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  • Denisa Mayari

Imaging Indonesia: Javanized by Design

Dozens and dozens of nations are recognized worldwide due largely to their own cuisine, fashion, or other cultural elements. For instance, the Japanese national identity is inextricably linked to cultural icons like kimonos, sushi, and even anime. These distinct "objects" of national culture make up the country's image, which the Japanese take great pride in and are keen to share with the rest of the world. Indonesia, on the other hand, is a different story. In a society with so many distinct ethnic groups, a variety of diverse traditions and ways of life need to be recognized, celebrated, and represented; this is a task that Indonesia has yet to accomplish.

For a very long time, many facets of Indonesian society have been almost completely engulfed by a wave of Javanization that never seems to subside. The term "Javanization" refers to the phenomenon whereby people of Javanese descent came to constitute the vast majority and their traditions became the de facto standard. The proof can be seen in how the government images Indonesia—the constant use of traditional Javanese items on logos and promotional materials is one of them. These logos and promotional materials are largely responsible for shaping the international community's view of Indonesia; thus, their impact will be significant.

On November 15–16, 2022, Indonesia played host to the G20 Summit, which was attended by the heads of state of the intergovernmental forum member states. In a fitting gesture, the G20 summit was held on Indonesia's most popular tourist destination, the idyllic island of Bali. Initiatives were taken to familiarize G20 delegates with aspects of Balinese culture, such as the endek fabric. Still, the Java-centric, official G20 logo is displayed prominently on everything from merchandise to signage as the inescapable branding of the summit. Quoting from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia’s official website:

“...the G20 Indonesia Presidency logo clearly shows the identity of Indonesia. The gunungan motif depicts life in the universe, especially the movement towards a new chapter. It reflects optimism and enthusiasm to recover from the pandemic, and enter a new chapter of green and inclusive development. Meanwhile, the kawung batik motif reflects the spirit to be useful to others.”

The post argues that the logo embodies Indonesia's identity, though it really consists primarily of two Java-derived components: the kawung batik pattern and the gunungan motif. In reality, there are numerous other ethnic groups in the country besides the Javanese, and each of them has a unique culture that deserves equal recognition. The Sumatran or Kalimantan equivalents of batik and wayang are as deserving of recognition, but Java takes center stage each and every time without fail. The ubiquitous gunungan design has been included in numerous official illustrations. Other notable examples are the logo for the 11th ASEAN Para Games and the official Halal logo for the country.

The government's incessant use of Javanese cultural elements may often seem like a quick or uncreative cop-out of design challenges, but those elements are also arguably the glue that holds together Indonesia's ethnically diverse population. While wayang and batik have deep roots in Javanese culture and will always be reminiscent of Java, they are not just considered uniquely Javanese but rather part of a larger, more national Indonesian legacy.

Many worry that Javanization may leave thousands of other ethnic groups feeling underrepresented, even in terms of visual representation. As a country with over 1300 ethnic groups, the government has countless chances to explore various designs, as an effort for representation. Some people have a more upbeat view on Javanized designs, arguing that all Indonesians, not just those from Java, have reason to be proud of these designs given Java being a part of Indonesia anyway. Though they fall short of accurately representing the country's rich cultural landscape, these designs are still an attempt to illustrate Indonesia as a whole, an extremely tall order given that Indonesia is one of the world's most diverse and plural nations.

Extending well beyond two-dimensional artworks, Javanization permeates various areas of society and culture. Logo designs merely touch the surface of the deep-rooted issue of Javanization. An unimaginable amount of time would be required to dissect every aspect of Indonesian culture that has been influenced by Javanese traditions. The government of Indonesia has a continuous responsibility to find ways to express the country's vast diversity and to explore creative, experimental, and representative designs, as these visualizations offer a window into Indonesian culture to the rest of the globe.


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