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Presented By: History of Art

"People, Paper, Cloth: Mixed Courtrooms and Materiality in Colonial Indonesia"

Sanne Ravensbergen, Lecturer in the Department of History of Art

Nineteenth and early-twentieth century photos of mixed law courts (landraad) in colonial Indonesia display spaces that were transformed into legal arenas using a plurality of materials. Thick lawbooks, papers piling up, the black gown of the judge, but also a green tablecloth, payongs, a Quran, forbidden patterns on batik, hats, hybrid uniforms, invisible amulets and more. This talk offers a distinct way to think about legal pluralism through exploring the visual dimensions of law making in a colonial context. Beyond merely staged curiosities, the materials in the landraad photos show a courtroom where different actors were signaling distinct messages to multiple audiences. Studying these objects, with their visible and invisible messages, provides insight into the various layers of (mis-)communication that were inherent to the mixed courtroom. Filled with people, paper, cloth as well as a plurality of languages, symbols, political interests, and legal cultures, this was a courtroom where objects often spoke louder than words.

Sanne Ravensbergen is a cultural historian of law in colonial Indonesia. Her interdisciplinary research connects the study of legal pluralism, materiality, and Dutch empire in the Indian Ocean world. She obtained her PhD in History from Leiden University in 2018. From 2018-2021, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher on spatial and material encounters in law making tied to colonial commissions of inquiry in South- and Southeast Asia. She is the co-editor of Islamic Law in the Indian Ocean World: Text, Ideas, and Practices (Routledge 2021) and has published articles and book chapters on colonial legal cultures in Indonesia and the postcolonial legacies of Dutch empire. She is currently a lecturer in the Museum Studies program at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

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