Tano Toba Saga – “Power And Other Things: Indonesia And Art (1835-Now)” Europalia Art Festival Indonesia

The Design of Installation about the diversity and complexity of Toba Land History through every version of its narrations and how it all has been retold or documented


The Tano Toba Saga installation or exhibition design was made for Lifepatch exhibition as part of the “Power And Other Things: Indonesia & Art (1835 – Now)” under the framework of Europalia Art Festival Indonesia in Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) – Brussels at 18 October 2017 until 21 January 2018.

The “Tano Toba Saga” is an exhibition of several artifacts and installations that assembled under particular layout design depicting about two key figures and their relations within a small fragment of the North Sumatera long histories during the colonial era, which are the Swiss-Dutch soldier Hans Christoffel and the king of Batak people called Si Singamangaraja XII.

As the first impression, I believe that the historical event mostly happens as a result of connectivity or causality between two or more linear progression line, which is “this happened, and then that happened; that happened because this happened first”. In this case, both of Hans Christoffel and Si Singamangaraja XII as the two key figures has their own linear progression history line with totally different attributes, such as cultural background, political interest, and so on. However, driven by the Dutch Kingdom policies around the early 19th century to bring a conducive atmosphere for economical interest in the East Indische archipelago as their colonization region through unification and pacification, Hans Christoffel as part of the Koninklijk Nederlandsch-Indische Leger (Netherlands Royal Army) has to be collide with Si Singamangaraja XII who is the King and religious leader of Toba People in North Sumatra in a major event so-called the Tapanoeli War. It was a long-term war that occurs up to 29 years until stopped when the Si Singamangaraja eventually killed during his guerrilla resistance and brought him as the last king of Toba people.

When examining thoroughly the collection of scattered historical materials from North Sumatra as well as the artefacts that currently well-preserved in the Antwerp MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) and Bronbeek Museum Arnhem, it seems there is a tendency for differences between the histories written by the conflict “winners” and the one that believed by North Sumatra people. As well as the local tradition of Toba people in North Sumatra who still believe and delivered histories through holistic methods with storytelling, dancing or theater as a counterpart of the “western” way when examine or produce historical narrations based on written material, physical artefacts, and documentation by “Official” institutions, such as museum. However, instead of summarizing all the narratives and shows the most accurate version, The Tano Toba Saga tries to assemble all the scattered narrations and presenting its contradiction as a different way to present a history. Should be the truth verified by the objects or artifacts, or is the truth similar to belief and thus does not need physical proof? Is the version offered by the museum more reliable than the version of people in North Sumatra?

It appears that in order to reconstruct all historical narrations through displaying and valuing artifacts as physical proof are closely related with spatial accentuations to represent the complexity of history and its contradiction attributes that always rotating and sometimes confusing as same as a maze or a labyrinth. Spatially, both of key figure narration builds as individual linear lines that flow from a different entry point, which are presenting the narrations focusing on Toba land before the Dutch arrival and afterward, on the opposites flow present the narrations about Hans Christoffel as the Dutch and their policies representation. With analogy of the whirlpool phenomena that formed when opposing stream collides, both of opposite historical lines collide and create a swirling flow around as a symbolization of conflict that formed by correlation and causality between the Dutch with their colonization policies in Toba land and the resistance of Toba People who against it.

At the same time, the whirlpool vortex has more value than a representation or narration of the historical event. it works as the main background for anyone who connected with the conflict event either spiritually and physically when redefining their new identity, culture, even forming the way when talking about the past stories. These phenomena are presented as one of the Tano Toba Saga exhibition layout accentuations, which is the conflict area designed visually accessible from the entry door, but it can’t be physically accessed directly.

Produced as part of “Power And Other Things: Indonesia & Art (1835 – Now)” Europalia Art Festival Indonesia.
Exhibited at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) of Brussels, Belgium.

Reference Site:
* Details of “Power And Other Things: Indonesia & Art (1835 – Now)” Europalia Art Festival Indonesia on Europalia Art Festival official website
* Details of Tano Toba Saga Exhibition on Metropolism Magazine Online Feature official website.
* Details of Tano Toba Saga Exhibition on Lifepatch official website.