01 jul In memoriam Clara Brakel-Papenhuyzen (1942-2022)
With great sadness, we say goodbye to Clara Brakel, who will be remembered with fondness and gratitude by many KITLV researchers, visitors and members.
Clara was a well-known teacher of Javanese dance. Her Leiden-based group Kuwung-Kuwung regularly performed across the Netherlands, with students originating from around the world.
Educated in the Netherlands, India and Indonesia, Clara was a teacher, performer and researcher of Asian dance, music and theatre. Her book The Bedhaya Court Dances of Central Java (1992), based on fieldwork and archival research carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, remains a classic in this field. While her work was firmly embedded in philology, lived experience was crucial to it. Clara always insisted on enriching academic deliberations with performances. In doing so, she introduced many people in the Netherlands to the exquisite beauty of the Indonesian arts.
Other colleagues will remember Clara as an inspiring academic mentor, especially through her organization of conference panels and her editorship of special issues. In collaboration with Indonesia’s Oral Traditions Association (Asosiasi Tradisi Lisan) and the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague, she played a key role in strengthening the ties between European and Indonesian scholars of storytelling traditions. This project culminated in a two-volume publication with Jurnal Wacana in Jakarta. The work was resumed a few years later with another edited volume focusing on Southeast Asia’s famous Panji Tales manuscripts, included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register in 2017.
Her accomplishments were many, but Clara was particularly pleased to witness the reception of her book on Pakpak-Dairi storytelling within the community. Using archival material kept in Leiden and a field recording made with Lode Frank Brakel (1940-1981) in the Dairi Regency in January 1979, Clara described an endangered literary genre from North Sumatra. As a result, some forgotten stories have now been reintegrated into performances and used as fuel to revitalize the tradition. To Clara, this was the ultimate reassurance that her work mattered.
KITLV has lost one of its most active members. From 2016 to a few months ago, she regularly advised the Leiden University Library on the management of the KITLV collections. Her last meeting with the KITLV Learned Society was two weeks ago. While never a fan of social media, she recently picked up blogging and organized a Zoominar on Indonesian manuscript and audio-visual heritage collections.
Clara will be dearly missed by her friends, colleagues and students worldwide.