Sabtu, 30 Juli 2011

History Could Be Written in Art

The Indonesian National Museum officially opens its new building

Last Wednesday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inaugurated the new wing of the National Museum. The old building was known to the Jakartanese as Museum Gajah (the Elephant Museum) for its elephant statue in front of the building. The statue was a gift from King Chulalongkorn from Thailand when he visited the country in 1871. The museum was also called Gedung Arca (the Statue building) for the collection of statues it exhibits inside. In the inauguration it is officially stated that the new wing will be called Gedung Arca, while the old building will be referred as Gedung Gajah.

The Age of Enlightenment in Europe during the 18th century was the supporting motif behind the founding of the Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen (Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences) on April 24, 1778. The scientific orientation behind their motto "Ten Nutte van het Algemeen" or "For the benefit of all" made this independent society widely known. One of its founders J.C.M. Rademacher donated a house in downtown Batavia and also his collection of artifacts and books to the institution which later became the seed of the National Museum.

During the British administration, Sir Stamford Raffles directed the institution. It moved to a new building as a museum and the meeting hall for the Literary Society. In 1862, due to the rapid growth of its collections, the Dutch Government decided to build a new museum in its present location (it was known as the Koningsplein West). The museum was officially opened in 1868.

The inauguration of the new wing comes after a long delay as the development of the museum was started in 1994 before the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis hit Indonesia. The new museum building also has temporary exhibitions on offer.

Presently, inside the building there is an exposition of the Majapahit Kingdom. An archeological dig in Trowulan, East Java, gave us insights into 14th century Java civilization. Under the glory of the Majapahit Kingdom, the history was written in the lontar script Negarakrtagama. The unification of small kingdoms under the patronage of the Majapahit Kingdom was also recorded in a Chinese manuscript. The need for unification was something crucial to be able to lead or be known in the region.

Artifacts found at the archeological site, together with manuscripts on the same topic, show us the development of technology, basic religion tolerance shared by the ancestors, as well as the history of trade and economic development.

The permanent exhibitions are now arranged into a theme that stresses the nation‘s motto "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" (Unity in diversity) -- the realization of Indonesia‘s different cultural backgrounds that should unite us as one big multicultural country.

The museum has a number of sections. "Man and the Environment" explains the geological events that helped create the huge number of islands (more than 13,000 small islands with five big islands) in Indonesia. The "Science, Technology, and Economy" section provides information about all aspects that involve human civilization from the prehistory to more recent times. "Social Organization and Human Settlement," "Gold and Ceramic Heritage," "Art" and "Religion" are also sub-themes found in the museum.

In his opening speech the president reminded us of the importance of putting artistic values beside the logical and ethical values in perspective. Artistic values could be a medium to seek the implementation of understanding and mutual respect. He also commented on the era of environmental awareness and the information revolution in this fast-changing globalized world. While hot issues can spread quickly throughout the world, he said Indonesians should remember that our differences should help us to color our culture, to seek for the unifying factors that could glue our differences and prove that our national motto is true.

The speech seemed to resonate with another temporary exhibition that is taking place in a semi-open air courtyard between the old and new buildings. This is a solo exhibition of Iriantine Karnaya, a well-known Indonesian artist who is presenting her works in contemporary installation art.

She expressed her sadness over the situation of her country in her installed work titled "Menu Hari Ini" ("Today‘s Menu"), which describes how mushrooms exist in every region of the world. How these mushrooms are displayed on the table shows how varied different cultures are. She is also worried to see the speed of how news spreads, irregardless of borders. She is afraid that people are losing their capability to retreat, think and mull over whether the news is "real" or the "truth," as reality and truth can be different depending on one‘s perspective.

The curator of the exhibition, Wicaksono Adi, quoted the opinion of Marshall McLuhan that stated more than 40 years ago that "the medium is the message" and that an image portrayed in media sometimes is taken as "reality."

An artist sometimes seems to be an individual working independently. Freedom of expression is something that is usually related to artists. Yet, artistic works could show us the history of the era through the eyes of the artist or through the eyes of its collectors. A personal message could also be conveyed through artistic work, while a personal opinion could also serve the spectator‘s perspective.

Two different eyes with the same tears dropping (as seen in her exhibits titled Vision 1 and Vision 2) are present through the installation. They show Iriantine Karnaya‘s tears; she weeps over the world‘s wars, she weeps over the dominance of glittering images which are not certainly genuine (as seen in "Today‘s Menu"), and she weeps over the system that contaminates pure minds in (Mencari Peluang or "Looking for opportunity").

She notes that contemporary art gives the spectator the chance to have their own perspective, so I wrote a piece for titled "Menu Hari Ini, Makan Apa atau Makan Siapa?" ("Today‘s Menu, What‘s to Eat or Who‘s to Eat?). I came to the realization that aiming only to be on top could make you push others to fall and that the poor and those whose struggle to be able to stand would never reach the opportunity to make it to the top. When those in the lower social strata are thinking of what they can eat, the big players are thinking about how to take somebody else‘s dish.

Source: (25 Juni 2007)