Revolutionising Print, Revolutionary Politics: Printed Matter and Politics in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, 1850s–1970s
Time & LocationSession 12
Fri 15:30–17:00 Room 1.402
Save This EventAdd to Calendar
- In Sickness and in Health: Malay Print Advertisements ca. 1930s Nasri Shah Malay Heritage Centre
The 1920s to 1930s marked a watershed in the history of the Malay-language printed press in Singapore and Malaysia, as a result of the establishment of various weekly and monthly periodicals by the local Malay community including Saudara (1928), Warta Malaya (1930), Majlis (1932) and Utusan Melayu (1939), amongst various others. Notably, these periodicals differed from their predecessors in that they created a deliberate space for the articulation of various political and commercial expressions of Malay modernity. The political intent behind this transformation, in the lead up to the consolidation of the Malay independence movement, has been studied to a significant extent by historians - the visual culture of these periodicals, however, less so. This task is complicated by the unclear, and at times seemingly contradictory, relationship between the written contents of the press and its visual elements, particularly during the graphic boom of the 1930s.
This presentation proposes to study this relationship between text and image by focusing on various Malay-language health and patent medicine advertisements produced between the late 1920s to 1930s. Specifically, this presentation looks at these advertisements’ concurrence with the construction of embodied Malay political and economic subjectivities in other media during this time, in order to consider the possible equivalences (or disjunctions) that can be drawn from comparing the two. For example, what can the analysis of visual tropes of health and vitality reveal about discourses of the Malay body - collective or otherwise - during this time? More importantly, might we posit a relationship between text and image that exceeds the illustrative to one that is mutually, politically catalysing?
- Reporting on Neighbors’ Troubles: Asian Communist Movement in the Eyes of the Singapore Press, 1926–1932 Kankan Xie Peking University
Historians frequently suggest that British Malaya was embedded in the Chinese and Indonesian communist networks because of the colony’s strategic location and immigrant communities’ close connections with their places of origin. While such writings often indicate close interactions existed among political movements of China, Malaya, and Indonesia around this time, scholars have rarely approached the subject beyond the vaguely articulated “influence” and “networks.” By juxtaposing the three places at the same historical moment, this paper explores how and why the Singapore press reported on communist activities extensively elsewhere even before local communist parties (such as the MCP) firmly established themselves.
Specifically, this research focuses on discussing two cases: (1) how the Singapore media reacted to Indonesia’s 1926/27 communist revolts; and (2) how Singapore newspapers reported on the arrest and trial of Lefranc Ducroux, a French Comintern agent who was sent to Malaya with the hope of connecting local leftwing organizations to the global network in 1931. I argue that the press created a sort of anxiety that “neighbors’ troubles” could penetrate to Malaya through immigrant communities and the Comintern-led networks. Such a discourse resonated with the colonial administration’s fear of the communist movement throughout the globe. Although the communist threat was still largely negligible from a strictly local perspective, the British government adopted preemptive measures against various nascent leftwing movements, which left a long-term repercussion in the politics of the region.
- Slogans, Caricature, and Feuilleton: The Print Culture of Revolutionary Press in Colonial Indonesia Rianne Subijanto City University of New York
For three centuries prior to the Indonesian national revolution, local challenges to Dutch imperialism had been sporadic and traditional, and mostly involved wars that were led by princes and religious leaders. During the 1920s, however, lower class people organized a popular, national, and global revolutionary resistance against Dutch rule under the umbrella of the communist movement. Rather than resort to weapons and warfare, the resistance movement developed collective, non-violent actions around new emerging communicative technologies and practices that included public debates, popular journalism, schools, arts, literature, and transport. This paper examines one of the movement’s main revolutionary newspapers, Sinar Hindia (1918-1926).
In the historiography of Indonesian nationalism and the press, much has been made of the vernacular press and its role in the emergence of national consciousness. However, this work has not typically distinguished between the vernacular press and the self-identified “revolutionary press,” which emerged during the early communist movement in 1920s. In this paper, I analyze Sinar Hindia’s three genres outside of its article-length news and analysis, namely slogans, caricature, and feuilleton. These three genres uncover the period’s distinctive textual and visual rhetoric and discourses that express communist anticolonial cultures of resistance. The careful choice of vocabulary and images borrows the language and rhetoric of the enlightenment and communism and demonstrates practices of translation and adaptation of local and global cultural sources of resistance from previous movements. Through these practices, anticolonial struggles against Dutch rule should thus be seen as responses to both local and global challenges, i.e. Dutch colonialism at home and global capitalism. While existing literature has highlighted the importance of this movement for the emergence of national consciousness and anticolonial struggles in pre-independence Indonesia, this paper reveals its larger role in the global development of enlightenment projects.
The role of printing and publishing in colonial and independence movements within the Malay world has been extensively documented. From William Roff’s study of print and Malay nationalism in the 1960s, to Benedict Anderson’s notion of “print capitalism” in the 1980s, the printed press, mainly in the form of the newspaper and periodical, has been convincingly argued to have provided a social, linguistic and political coherency to various independence movements in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. However, scant attention has been given to the wider breadth of print culture that emerged at the turn of the twentieth-century, in the run up to decolonisation in the respective countries, including: anti-colonial political brochures, feminist newsletters, comics, underground weeklies during the Second World War, post-war lifestyle and literary magazines and others. Consequently, such printed matter is often relegated to the margins – sometimes literally – of the study of print and politics in the Malay world in order to privilege a unitary view of independence politics in the abovementioned countries.
In the wake of a resurgent interest in the print history of the Malay world, this panel seeks to relook such printed matter in these regions (including, but not limited to, brochures, flyers, magazines, handwritten presses, advertisements) in order to widen the narrative of print and politics in the Malay world. How can the expansive, and sometimes contradictory print culture of this region enrich and complicate our understanding of Malay modernity, particularly amidst decolonisation and independence? How was print culture during this time assimilated and understood in existing indigenous modes of knowledge production in these territories? Most importantly, what are the divergences and convergences in the medium of the printed press across Dutch- and British-occupied Southeast Asia and what does this ultimately reveal to us about print as a medium? This panel welcomes contributions from a wide array of disciplines, such as media studies, gender studies, design and others, that are focused on the study of the above material and issues.