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A month of celebrating Indonesia in Paris

Kunang Helmi
Kunang Helmi

Freelance writer

Paris  /  Wed, April 25, 2018  /  06:58 pm
A month of celebrating Indonesia in Paris

Brigitte Lefevbre, former dance director of Opera de Paris, Patrick Bensard, former head of Cinematheque de Danse, Michel Picard, expert on Bali and religion in Southeast Asia, and Kati Basset, expert on Indonesian music and ethnomusicology, attend a discussion. (Musée Guimet/File)

On the first weekend of April, the first of a month's worth of events celebrating Indonesian culture kicked off in Paris. The final event takes place on May 6, when Indonesian groups in France will showcase their wares and skills at the Indonesian Embassy on Rue Cortambert in Paris.

Jamu workshops were held at Restaurant Indonesia, Rue Vaugirard, during the weekend of April 7 to 8, when a meal and self-prepared jamu under the supervision of an expert was made available upon a subscription and payment. Indonesian herb remedies are becoming increasingly popular in Europe as is Indonesian food, especially after expert William Wongso demonstrated his skills in March in the capital of gourmet food. In France, there is a growing interest for alternative medicine and, as a result, jamu ingredients can be found at Asian food stores, mostly in Belleville or the 13th precinct of Paris.

At Musée Guimet, renowned for its treasures of Asian art and exhibitions, Indonesian art and culture were exposed, together with round table discussions about Balinese and Javanese dance, culture and contemporary films, on April 7 to 8. The screened films were Kartini and Sekala Niskala (The Seen and Unseen). The organizers named the event "Indonesie, musique et danse en heritage" (Indonesia: Music and Dance of Heritage). Participants ate lunch at the museum’s Asian restaurant during the break.

The round table was led by retired dance director of Paris Opera and former prima ballerina Brigitte Lefévre, together with the former head of the Cinematheque de Danse, Patrick Bensard. Michel Picard, a retired research director and expert on Bali and religion in Southeast Asia, took part in a discussion with Jerome Samuel, the director of the Indonesian section of Inalco, together with Kati Basset, a musicology expert on Java and Bali. The cultural attache of the Indonesian Embassy in Paris opened the proceedings and made an announcement on the Friday the 13th Sumatran Dance program, sponsored by Indonesian ministries.

After an introduction by Michel Picard about Bali, past and present, the first day concentrated on expats of the past and foreign visitors to Bali like Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, Margaret Mead, Katherine Mershon and Miguel Covarubbias, while Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1949 Bali photos were introduced by Kunang Helmi. The photos were taken over six weeks on the island and shown at the Cinematheque in 2004, shortly before Cartier-Bresson died in August of the same year. A book about his Bali photos edited by Robert Delpire was reprinted in 2013, with black and white photos only and an introduction by Antonin Arthaud.

The cover of the book of Henri Cartier-Bresson, containing photos taken in Bali. The vintage book has been re-printed.The cover of the book of Henri Cartier-Bresson, containing photos taken in Bali. The vintage book has been re-printed. (Robert Delpire/File)

Clips of Chaplin in Bali by Raphael Millet, Legong by Henri de la Falaise and the full Insel der Damonen by Baron von Plessen, together with extended clips of Miguel Covarrubias' La Isla de Bali, were shown to a fascinated public after a discussion about differences in dance education in Europe and Bali. Charlie Chaplin was even shown dancing the legong in a very brief shot of Millet’s film.

The Friday 13th Sumatran Dance spectacle focused on Minangkabau dramatic art, music, songs, dance and martial arts. Such art had never before been showcased in France. The following Saturday, a round table discussion consisted of Brigitte Lefevre, Patrick Bensard, Jerome Samuel, Kati Basset and Erik Nislund, the former director of Dansmuseet in Stockholm.

Kati Basset introduced a Balinese dance troupe and Javanese gamelan based in Paris before going on to show some of her own films about the troupes and dances she brought to Europe. Erik Nislund brought Rolf de Mare’s black and white film of dances from the Indonesian archipelago, taken in the 1930s. These dances, along with the costumes worn by their performers, have changed in form and style over time. Mostly shortened and adapted for the tourist's eye, the art form is of great interest to researchers and dance enthusiasts.

On May 8, Le Printemps Indonesien program took place at the Ruang Budaya of the Indonesian Embassy, showcasing a bazaar, dances and songs, cuisine and a documentary film about Indonesian workers in Hong Kong (Minggu Pagi di Victoria Peak) followed by a discussion about issues related to Indonesian migrant workers in foreign Asian countries.

The promotion of Indonesian culture is still in full-swing in Europe, following similar endeavors in London and Belgium earlier this year. (kes)

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