Of Race and Nation: A 1955 Cultural Encounter between Indonesian Modernism and African-American Transnationalism

30 May, 2013
5.30 - 7.00pm

Keith Foulcher and Brian Roberts
In April 1955, the famous African-American writer Richard Wright arrived in Indonesia as an observer of the Bandung Conference, the historic meeting of Asian and African nations that marked Indonesia’s emergence as a leader of the non-aligned movement during the period of the Cold War. The visit led to Wright’s 1956 classic on race and decolonisation, The Colour Curtain, and it was also the occasion for a series of encounters between Wright and some of the major Indonesian intellectuals, writers and cultural figures of the day. The Indonesian response to these encounters offers crucial insight into the way Indonesian modernism positioned itself in relation to transnational formations such as race, decolonisation, and world literature and art, and sheds light on the growing political polarisation that was taking place in cultural life in Indonesia at this time. It also complicates and problematises aspects of Wright’s well-known account of his Indonesian visit, especially his commentary on racial and anti-colonial dynamics in Indonesia and Asia more generally.

Keith Foulcher is an Honorary Associate of the Department of Indonesian Studies at the University of Sydney. Prior to his retirement in 2006 he taught Indonesian language and literature at the University of Sydney, and previously held positions at Monash University and Flinders University. His major research interests and publications are in the field of modern Indonesian literature and cultural history, especially of the late colonial and early independence periods. He was recently principal editor (with Mikihiro Moriyama and Manneke Budiman) of Words in Motion: Language and Discourse in Post-New Order Indonesia (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2012).

Brian Roberts received his PhD in English from the University of Virginia in 2008. He is assistant professor at Brigham Young University, teaching American literature and American Studies. His first book is Artistic Ambassadors: Literary and International Representation of the New Negro Era (University of Virginia Press, 2013). He is working on a second book project, tentatively entitled “American Archipelago: Modernism, Blackness and the Islands of the Sea”, and (with Keith Foulcher) “Indonesian Notebook: A Sourcebook on Richard Wright, Modern Indonesia and the Bandung Conference” for Duke University Press. 

Location: Latin I Room S224, Quadrangle Building

Contact:Vannessa Hearman

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