Our Art, Our Heritage
    Category: Column By : Jasmine Prasetio Read : 718 Date : Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 13:02:48

    Many Indonesian art enthusiasts have stood by as our regional neighbors built and refurbished museums, providing an invaluable platform to showcase precious Southeast Asian art, including from Indonesia. One example came from the opening of National Gallery Singapore, which highlighted works by Indonesian artists, including those loaned by Indonesian collectors. We draw our breath in admiration of these works, sometimes forgetting that we have an amazing collection within our own country.

    It is perhaps understandable to forget, when most of these treasures are kept in storage—there are few platforms available in Indonesia to showcase these works safely, effectively and permanently in a manner comparable to international museums. However, the Indonesian art community shares a common dream: to have a beautiful museum in Indonesia with a worthy collection on display, created both for international audiences and the local community to appreciate and learn about our national treasures.  Art, now more than ever, is a marker of civilization.

    Indonesia, still 71 years young, has risen above many challenges to become one of the world’s most significant economies. Our journey has been captured by a diverse group of pioneer artists in compelling visual formats over the decades. We have everything to create a museum that can provide a gateway to understand our rich and unique history and culture.

    An effort started by President Joko Widodo to revitalize Jakarta’s Kota Tua, back in 2014 while still the DKI Jakarta governor, has been expanded by the current governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and his wife, Veronica Tan. While not part of the foundation’s management, Tan has endorsed the establishment of the foundation Yayasan Mitra Museum Jakarta (Friends of Jakarta Museums Foundation). The foundation’s aim is to transform museums, starting with those under the Jakarta municipal government, into centers of education, entertainment and recreation, and a source of historical, artistic and cultural knowledge and experience. The foundation’s mission is to assist the museums’ development of infrastructure, management and human resources, and in the collection, curatorial content and public programs.

    Launched in September, the foundation’s committee comes from the private sector and its members (including this writer), is comprised of entrepreneurs and professionals, all united in a mission to preserve and exhibit our national treasures. One of the foundation’s first tangible goals is to raise funds and refurbish the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics (Museum Seni Rupa Dan Keramik), soon to be known as the Museum of Fine Arts. 

    Despite being in the art world for more than a decade, it was only a few months ago that I discovered how many treasures are stored at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics.  It has an impressive inventory of over 400 works, including at least 40 paintings of artistic and historical importance. Its collection includes epic pieces by Hendra Gunawan and S. Sudjojono, great paintings by Raden Saleh, Affandi, Sudjana Kerton, Harijadi, and Srihadi, to name a few. In the secondary auction market, the value of rare, important and large format paintings by Indonesian modern masters can be comparable to that from international artistics such as Andy Warhol, Marc Chagall and Renoir.  

    One masterpiece worthy of mention is Hendra Gunawan’s historical “Pengantin Revolusi” (Bride of Revolution), completed in 1955 and published in many important publications about Indonesian art history. A masterful painter of the common people, Hendra was adept at poetically embedding his compositions with astute sociopolitical commentaries. With “Pengantin Revolusi,” the viewer’s focus is drawn to the bride, who is wearing a bright yellow kebaya. Her fair skin, slanted eyes and costume indicate that she is ethnically Chinese, while her soldierly groom, who has his arms protectively around her, has more traditionally Javanese features. It is open to interpretation what is being expressed, so it is definitely a painting ripe for discussion.

    On October 12, National Museum Day in Indonesia, the Museum of Fine Art and Ceramics will unveil a special exhibition lasting three months and featuring more than 20 pieces from the museum’s collection. During the exhibition, detailed plans for the museum’s renovation will be on view as well. Funding has always been a stumbling block for real progress in public art. With collaboration between the public sector and the private one, represented by the Friends of Jakarta Museums Foundation, the initiative aims to make the museum be self-sustainable.


    Looking back, the existence of this marvellous collection was made possible in the first place through the generous patronage from corporations such as Pertamina and individuals such as Adam Malik. History thus shows that patronage was an active form of charitable giving from at least four decades ago.


    When I visited some museums in Kota Tua a few months ago, I expected them to be relatively empty. However, to my delighted surprise, a good number of visitors were there: students, tourists and so on. Furthermore, attendance at recent art fairs in August were beyond expectations—14,000 reportedly attended Art Stage Jakarta while 42,000 reportedly enjoyed Bazaar Art Jakarta. It is inspiring to see that people now care about art and want to learn more.

    To paraphrase Gandhi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” We have a chance to make a change, to join something meaningful for our nation’s precious heritage, and to pass down to generations to come. The treasures in the museum’s inventory belong to each and every one of us and thus it is our responsibility to ensure that they are presented and preserved. The beauty of this fundraising for the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics is that everyone can make a contribution, big or small—even Rp 100,000. After all: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


    Jasmine Prasetio is Director Asia, Country Manager, Indonesia, of Sotheby’s.