Aceh Histories in the KITLV Images Archive
Jean Gelman Taylor
University of New South Wales-Sydney, Australia
In any society the past is forever being swept aside. Memories fade; records are lost;
those in power manipulate images of the past. In Aceh, survivors of the tsunami
confront the sudden, massive loss of people and history. Material culture, the physical
record of mind and hands, also vanished beneath the waves and with it evidence of
connections between maker and user that knit social classes together. Here I introduce
the KITLV Images archive as a repository that offers the possibility of recovering traces
of Aceh’s past.
The archive is also an important source for rethinking the history of Aceh within histories
of Indonesia. We may consider who or what photographers found important to record
through the expensive processes of early camera technology, and how visual records
contribute to understanding the past. Visual sources for Aceh may be compared with
photographs in the KITLV archive taken in the same time period at other locations
around the archipelago.
Visual sources need a context for their interpretation; they cannot be divorced from
document-based histories. Major themes in histories of Aceh are the 17th century
sultanate, its global connections, and the Aceh wars over the years 1873 to the 1930s.
In histories of Indonesia and in popular conception, Aceh is presented as tenacious
opponent of colonial rule and supporter of independence. Themes of power, alienation
and resistance in the historiography of Aceh have influenced its visual representation in
published collections of photographs and art histories of Indonesia. In them photographs
of soldiers, bivouacs and military infrastructure represent Aceh. Examination of the
Images archive, however, reveals a great many more facets.

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