunegara VII in Solo.
I argue that Holts experience studying dance and her relationship to her Javanese mentors set her apart from many scholars and artists involved in ethnographic studies at the time. Although Holt did not write about her own experience in studying dance, as is the practice in contemporary ethnography, her inner knowledge of the form shows through her writing. I argue that Holts internal experience of studying Javanese dance and her own dancers vision shaped a great part of her connection with Indonesia, as well as her writing, philosophy, and identity.
"A crystal sound, aerial and purely sensuous": Colin McPhee, Interwar Musical Modernism, Exotic Hedonism, and Bali
Marc Perlman, Brown University
Scholars have recently paid a great deal of attention to the ways Western societies construct literary and historiographical images of the Other. Today I would like to explore some of the musical cognates of this phenomenon. Several twentieth-century North American composers have borrowed from or studied the music of the great Indonesian bronze orchestras known as gamelan. One of the first was Colin McPhee (19001964), who lived in Bali for eight years, did prodigious amounts of research into several genres of Balinese music, and composed one enduring orchestral work, Tabuh-tabuhan (1936) based on Balinese material.
What did McPhee hear in this music? What aesthetic values did he find so attractive in it? I suggest that he heard something congruent with the musical aesthetic of his day, and with his self-representation of his own personality.
Euro-American music between the wars is often characterized in terms of a reaction against what Roger Sessions called the "grandiloquent and neurotic self-importance" of late Romanticism, and a turn toward serenity, clarity of form, and craftsmanship. McPhee clearly heard Balinese music as imbued with impersonality and objectivity, the two prime aesthetic virtues of 1920s modernism. But unemotional did not mean intellectual for McPhee: he also valued Balinese music for (what he heard as) its sensuality and purely physical pleasures.
I suggest that McPhee, by identifying himself with an ideal of crystalline, "purely sensuous" sound, constructed a sonic image of Balinese music suited to his own self-image as an emotionally distant hedonist. Such a self-image has a reasonably well-established lineage in the tradition of Western exoticism. In portraying himself as an aloof sensualist, overwhelmed at age twenty-three by an emotional crisis, McPhee was, consciously or not, reiteratingand perhaps living througha topos in the literature of exoticism (as found, for example, in the work of Chateaubriand, Pierre Loti, and Victor Segalen): the wanderer, emotionally stunted at an early age, who gives himself up to a life of pleasure in foreign lands.
The Archaeologist Willem F. Stutterheim: Protagonist for Classical Javanese Culture
Cecelia Levin, New York University
Willem F. Stutterheim (18921942) arrived in Java in the mid-1920s to serve as a language-officer, but it was through his affiliation with the Archaeological Survey in the Netherlands Indies that he was able to pursue his passion for the antiquities of these islands. Ultimately he was appointed as the agencys director in 1936.
As a result of his diversified training in Indonesian literature and history, it was natural that the monuments of Java became the vehicle by which he was able to interpret broader cultural phenomena of the Classical period (circa 7501500). However, all of his investigations returned to one basic theme: the transformation of Indian models by the Classical Javanese. He asserted that the alterations of these archetypes were not errors on the part of the Javanese but rather the result of deliberate changes. According to Stutterheim, Classical Javanese culture was a "regeneration rather than a degeneration," and he called for a greater recognition of the indigenous animistic elements embodied in the creations of this epoch. To a generation of scholarship fueled on the concept of Classical Java as "Provincial India" or "Outer India," this declaration signified a monumental shift in perspective.
This presentation examines Stutterheims then-novel premise concerning two of his most important studies: the socio-religious significance of the Hindu-Buddhist monuments of the Classical period, and the Ramayana epic as depicted in sculptural relief series on Hindu-Javanese monuments. It assesses how his ideology and analyses stand in relation to new archaeological finds and current perceptions regarding Classical Javas artistic evolution. As a result, it also queries whether Stutterheims prolific and sagacious scholarly contributions were accidentally shadowed by the temper of his particular era.