Agan Harahap’s Mardijker Photo Studio presents quasi-historical narratives as a fictive collection of portraits depicting a community called the Mardijkers. The Mardijkers comprised of indigenous people from conquered Portuguese territories, as well as people of Portuguese ancestry. They were descendants of free slaves during the Portuguese colonial time, who settled down in major cities in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia), such as the port-city of Batavia (present-day Jakarta).
The word ‘Mardijker’ has a long story in Indonesian history. Originating from the Sanskrit word ‘Mahardika’ which means freedom, ‘Mardijker’ became popularized when the Dutch introduced the passenstelsel (identity cards) policy. With the enforcement of this policy, the Mardijkers were required to raise their hands and shout “Mardijkers!” as a status indicator. This policy later caused a divide between the Mardijkers and the pribumi (natives), resulting in a separation from the native identity, which grew to worsen during the Indonesian revolution. Hence, as people who were “liberated”, this made the Mardijkers’ existence and identity to become vague. They occupied an in-between status: despite adopting European religion and culture, they were classed with the natives by the colonial government.
Mardijker Photo Studio fabricates its own version of history by collaging and manipulating archival photographs from the Tropenmuseum’s archives, to portray European faces on ‘native’ bodies, and vice versa. The interchanging of native and European subjects destabilizes their identities, as well as their racial and social hierarchies.