Inventing the Performing Arts: Modernity and Tradition in Colonial Indonesia

Matthew Isaac Cohen

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Indonesia, with its mix of ethnic cultures, strong sense of national modernity, and cosmopolitan ethos, provides an important lens to examine the creative dialectic of tradition and modernity in the performing arts in globalized Asia. This book unfurls stories of collective creativity in the modernization of culture; the disembedding and remooring of traditions; the emergence of new art forms and modern attitudes to art; and the hybridizing of old and new, foreign and local. Rather than being an ancillary reflection of socio-political change, performing arts are taken as a primary mode for experiencing and conceiving modernity. Among other developments, the book examines a Javanese artistic “renaissance” in classical dance, gamelan music, and other arts accidentally launched with the construction of an out-sized gazebo, the rise of large-scale touring popular theater companies, and inter-arts synergies during the Japanese occupation. The book offers historical perspectives on issues that remain current in Indonesia today—including debates over proprietorship, cosmopolitan modernity and local tradition, exogenous vs. endogenous changes in tradition, artistic freedom and regulation, civil decorum, enthusiasm for the new and despair for the old, local culture and national belonging.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Hawaii Press
Number of pages352
ISBN (Electronic)9780824855598
ISBN (Print)9780824855567
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

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