Monash hosts first international conference on Aceh’s performing and visual arts

The Acehnese seudati dance for 8 singer-dancers featuring elaborate rhythmic body percussion including slapping of the thighs and breasts, hand clapping, shoulder tapping and foot stamping. Photo by ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

The Acehnese seudati dance for 8 singer-dancers featuring elaborate rhythmic body percussion including slapping of the thighs and breasts, hand clapping, shoulder tapping and foot stamping. Photo by ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

Most of us know Aceh as a region devastated by the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, but probably have heard little about Aceh's rich cultural and artistic traditions.

Aceh has welcomed merchants and other travellers from all over the globe for centuries, and its unique position on the crossroads between east and west has resulted in its fascinating mix of cultural traits hailing from mainland Southeast Asia, Persia, India and the Middle East.

Last month Monash hosted an interdisciplinary conference “the Monash International Conference and Cultural Event (ICCE) of Aceh 2016” (26-28 September) and a series of Aceh-related events at the Caulfield and Clayton campuses.

The saman dance from Aceh's mountainous Gayo region featuring elaborate rhythmic body percussion including slapping of the thighs and breasts, hand clapping, and  shoulder tapping. Photo by ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

The saman dance from Aceh's mountainous Gayo region featuring elaborate rhythmic body percussion including slapping of the thighs and breasts, hand clapping, and shoulder tapping. Photo by ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

Speaking about the significance of the conference, co-convenor and Monash ethnomusicologist Professor Margaret Kartomi said, “ICCE Aceh at Monash was the first international conference to highlight Aceh's unique music, dance, visual and textile arts, as well as Aceh's remarkable post-tsunami, post-conflict recovery since the devastation of 2004-2005.”

The conference theme was “Exploring Aceh's Culture to Foster Sustainable Development”, and keynote speakers were from the disciplines of ethnomusicology, anthropology, history, politics and economics, and included: anthropologist  Professor John Bowen (Washington University), Aceh historian Prof Anthony Reid (ANU) and Acehnese textile expert Professor Barbara Leigh (University Technology Sydney). 

The rare guel dance from Aceh's mountainous Gayo region, based on the legend of the white elephant. Photo by  ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

The rare guel dance from Aceh's mountainous Gayo region, based on the legend of the white elephant. Photo by ICCE co-convenor Ari Palawi.

Other Aceh related events included “Transmemorabilia“, a solo exhibition by famous Acehnese painter Mahdi Abdullah; an exhibition of Keuneubah Aceh (Treasures of Aceh); an Acehnese Film Festival; and a well-attended public concert of music and dance by a visiting troupe from Monash's sister university, Syiahkuala University in Aceh.

“The concert of brilliant musicians and dancers from Aceh exemplified some of the papers presented, as did the film festival, the Music Archive of Monash University/MAMU's  exhibition of Acehnese musical and material arts, and Acehnese artist Mahdi Abdullah's potent exhibition of beautiful realist and surrealist paintings,” said Professor Kartomi.

The events were funded by Monash Arts, the Indonesian Embassy and Consulate-General for Victoria, the Indonesian and Acehnese governments, and private donors.

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