Jakarta. Three Jakarta-themed paintings by renowned Indonesian artist Srihardi Soedarsono are currently on display at the Fine Arts and Ceramics Museum in Kota Tua, West Jakarta, until Oct. 23.
The exhibition, which opened on Wednesday (23/08) with an exclusive ceremony, is titled "Menyingkap Ja(Ya)karta." The name translates to "unveiling Jakarta," with the brackets in the middle referring to the capital's old name, Jayakarta.
Besides paying homage to Srihadi's contribution to documenting the history of art, the exhibition seeks to get people to reflect on the past, present and future of Jakarta as well as the relationship between the government, art and development in the city.
"Jakarta has experienced centuries of history from the time of the Jayakarta Sultanate, the colonial era, until after Indonesian independence. Therefore, I hope the present and future generations are proud and loyal to maintain the glory of the nation," Srihadi said in a statement.
There also lies a fascinating history behind the paintings. "Air Mancar" ("Fountain"), created in 1973 and included in an exhibition celebrating the opening of the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) complex in East Jakarta in 1975, drew the wrath of then Jakarta Governor Ali Sadikin.
The depiction of Jakarta, which is covered in billboards with the names of popular Japanese brands such as Toyota and Toshiba, was considered insulting. Not only did Ali order his staff to remove the painting, he also vandalized it with a black marker to show which parts he deemed inappropriate.
Ali wrote, "Sontoloyo!!! Apa ini reklame barang Jepang?" ("Moron!!! What are these Japanese brand billboards?")
That night, Ali discussed his spur-of-the-moment action with his colleagues and realized he had made a mistake. He decided to set up a meeting with Srihadi.
Ali went a step further by requesting Srihadi to paint a mural of Jakarta to be hung on the walls of his office.
Srihadi took the honor to make a 275-centimeter by 1,200-centimeter mural illustrating Jakarta from 1527 to 1970. The painting titled "Jayakarta" later adorned the walls of the governor's private office used to host distinguished guests.
However, after Ali stepped down, the artwork was neglected and there are now defects on some parts. Until now, there has not been sufficient effort to restore the painting.
"'Jayakarta' is not just about the capital city's evolution in physical development. To many people, the painting also reflects society's success in practicing tolerance in their daily lives. That's why we considered it appropriate to exhibit this painting during the month of our independence anniversary so people can admire the beauty and contemplate the nation's struggles conveyed in it," said Soedarmadji J. H. Damais, chairman of the Jakarta Museum Partner Foundation (YMMJ), which is in charge of organizing the exhibition.
The last painting on show is "From Jayakarta to the Glorious Maritime Nation," a brand new one created this year. Painted on acid-free paper, the work is a continuation of "Jayakarta" as it explores the present and imagines the future.
The "glorious maritime nation" is an ode Indonesia's history as a maritime power, with explorers who voyaged to unite the dispersed people on the archipelago's many islands. Building on the nation's storied past, Srihadi hopes Indonesia will return to its glory days, indicated by the "sea toll road" as one of the elements in his painting.
"Jakarta is an old city that has transformed into a modern metropolis, on par with other cosmopolitan cities in the world. That's why every Indonesian citizen must be proud of the capital city for its national and international reputation," Srihadi said.