• Flores, eastern Indonesia, 19th C. © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • Sigale-gale © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • Patung Leluhur Batak ©Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • Marangga © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • Sigale-gale © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • ©Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • Sumatra, western Indonesia, Batak ethnic group, 19th C. © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  • ©Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2016
  •  © MRAH-KMKG
  • Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. Coll no RV Liefkes 441
  • © Museum Nasional Indonesia, Photo by Arkadius 2017

Ancestors & Rituals



11 10 '17 > 14 01 '18

More info


Centre for Fine Arts
Rue Ravenstein 23
B-1000 Brussels

Opening hours

Monday - Sunday 
10:00 - 18:00 

10:00 - 21:00

Closed on Monday


T + 32 (0)2 507 82 00



Audio guide included

15,00 €

Groups (min. 10 people)
Seniors 65+

13,00 €

Youth 12-25 year
8,00 €

-26 year
8,00 € (Wednesday 4,00 €)

Children 6-12 year
4,00 €

Children -6 year
Entrée libre

School groups 
1,00 €/kid
2,00 €/audioguide

Combiticket with 'Power and other things'
26,00 €

Train + exhibition tickets
On sale in Belgian stations


Ed. Snoeck (EN/FR/NL)

Guided tours

Max. 15 people
Duration 1h30

97,00 € > 77,00 €

T +32 (0)2 507 83 36


EUROPALIA INTERNATIONAL, Ministry of Education and Culture of Indonesia, Museum Nasional Indonesia

How to get there?

Centre for Fine Arts

Curator: Daud Tanudirjo
Advisors: Pieter ter Keurs, Francine Brinkgreve

An immense archipelago of more than 13,000 islands spanning no less than 5,000 kilometres from east to west, Indonesia has nearly 255 million inhabitants, 300 ethnic groups and more than 700 languages. These figures alone give an idea of the diversity of this country and the variety of cultures composing it.  

Nevertheless, the majority of these cultures share one thing in common: the importance they ascribe to ancestors. From Sumatra to Papua, via Java, Borneo and Sulawesi, to the tiny Lesser Sunda and Maluku Islands: ancestors played and often still play a leading role in Indonesia. 

Whether genealogical or mythical, ancestors fulfil three crucial functions relating to the past, present and future. The first function of ancestors is to serve as a direct link between Indonesians and their past, allowing the living to claim a place within a lineage and thus define their status and social position. Next, ancestors are the guarantors of a social harmony and through their support and protection ensure a harmonious present. Finally, they are the source of fertility and assure the future of peoples and cultures. 

The exhibition Ancestors & Rituals also focuses on exchanges with other cultures and religions down the centuries that have influenced the arts, identities, and even the worldview of Indonesians. Most of the cultures of the archipelago find their roots in Austronesian culture, brought by migratory peoples who left Taiwan more than 5,000 years ago. The splendid Dong Son culture of North Vietnam, known for its mastery of bronze, was also influential. 

Trade was often the source of these exchanges. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Indian merchants, monks and traveling students introduced Buddhism and Hinduism to Sumatra and Java. The famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan testify to the importance these two religions quickly gained on Indonesian territory. Trade also brought the first visitors from China and as early as the 7th century, from the Middle East. The latter introduced Islam to Indonesia, but it was not until the 13th century that this religion flourished in Java and Sumatra. Later still, it was Portuguese colonialists followed by the Dutch who arrived in search of precious spices and who respectively imposed Catholicism and Protestantism

All these cultures have shaped the relationship of Indonesians with their ancestors, enriching them with their particular tonalities or, by contrast, attempting to destroy them. Thus in Indonesia, we find Buddhist and Hindu objects and stories that underline the importance of ancestors, a form of Islam that is open to pre-existing ancestral cults, and the scars of European religious conversion, which when it did not destroy works of art, influenced local artistic production. 

Lastly, an important section of the exhibition is dedicated to funerary rites. Performed in different stages, sometimes spread over several years, these fascinating rites enable the deceased to attain the status of ancestor. The living spare neither expense nor effort to accompany the departed to superior worlds and in doing so, preserve balance and harmony within the community. 

Most of the 160 archaeological and ethnographic treasures have been loaned by the National Museum of Indonesia and are being shown for the first time in Europe. Some thirty other works come from European museums and private collections. The ensemble is placed in context via photographs, videos, drawings and paintings, while resolutely avoiding a Eurocentric approach. 

A series of interviews conducted on the occasion of the exhibition and workshops organized by Barbara Raes also questions the place of traditions and rituals in both Indonesian and European contemporary societies.