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Jacobs 2011 - Collecting Kamoro: Objects, encounters and representation on the southwest coast of Papua

Jacobs 2011 - Collecting Kamoro: Objects, encounters and representation on the southwest coast of Papua

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Published by Sidestone Press
The story of ethnographic collecting is one of cross-cultural encounters. This book focuses on collecting encounters in the Kamoro region of Papua from the earliest collections made in 1828 until 2011. Exploring the links between representation and collecting, the author focuses on the creative and pragmatic agency of Kamoro people in these collecting encounters.
The story of ethnographic collecting is one of cross-cultural encounters. This book focuses on collecting encounters in the Kamoro region of Papua from the earliest collections made in 1828 until 2011. Exploring the links between representation and collecting, the author focuses on the creative and pragmatic agency of Kamoro people in these collecting encounters.

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Published by: Sidestone Press on Aug 16, 2012
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02/19/2015

Between 1994 and 2007, the ‘Irian Jaya Room’ in the Sheraton Hotel,
Timika, provided information about the Freeport company and the region
in which the company was working.185

One half of the room was filled
with Kamoro carvings made in the gedung seni Kamoro, while the other
section exhibited pictures and texts explaining the mining operations, and
a small scale-model of New Town/Kuala Kencana in its initial stage. The
wall displaying the pictures of the mining operations was mainly filled
with an arrangement of illuminated portraits of people wearing a distinct
costume, either a traditional garment or a miner’s outfit. The composition
recalled the posters, widespread throughout Indonesia, that show portraits
of people of the whole archipelago following the nusantara style of dis-
play typical for New Order cultural policy.186

Just as provincial museums
in Indonesia offered comparisons between the different provincial cul-
tural forms, these posters displayed one cultural form and how it differed
in each province. For example, a poster can show variations in costumes
per province by showing pictures of people wearing provincial costumes.

184 Similar activities took place during the Fakfak Expo, albeit on a smaller scale. Before 1996,
Freeport was situated in the eastern sub-district of the Fakfak Regency and Freeport had
sponsored the construction of the Mimika pavilion.
185 In 2007, the Room was completely refurbished and changed into a ‘Freeport Information
Center’ where information on Freeport’s activities is displayed amidst carvings by named
Kamoro carvers.
186 For more information on the ‘Nusantara concept of culture’, see Taylor (1994: 71-90).

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Similarly, the portraits in the ‘Irian Jaya Room’ demonstrated the variety
of people assembled in one place; all working for, or involved with, the
same company. One frame of the illuminated signs displays the following
information:

P.T. Freeport Indonesia is providing agricultural, housing, health care, and
educational opportunities to the people of Irian Jaya [Papua]. Tese pro-
grams are in support of and consistent with the Government of Indonesia’s
objectives in this area. Tese programs are provided at many levels for a
wide range of people. Tey will provide the education and experience basis
needed to develop, compete, and live productively in a rapidly modernizing
nation and world.

Here it was literally stated that the mining company follows Indonesian
policy, particularly the focus on development. The illuminated signs as a
totality denoted that Freeport staff are a mixture of cultures, nationali-
ties and religions who live and work together and are all unified into the
proverbial ‘imagined community’ (Anderson 1991). In this sense, the jux-
taposition of different portraits could be considered as referencing the
national ‘unity in diversity’ ideology. Remarkably, there was no picture
of a Kamoro person in the portrait composition (while Highlanders are
portrayed). Nevertheless, a Kamoro presence was depicted by means of
Kamoro artefacts, as it is in the Sheraton Hotel, as a totality. Although the
presence of Kamoro artefacts in Freeport buildings expresses the acknowl-
edgment of a Kamoro culture and identity, it appears to be limited to art
objects: ‘Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the most outstanding
manifestation of the Kamoro identity is their woodcarving’ (PTFI 1994:
11). As Karp & Kratz (2000: 221) note: ‘While some products of other
cultures become assimilated into the domesticating contexts of the exhi-
bitionary complex, the people of those cultures often remain exoticised,
objects rather than participants’.
The Kamoro artefacts form the ‘cultural’ element. The use of Kamoro
artefacts by Freeport resembles a cultural construction similar to a na-
tion-state that wants to define itself by creating national emblems and a
national culture. Belk (1995: 116) states that through ‘corporate collect-
ing’ and the display of these corporate collections in offices open to the
public, ‘the firm enhances corporate morale, builds public and community
prestige and support’. Both the ‘Irian Jaya Room’ and the Sheraton Hotel
exemplify how Freeport uses Kamoro art to define itself. They integrate
Kamoro art in their buildings to emphasise a putative equilibrium be-
tween all the involved parties. As Belk (1995: 117) notes: ‘Such collections
do for corporations what museums do for municipalities and nations’. In
this way, the room as a whole referred to the ‘unity in diversity’ approach.
As is the case with the national policy, this unity in diversity did not equal

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multiculturalism, but rather involves the aestheticization of difference.
The ‘Irian Jaya Room’ celebrated a rather narrowly defined version of cul-
tural pluralism, particularly as expressed through objects validated as art.
This room, together with the other Freeport patronage projects, was an
illustration of how a collection can be used to communicate and convey a
certain image by its selective display. Freeport defined and imagined itself
(as a nation-state does) as a community in culturalist terms. This use of
culture to portray an image of a nation-state revealed many similarities to
Indonesia’s cultural policy. In both cases the display of aesthetisiced ob-
jects was used for image enhancement. While such occasions were used to
strengthen diplomatic ties, the improved image of the organisers (whether
the Republic of Indonesia or the Freeport Mining Company) also attract-
ed capital (whether tourists or potential investors).

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