President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo during a meeting at the State Palace in Jakarta. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)

Indonesian Cultural Congress and Jokowi's Cultural Diplomacy

DECEMBER 13, 2018

Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo honored a playwright, a poet and two conservationists for their contributions to art and culture during the Indonesian Cultural Congress in Central Jakarta on Sunday (09/12).

The honorees were playwright I Gusti Putu Ngurah Wijaya, better known as Putu Wijaya; two members of a restoration team that rejuvenated Borobudur Temple between 1973 and 1983, Hubertus Sadirin and Ismijono; and poet and preacher D. Zawawi Imron.

The Indonesian Cultural Congress (KKI) is held every five years by the Education and Culture Ministry to shape government policies on culture and the arts.

Putu Wijaya is considered by many to be one of Indonesia’s most prominent literary figures. In a career that spans more than 50 years, Putu has published more than 30 novels, 40 plays and hundreds of short stories, poems, television dramas and screenplays.

Since 1971, the award-winning author has led Teater Mandiri, one of Indonesia’s most respected theater companies.

Putu is known in theater circles for his creative philosophy of "Tontonan," creating a spectacle to establish a dialogue between the author and his audience.

His often surrealistic works can be jarring to readers, as the author forces them to question accepted norms.

Putu's classic works include the novels "Bila Malam Bertambah Malam" ("If the Nights Unfold") and "Telegram" ("Telegram"), and the plays "Trik" ("Trick"), "Aduh" ("Ow"), "Apakah Kita Sudah Merdeka" ("Are We Free Yet") and "Setan" ("The Devil").

Putu is also famous for creating characters from diverse backgrounds in his works.

Senior poet Zawawi is hardly a household name, but the Madura poet and preacher is highly respected in the art circles, especially for his 1975 poetry collection "Bulan Tertusuk Lalang" ("The Moon Pierced by Grass"), which inspired Garin Nugroho's classic 1995 art film "Bulan Tertusuk Ilalang (official English title, "... And the Moon Dances").

His 1985 collection "Nenekmoyangku Air Mata" ("Tears, My Ancestors") won Indonesia's Best Poetry Book award in 1985.

Zawawi also received the SEA Write Award from the Thai government in 2010.

Jokowi's Cultural Diplomacy

The cultural congress wasn't the first event where Jokowi has expressed his support for Indonesian artists and the creative industry.

Since he took office in 2014, Jokowi has been known for taking special interest in young creative professionals whom he would invite to the State Palace in Jakarta for an audience, or sometimes visit at their place of work (remember when the president created a mini commotion – and mega queues afterward – by buying a cup of sweet milky coffee at Tuku?)

Last year, Jokowi also invited other coffee shop owners to the palace – since like everywhere else in the world, everyone in Jakarta is now an artisan coffee expert – and met up with young YouTubers Bayu Skak, Edho Zheil, Gen Halilintar and Jovial Da Lopez.

As part of this year’s Independence Day celebrations, Jokowi also awarded posthumous state honors to eight legendary Indonesian artists, including the Bintang Budaya Parama Dharma award for the late R.J. Katamsi, artist and founder of Indonesia's first art academy and R.M. Soedarsono, who was a prominent dancer, choreographer and academic.