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Images of the Indonesian War of Independence, 1945-1949 - Online Exhibition

Starting January 18, the online exhibition Images of the Indonesian War of Independence, 1945-1949 can be viewed via the UBL website. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and Leiden University Libraries (UBL). The exhibition shows a selection of material from the Special Collections of the UBL, including much material from the collections of the KITLV-KNAW. The exhibition presents a wide variety of sources, from posters and drawings to photography, and from personal testimonies on paper or in interviews to official documents from both the Indonesians and the Dutch.

"Under the red and white flag Terror and Poverty - under Red, White and Blue order and prosperity." Poster, Publisher: Stichting ‘Indië in Nood’, ca. 1945. Or. 27.011-4.

On August 17, 1945, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia. On December 27, 1949, the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to the Indonesian government. Between those two dates lie more than four years of extremely difficult negotiations and bitter warfare. In Indonesia, these years are known as the 'Indonesian Revolution', a period during which independence was defended against the old colonial power and a new state was built. In the Netherlands, the former colonizer, the entire period was long referred to with the euphemism 'police actions'. More recently, it is simply been referred to as "war"; in 2005 the government spoke of a 'war on the wrong side of history'. It surely was a war, with very unequal casualties. More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed on the Indonesian side, including both combatants and civilians; the number of dead in the Dutch armed forces amounted to about 5,000, of which roughly one-third were Indonesian men.

The exhibition shows a considerable amount of special and even unique material from the collections of the UBL. Much of the material comes from KITLV-KNAW. The exhibition is presented to the viewer in six themes. Special examples of several types of sources have been selected for each theme; together they provide a view of the differing perspectives on every side of the conflict. The exhibition sheds light on both the Indonesian and the Dutch views of the events from 1945-1949.

Drawing from a series of 13 original Indonesian drawings used as propaganda poster designs. ca. 1947. Watercolor on heavy paper. Or. 27.649.


Special attention is given to (fragments from) audiotapes holding interviews with eyewitnesses in the exhibition. Their stories bring the war close to the listener and provide a vivid impression of the great impact those years had on those involved. The interviews can be listened to, but transcripts are available as well.


The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name with all texts (in Dutch, Indonesian and English) and all images. The book has been published by Leiden University Press (LUP) and can be ordered via the LUP website.


The exhibition is curated by Sander van der Horst, Linde Lammers and Melle van Maanen. Over the past year, under the leadership of Gert Oostindie, former director of KITLV and emeritus professor of history at Leiden University, they worked on the preparations and created the exhibition. For this purpose, they studied large amounts of documents, photos and other visual material and listened to many hours of interviews. The result, the online exhibition and the accompanying book do justice to the subject with its many perspectives and the importance of the Leiden collections.


Gert Oostindie, former director of the KITLV-KNAW and emeritus professor at Leiden University, was a guest in the UBLpodcast on an earlier occasion to talk about the bloody war for Indonesian independence using interesting and rare objects from the Leiden Special Collections. (Podcast is in Dutch)
Listen to the podcast here.


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