INDONESIA STUDY GROUP – Cultural Enclosures: Intellectual Property Law and Regional Arts in Indonesia by Dr Lorraine Aragon
Date : 24 May 2018
Time : 16:00 - 17:30
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Meeting Room
AS8 Level 7, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Dr Maribeth Erb, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore


In the early 2000s, Indonesia began to rewrite and expand intellectual and cultural property laws to enclose regional (or “traditional”) arts. Island arts are an obvious national strength and a potential cultural resource to cultivate for economic development. But, what do the performing artists and skilled crafters who produce for inherited ritual genres—including gamelan music, masked dance, puppetry, epic drama, carving, and textiles—have to say about the imported legal models and their assumptions? How have regional arts producers managed well in the absence of formal law, engaging in imitation and other forms of ethical collaboration,? Finally, how do state visions of national cultural property and copyright rub awkwardly against regional visions of autonomous production and distributed authority over traditional knowledge?

This paper, encapsulating a longer book project, examines the way new legal forms of cultural enclosure are made as lawyers, government officials, and creative producers negotiate around nationalist economic ambitions, international law, UNESCO heritage programs, and public sentiment about what arts genres Indonesia “owns.” The project, which began in concert with a multidisciplinary fieldwork team in 2005, engages with other efforts to decolonize scholarship by provincializing Euro-American assumptions; in this case, legal models of individual expression, originality, and exclusive ownership of tangible expressions. Indonesia’s recent culture laws and policy directions suggest novel legal approaches to the regulation of indigenous arts production. Yet, problems of local autonomy, social practice, and economic scale remain. Cultural Enclosures maps a moment where proprietary trade law shifts form and content to encompass regional expressions, even as their producers manifest disinterest or concern about one-size-fits-all legal frameworks.


Lorraine Aragon is a sociocultural anthropologist who has researched Indonesian religious minorities and (post)colonial development, regional arts, global connections, copyright, and new forms of intellectual and cultural property law. She is the author of Fields of the Lord: Animism, Christian Minorities, and State Development in Indonesia (Hawaii, 2000) and co-author of Beyond the Java Sea: Art of Indonesia’s Outer Islands (Abrams, 1991). Her varied publications examine Indonesian religion, regional arts, national development, and civil conflicts. A recipient of Fulbright, Wenner-Gren, KITLV, MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Humanities Center, and American Council of Learned Societies awards, Dr Aragon is an Adjunct Associate Professor for the Departments of Anthropology and Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her ongoing book project examines how imported concepts of intellectual and cultural property law are being expanded to Southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia with scant recognition of historical Asian connections, local cultural contexts, and on-the-ground practices of regional artists.


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