Alex Supartono (born 1972) is a writer and art critic who studied at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy in Jakarta, Indonesia and is currently a lecturer at the Department of Photography at the Jakarta Art Institute. He has curated several exhibitions including: Another Asia: Photography from South and South East Asia, Noorderlicht Photofestival, Groningen, 2006; Raut Pusaran, Raut Hayat (Faces of Survivors: Portraits from Aceh), GoetheHaus, Jakarta, 2005; Neo-Documentary Recovering Identity, Japan Foundation, Jakarta, 2003; and published various articles including: “Original Photocopy: The History of Indonesian Photography,” Another Asia: Photography from South and South East Asia (exhibition catalog, 2006) and “The Challenge of Elaborating Ideas: Advances in Current Indonesian Photography,” Art & Thought Journal, vol. 3 (2004). Supartono lives and works in Jakarta.
Photo Documentation of the Sugar Industry in the Dutch East Indies in the Nineteenth Century
One of the main export materials of the Dutch East Indies in the nineteenth century was sugar. The flourishing sugar industry at that time—in what is now Indonesia—was documented extensively in photographs, which picture everything from the industrial environment to intimate scenes of the private lives of Dutch families and workers. This documentation is stored in the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), but has been untouched by either scholarly or artistic eyes. Supartono is engaged in observing and charting those images from a postcolonial perspective. The power relations between the indigenous employees and the Dutch employers and their families, the response and attitude on both sides to ideas of development and progress, and the meaning of private and personal space in the colonial era are reflected through those images.
Supartono, a former activist, has curated various research projects, focusing on the photographic gaze and its political potential vis-à-vis socio-political and historical upheavals and disasters. The ongoing project Mohammed and Me, for instance, investigates photographic works on Islamic political dominance and its infiltration into everyday life, as well as reflects upon the prejudice and misunderstanding around it. His current research culminates in a project, which extends beyond the photographic medium to also show the potential of artistic intelligence.