A sepia-toned snapshot of a mountain is taped against a dark backdrop inscribed with cryptic, handwritten words. Re-Reading Landscape, Postcard from the Past #03, 0421 is part of Jumaldi Alfi’s ongoing, critical investigations of how nature scenes in Indonesia had been portrayed during the Dutch colonial era, and the enduring effects of the Mooi Indie phase in Indonesia’s art history.
Mooi Indie (Beautiful Indies) artists portrayed tropical landscapes in the Dutch East Indies as romantic and picturesque—a genre that has since been contested for continuing the colonial agenda of exoticising the archipelago and whitewashing darker social realities in the country. Yet, despite having rooted in the colonial era, these idyllic depictions of Indonesia still emerge in contemporary art today.
In his work, the monochrome mountain at the centre covers most of the words underneath, making their meaning obscure to the viewer. One is thus left with only vestiges of these writings, which are permanently masked by the colonial image. As he recontextualises the photograph and asserts his artistic hand, Alfi communicates a poignant reality: that as long as the dominant colonial narrative persists to be centred, invaluable voices remain hidden and lost in history.