Garden of the East: Photography in Indonesia 1850s–1940s is the first major survey in the southern hemisphere of the photographic art from the period spanning the last century of colonial rule until just prior to the establishment of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. The 2014 exhibition provided the opportunity to view over two hundred and fifty photographs, albums and illustrated books of the photography of this era and provides a unique insight into the people, life and culture of Indonesia.
The exhibition is comprised of images created by more than one hundred photographers and the majority have never been exhibited publicly before. The works were captured by photographers of all races, making images of the beauty, bounty, antiquities and elaborate cultures of the diverse lands and peoples of the former Dutch East Indies. Among these photographers is the Javanese artist Kassian Céphas, whose genius as a photographer is not widely known at this time, a situation which the National Gallery of Australia hopes to address by growing the collection of holdings from this period and by continuing to stage focused exhibitions such as Garden of the East.
Leo Haks of Amsterdam started collecting photographs from Indonesia after a chance purchase in the Hague in 1977. From that start Haks became fascinated with early photography in Indonesia between the 1860s and 1940s. In 1984, he returned to Amsterdam and became a dealer in rare books and Indonesian paintings. He co-authored a number of books on Indonesian art and continued building what became the only museum standard holding of Indonesian photography in private hands.
Leo Haks built a collection of 5000 prints, as well as thousands more in albums both grand and humble. These albums, prints and his library of over 140 mostly rare books on the subject — all lugged up the narrow staircases of his four storey Amsterdam home — were expertly catalogued and rehoused in archival sleeves, new bindings or specially made cases. It was in 2006 that the National Gallery of Australia acquired this world class collection.
Gael Newton, Senior Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Australia and the Curator of the 2014 exhibition ‘Garden of the East‘ said that the exhibition presents images, both historic and homely and is a ‘time travel’ opportunity to visit the Indies through more than two hundred and fifty works on show, made by both professional and amateur family photographers. Images as diverse as the Indonesian archipelago itself, which was once described by nineteenth century travel writers as the ‘Garden of the East’.
The book Garden of the East -photography in Indonesia 1850s -1940s has been published by the National Gallery of Australia and the Indonesian visual heritage collection is available online by clicking Gallery on the link below.
Please click on the link below to watch a short documentary on the Garden of the East photographic exhibition.