Up in (bare) arms over
statue’s removal after
hard-line protests

Three years after locals started falling in love with their charming presence, three young ladies from Bekasi have to leave home following protests from local fundamentalist groups. Their sin? Perhaps their bare copper arms and shoulders.  

After a month of pressure from a number of Islamic groups, the Bekasi municipal administration instructed the developer of Kota Harapan Indah residential complex to remove the Tiga Mojang (Three Ladies) sculpture last Saturday.  

The 17-meter-high copper-and-brass sculpture of three women in traditional West Javanese clothes, facing three different streets on a traffic circle, suddenly hit the headlines after the groups demanding the removal of the statues, labeling them as obscene and symbolic of the Christian Trinity.

The groups included the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Bekasi Movement Against Apostates and the Islamic Ummah Forum.

Despite counter protests from locals, the administration said the order to tear down the statue had been issued “because it hadn’t received a building permit yet,” the city administration’s spokesman Endang Suharyadi said Monday in a text message to The Jakarta Post.

He did not reply when asked whether the measure was taken under pressure from the groups.

Located near the main entrance of Kota Harapan Indah, the statue had become an iconic feature of the 1,800-hectare complex.

Every night, especially on Saturdays, many people would flock the sidewalks around the circle to enjoy the monument, designed and built by noted artist Nyoman Nuarta.  

Nyoman said he was shocked by protests against his sculpture, having researched West Java’s culture when commissioned by the developer.  “I don’t even know what the Trinity is,” he said.

The developer, PT Hasana Damai Putra,  said the logic behind the statue’s sudden demolition was strange.

“Even though the statue was built in our area, we submitted a building permit request to the administration several years ago before starting the project. But there was no response,” Fredy Yanto, the company’s operational director, said.

“If the administration saw something wrong with the project they should have let us know a long
time ago”.

Fredy said the company would keep the Rp 5 billion (US$550,000) statue on its office grounds until they decided its fate.

He said one option would be to relocate the sculpture to Nyoman’s ongoing Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue project in Bali.

Rapid development of industrial and housing estates has turned Bekasi into an increasingly  diverse city.

“The sculpture symbolizes attempts to convert people to Christianity,” FPI’s local head, Murhali Barda, had said Sunday.

FPI and other Islamic groups are holding a closed congress in Bekasi, which Murhali  said would come up with guidelines  for  local Muslims and the city “on dealing with this problem of growing Christianity.”

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