Retronesia – Tariq Khalil

“What Indonesia Taught Me” at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, 2018 with

Although not an expert on this topic, I feel that as a Dutch who recently moved to Indonesia, Retronesia deserves a place on my blog. In Tariq Khalil’s fascinating and unique style guide, he recounts “a story that starts around 1950 when Dutch engineers and architects were doing great business delivering endless projects under Indonesia’s nation building strategy.

Retronesia is the forgotten Dutch style story nobody has looked at. About how you make somebody else’s country a bit like China in Africa today. This was the last flourish of the Dutch, their creative extinction burst, their Black Swan that changed the look of Indonesia after their exit in 1958. They were the style guides for the crazy rich Indonesians who emerged after the departure of the Dutch.”

Tariq Khalil at Ubud’s Writers and Readers Festival, presenting his book to Judit Nemeth-Pach (Hungarian Ambassador to Indonesia)
“Festival Club – Retronesia”, Bar Luna, Ubud

Published by Kabar Media, Retronesia (ISBN 978-164370-438-8) with a foreword by Daniel Ziv, will be available in Indonesian bookstores in December. A few copies of the first edition of this book are still available on Amazon. I received my signed copy from the author and friend himself at last week’s Writers and Readers Festival in Ubud, Bali. I am thoroughly entranced by the story Tariq has to tell.

Last week, Tariq presented his book Retronesia in three different locations at the Ubud’s writer’s and readers festival. First off at “What Indonesia taught me”, a panel discussion where he, together with 3 other authors, paused to reflect on what Indonesia had taught him. That night he participated in the global performance phenomenon Pecha Kucha where he and other artists presented 20 images for 20 seconds each. The following day, Tariq concluded his book tour with Festival Club – Retronesia where he gave an illustrated odyssey across the Indonesian archipelago with mid-century style as his guide.

When, in an interview with VICE, Tariq is asked how his obsession with “Indonesia’s weird build buildings came to be, he answers that it all started some 15 years ago when he was in Indonesia for vacation. Right in the same time that he was introduced to Dangdut, the Indonesian popular dance music that combines local music traditions, Indian and Malaysian film music, and Western rock.

When Tariq, who grew up in Scotland but who is of Pakistani descend, first heard Dangdut, his reaction was one of recognition, -“it’s Indian drums man, it’s tabla, what are you doing with my Indian drums?”. Years later, he traveled to Bandung where a friend showed him around and it was there he was first introduced to an Indonesian building from the 50s. His reaction was that of awe, “this is just like Dangdut”. Retronesia was born, – a book where styles and elements come together.