The Indonesia Controversy at the Fair

The Indonesia Controversy at the
New York World's Fair 1964-1965
Sharyn Elise Jackson
About the Essay...
"The Indonesia Controversy" is excerpted from "International Participation in the New York World's Fair 1964-1965" by Sharyn Elise Jackson. "International Participation..." is a fascinating and meticulously researched paper that brings together vital pieces of history ... politics, personalities, conflicts and fates ... that made the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair what it was.
About the Author...
Sharyn Elise Jackson graduated magna cum laude from New York University in May 2004 with a BA in History. She received honors for her thesis on international participation in the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 and is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society.
And now, "The Indonesia Controversy at the New York World's Fair 1964-1965" ...

The first Asian country to sign up for the Fair was Indonesia, responding only four days after receiving the invitation. According to the Announcement of the Information Minister, "The participation of Indonesia…is in the course of the realization of the ideals of the Indonesian Revolution in the international field with the purpose for concluding good friendships between the Republic of Indonesia and all world nations…."77 President Sukarno requested that his pavilion be "dramatically placed" between those of the United States and the Soviet Union, to represent Indonesia's neutrality in the Cold War.78 For six months, Indonesia rejected site offers for their failure to be equidistant enough to suit his neutral sentiments.79 Finally Sukarno, who came to the US to meet with President Kennedy on behalf of the Belgrade conference of non-aligned nations, visited the Fairgrounds to select the location of the pavilion. Sukarno chose a 40,000 square foot plot, and Indonesia became the first nation to formally conclude leasing arrangements with the Fair.80

Architectural rendering of the Pavilion of Indonesia*
Architectural rendering of Indonesia Pavilion

Indonesia's Pavilion had a political focus, reflecting a "desire for creating a synthesis between Western and Eastern ideologies." It sought to give one an "impression of what Indonesia regards as its active and independent foreign policy."81 Sukarno hand-selected the female guides for the Indonesian Pavilion, advising them not to "wiggle" like French or American girls, but to "be Indonesian girls in every one of [their] actions."82 For Sukarno, the Indonesia Pavilion's purpose was to function as an expression of post-colonial independence of nation, ideology and spirit.

Besides choosing the Indonesian girls for the Pavilion, Sukarno devoted considerable time to planning the Pavilion itself. He was a painter, an art enthusiast and a jewel collector, and he put together displays of his personal items for the Fair. Sukarno was also an engineer, and actually helped plan the design of the building. His aides recalled that many times they would approach him with a matter of importance "and find him so intent on his blueprints for the Fair pavilion that they could scarcely get his attention."83 Unfortunately, Sukarno would never see the final product in person.

Outside of the Fair, the cordiality of relations between the United States and Indonesia began to deteriorate. The [Fair's International Affairs and Exhibits division] designated May 16, 1964 as "Indonesia Day." Sukarno had been invited to attend the festivities, but Washington advised him that American sentiments towards him were hostile after Indonesia had made attacks on American foreign policy. Sukarno announced he would not be attending the Fair, giving as his reason the "Current Malaysia-Indonesia Dispute." He sent a deputy in his place.84

Although Indonesia withdrew from the United Nations in January of 1965, Sukarno indicated that Indonesia would continue to exhibit at the Fair for the second season. By February of that year, however, the prospect was looking slim. Several offenses to the United States in Indonesia, including attacks on US Information Agency libraries, the boycotting of American ships, and a slew of "anti-American Communist outrages" prompted the Johnson Administration to threaten action against Indonesia. One penalty Johnson considered was shutting down Indonesia's Fair pavilion, to demonstrate "that the US won't be pushed around."85

On March 11, Sukarno made an official announcement of withdrawal from the Fair for the 1965 season. His action was a protest against American support of the "neo-colonialist project of Malaysia." The United States had given a $4 million credit to Malaysia for weapons, an action that, Sukarno said, mocked the theme of the Fair.86 The Fair seized the Pavilion and barred any Indonesian officials from entering the Fairgrounds. The manager of the Indonesian exhibit, S. Haditirto, was disturbed by the sudden cold shoulder from the Fair Corporation. "I do not understand," he said. "It seems that an iron curtain has suddenly descended between us and the Fair Corporation."87 For the entire second season of the Fair, the Indonesia Pavilion stood barricaded and vacant.

This photograph of the Indonesia Pavilion appeared in the 1965 Official Souvenir Book of the Fair. However, the pavilion remained closed; the entrance guarded and padlocked during the 1965 Season.*
Indonesia Pavilion entrance

Exactly one year after Sukarno pulled his country out of the Fair, he lost his presidency to a US-backed anti-Communist military general. Sukarno spent the rest of his life in house arrest. Indonesia, the first country to join the Fair, descended into a thirty-year period marked by censorship, genocide and corruption under the new President Suharto.88 The neutrality that had been so important in the initial negotiations between Indonesia and the Fair was all but lost.

© Copyright 2005 Sharyn Elise Jackson, All Rights Reserved.

Read the entire presentation at:
International Participation at the
New York World's Fair 1964-1965
Sharyn Elise Jackson

Webmaster's note... My thanks to those who contributed materials to the Indonesia Pavilion Feature. To Mike Kraus, Bill Cotter and Craig Bavaro for their generous donation of photographs. And, very much THANKS to Sharon Jackson for her research, and for allowing me to reprint her excellent essay on International Participation at the Fair here at!

Bill Young
March, 2010