Separated Within Reach


Historical map (photo print): Semarang en Omstreken, 1917, Leiden University Libraries, Colonial Collection KITLV
Historical image (photo print): Panorama van het heuvelterrein, Semarang, 1920-30, Leiden University Libraries, Colonial Collection KIT
Model based on designs by Woningvereeniging “Semarang” (cardboard and wood): Gekoppelde woning, groot type, ca. 1920s, in collaboration with Sophia Holst
Two photographs (photo prints): Candi Baru, 2020, Kurniadi Widodo

Due to the liberalization of the colonial market and the introduction of the Ethische Politiek [Ethical Policy] around 1900, scores of entrepreneurs, teachers, engineers, doctors and medical personnel moved to the Dutch East Indies to try their luck at a new life.

The steadily growing Dutch/European population formed a previously absent middle class and their presence had far-reaching consequences for the urbanization of cities in Java. In the first half of the twentieth century, many Dutch Indies cities expanded with the construction of new modern neighbourhoods responding to the needs and ways of life of the Dutch population. However, the forms of modernity these newcomers introduced into the colony (represented at many levels, in both the public domain and domestic environments) did not liberate local people from ethnic segregation; it in fact developed new methods for refining racism defined through the logics of the market and technology.

Separated from the native city (the kampungs), the newly constructed neighbourhoods and the single houses within them operated as islands of modernity. Much like today’s gated communities, these islands were essentially created through fear. A fear of falling into local ways of life and losing a distinct Europeanness. “Modern life” then stood for everything that Javanese culture was not. It was a means of distinction and therefore a method of racial and spatial segregation. The neighbourhoods showcased contemporary town planning technologies and incorporated many of the modern amenities of European cities, such as mains for delivering portable water, electricity, paved roads and footpaths, garbage removal, and the provision of a wide range of sports, education and health facilities.

In these neighbourhoods the Javanese did not exist in the minds of the Dutch. However, paradoxically, the neighbourhoods only existed because of the essential services provided by the Javanese living in the surrounding kampongs, including those of housekeepers, nannies, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs, and delivery boys who ran messages. 

How can a neighbourhood be organized in such a way that the essential services are provided without you noticing? How can a household be organised without an awareness of the people who serve you?

In this installation Paoletta Holst shows the segregation-focused features of Dutch colonial architecture and urban planning and the ways in which it continues to take effect on social life to this day. She focuses in particular on the colonial neighbourhood Nieuw Tjandi [today Candi Baru], built from 1919 onwards in the hills of Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. Following the designs of the Woningvereeniging “Semarang” [Housing Association “Semarang”] and the N.V. Volkshuisvesting [Public Housing], the installation unfolds the deliberate implementation of spatially separated and hierarchical worlds. On the level of the neighbourhood, spatial segregation was implemented by projecting the Dutch villas on top of the hills, overlooking the Javanese kampungs situated in the valleys below. On the domestic level, the villa servants and housekeepers worked in the annex, a very modest building in the back-garden. 

The installation is accompanied by the photography of Kurniadi Widodo, who portrays the current situation of the area, showing how the spatial structures of the colonial past continue to resonate into the present.

The group show Rights of Way (November – December 2020) at Onomatopee explores different time periods, geographical locations, scales and perspectives in the dynamic relationship between body, movement and public space.

Curator: Amy Gowen
Many thanks to: Sophia Holst, Kurniadi Widodo, David Bernstein and Rob Ritzen