It will be argued that these fairs were stages on which colonialism was performed. The architecture of the buildings, the design of the fairgrounds, the presence of a plethora of indigenous and Western merchandise, and the appearance of the visitors themselves were all part of the crucial decor. In these microcosms of colonial society the Dutch presented themselves as developmental guides and harbingers of modernity, demonstrating their supposed superiority and legitimizing their colonial domination. For instance, the contrast between, on the one hand, Western merchandise, ranging from gas stoves, bicycles, the latest fashion, and cigarettes, and on the other hand traditional Javanese batiks, wayang puppets, and gamelan instruments, was intentionally produced. It was thus a performance in contrasts. However, as will be discussed, the tone and emphasis of this hegemonic discourse changed considerably over time.
Arnout van der Meer obtained his PhD at Rutgers University in 2014 and currently works as Assistant Professor in history at Colby College (Maine, USA). His research focuses on the relationship between culture and power in late colonial Java.
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