Social commitment in literature and the arts

Title: Social commitment in literature and the arts: Conflicting narratives of Indonesia’s leftist culture
Speakers: Dr Keith Foulcher, Professor Julian Millie, Kelana Wisnu Sapta Nugraha

Between 1950 and 1965, Indonesia’s left-leaning writers and artists gathered within an umbrella body known as The Institute for People’s Culture (LEKRA). The year 1965 saw the purging of the political left in Indonesia. LEKRA was banned and its members were imprisoned, executed and marginalised. For the next 32 years, LEKRA came to be defined officially through the eyes of its ideological opponents.

In 1986, Monash University's Centre of Southeast Asian Studies published Social Commitment in Literature and the Arts: The Indonesian Institute of People's Culture,1950-1965 by Keith Foulcher. This book was an analysis of LEKRA and its history from the point of view of the organisation's own documentary record and the views of some of its former members. In Indonesia, the publication was seen as highly controversial, because in many ways it ran counter to the official New Order version of LEKRA and its history.

Earlier this year, the Bandung-based publisher Pustaka Pias published a translation of Foulcher's 1986 monograph under the title Komitmen Sosial dalam Sastra dan Seni: Sejarah LEKRA 1950-1965. This is a significant publication, with 1000 copies being sold in the first month alone. In Rima Febriani's translation, Foulcher's account of this important chapter of Indonesian history has now been made available for Indonesian readers. The publication reflects a thawing of Indonesia’s public conversation about difficult aspects of the nation’s history.

To mark the publication of Komitmen Sosial dalam Sastra dan Seni: Sejarah LEKRA 1950-1965, Julian sits down with Keith and Kelana to discuss Keith's experiences in writing the book and the events that unfolded subsequent to the publication.

Watch the webinar here.