Arjan Onderdenwijngaard 2009/2012



Always we humans are on the move. We are curious what is on the other side of the hill -- sometimes voluntarily -- but mostly we move for economical and political reasons: we non-voluntarily migrate from one place to another. This process of  non-voluntary migration and unification is most often a violent and traumatic experience for many involved. Think of natural disasters that force people to leave their habitat and move to safer places -- close by in the old days, further away in today’s world. Think of political troubles as civil-, regional- and world wars that make people flee their homes and become refugees -- mostly sheltered in refugee-camps in a neighbouring country, but also far away from home.Think of economic reasons that made imperialism, slave-trade and colonialism possible and where poverty has been and still is forcing thousands and thousands to leave their homes to try to build a better life for their children, somewhere else.

If we look back for thousands and thousands of years, our human history is one of expansion, migration and nevertheless trying to become one. From family to clan, from clan to tribe, from tribe to people, from people to state, from state to nation state, from nation state to union state, from union state to global state. The world is a place for all of us whether we want to live as a tribe in the Amazon forest, a Dutchman in Depok or as an Indonesian in New York.

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We are all with different backgrounds and from different walks of lives. All fundamentally the same with the same rights and duties. This is the basis of recognizing the diversity in this world. Since I believe that nation states will be vanishing sooner than we think and dissolve in a global society, our cultural background(s) become more important. Modern people will have more than one identity and loyalty. If I speak for myself, I  see myself first as a Brabander (Brabant is a region in the Southern part of The Netherlands and Northern part of Belgium), than as a Indonesian Dutchmen  or as a Dutch Indonesian, it depends on where I am. But I am also a European and a citizen of this world.

In this process of unification all kinds of ethnic, cultural, political and economical backgrounds are coming together. What would Latin America, the USA, the Caribbean Islands, Dubai (UAE), Europe and so many other places on this world look like today, if not for it’s history of  migration, slavery, colonialism, etc. 

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It would seem almost no nation, no people in this world have not been colonized or has been colonizer itself at some point in history. We have all been influenced by other cultures and have been influencing other cultures. And although the process was often painful, the results have been beneficiary to us all.

Becoming aware of my own background as a Brabander, I am thankful to the Spanish and French influences in my culture, which are leftovers of their occupancy of this part of The Netherlands, centuries ago. It made me who I am today. I can hear it back in the dialect of my language, in the music. It’s in my Burgundian lifestyle (enjoying the good) and my laid back way of living that differs from the Northern parts of The Netherlands which were not occupied. Then again, almost all of Europe is heavily influenced by the Greek, Roman and Arab cultures. Should I hate the Greek, the Romans, the Arabs, the Spanish, French and German for what has been in the past? No, I thank them for their contributions for the unity and culture of Europe.

Per tandoes draagstoelen de bergen op. Java ca 1920. Fotograaf plaats en jaartal onbekend - kopie

 During the past 30 years when I visited Indonesia and other former Dutch colonies as a journalist, photographer and artist I have been confronted more than once by enmity, just because I am Dutch. I was personally blamed for the shameful Dutch colonialism by children and youngsters that didn’t experience colonialism themselves. Their hate was a product of  ignorance and poor education. A product of heroic, nationalistic and military history taught by elders and parents who were traumatised by what had happened in the nearby past. Losing the overall picture of  history we share as mankind. As I have been educated by elders and my parents and grand parents to dislike the Germans who occupied the Netherlands during World War II.

With this in my mind I made an art installation in 2009 that was exhibited in Arslonga, Yogyakarta, Indonesia with the title: Sharing-A-History, about the Dutch influences on modern Indonesia and the history we share. In five large works I showed the public things that the Dutch took to the Indies and that were incarnated in the local culture(s). To visualize this I made use of the more than 8000 words of Dutch origin that ended up in the Indonesian vocabulary. Thus Sharing A (Hi)story, as in sharing over four centuries of history, but also as in sharing stories of pain and joy we went through together.



Most of the Indonesians, especially the young generation had no idea of the Dutch roots/influences of/in so many things in their culture and daily life, ranging from language, architecture, children games, clothing, food, music, banking, law, government, education, agriculture, infrastructure, etc. Already after one, two generations it was as Indonesian to them as gamelan music or nasi goreng.

SAH Eten soeppakket Cikole West Java Indonesia  Foto Arjan Onderdenwijngaard TAP - kopie


All of us can look back at our own background and see what our culture took over from the encounters with other peoples, nations, conquerors, etc.  If it doesn’t feel right or feels foreign, we abolish it! If it fits in, feels like our own, it’s alright, we embrace it and embed it in our own culture.

In this globalizing world, the concepts “right and wrong”  can no longer belong to individual cultures or nations. Old terms as colonialism, imperialism, right, left, First World, Third World, North, South are outdated. Right or wrong is now a question of perception. A lesson to be learned. Everything has two sides: one dark and one bright. 

Extreme richness, poverty, slavery, injustice, violence, manipulation, nepotism, criminality, corruption, abuse and misuse of power and so on, are global. The rich get richer everywhere in the world, the poor poorer. Both political as well  as economical power stays with only 10 or less % of the people. Everything of any importance or power is inter- or multinational: not only (geo-) politics, industry or economics, but also scientific- or criminal networks and law-enforcement.

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Historically speaking it seems like not much has changed since the beginning of time. The most importance difference is that it is not anymore a regional or national problem. Due to the media, old and new we are becoming conscious that the problems we are facing and have to deal with are interconnected, international and global.

So, we are all still living a type of feudal life. It only doesn’t look like it anymore, especially in modern cultures. We have all become loan slaves, working our ass off to pay our depts. We have become consumerists:  shopping junkies, TV junkies, fastfood junkies, cosmetic junkies. The credo has become: more, more and more. Fast, faster and faster. And while in my youth my father was able to provide for the family by himself, nowadays we need two wages to pay for our monthly spending and even that is becoming not enough anymore to make ends meet.

Nowadays youth around the globe almost share the same life anywhere in this world, whether it be in the cities or (a little less) in the countryside: they wear jeans and T shirts,  write and paint on walls, listen to the same music, look at the same TV shows, eat and drink the same products, play the same online games, are interconnected with each other by mobile phones and internet and are communicating each other to death while sms-ing, face-booking, youtube-ing. They join global networks, study abroad and know almost no borders. They are starting to share their knowledge, grief, pain and sorrow. They are becoming conscious of the state of the world we live in. This gives me hope for the future. Only by sharing we will be able to survive as mankind.     


If we are all aware of the long historical perspective we live in, there is a possibility that this world truly can become as one: “Imagine there’s no countries” (-) “Imagine all the people Sharing all the world…” . So the message spread by John Lennon in his song “Imagine” will become reality.

As we see and understand now, at this point of the process of globalization, it should not be a process of domination but cooperation. Respecting, not tolerating each others uniqueness and differences, thus sharing a world of diversity. Cultural diplomacy and exchange will be an important tool at present.



History and culture are dynamic processes. Nothing stays as it was. We created the world as it is today, whether we like it or not. If we don’t agree with the outcome, we should be able to change it as well.

Is unification in the long future as humans, in one world without borders and therefore in the end losing our own identity and being replaced by a human monoculture a loss or an advantage for our human species?

After ages of diversity and after that, unity in diversity, are we ready now for a total unity? In the end we will all have the same skin colour because of the interracial marriages/ relations that are already going on for such a long time. Is humanity ready for sharing the same human history, sharing the same human rights and duties, sharing the same currency and the same language. Thus becoming truly one and sharing “This earth of Mankind” *.


 * Title of a novel by the famous Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer. 



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