I would not be where I am, if it were not for then president Sukarno, says sculptor Edhi Sunarso.
Another achievement: The Aerospace Monument, (Monuman Dirgantara), in front of the former Air Force Headquarters in Pancoran, South Jakarta, was erected to honor the Indonesian Air Force for its heroic defense of the country with only very modest fighter planes. Courtesy of Yori Antara
When Sukarno asked Sunarso to give shape to the president’s vision of the Welcome Statue (Tugu Selamat Datang), the sculptor had never worked with bronze, let alone cast a sculpture.
How was he going to create a nine-meter-high monument for the president! But Sukarno challenged his sense of patriotism, his national pride. And as someone who had fought in the revolution, Sunarso, filled with energy, gathered whatever knowledge he could get his hands on and did it.
His bold endeavor was the first time bronze was used in the world of Indonesian sculpture. It also marked his rise as a pioneer of bronze, and a renowned sculptor.
The Welcome Statue, designed to greet the contingents of the Fourth Asian Games in 1962 and the Games of the New Emerging Forces (Ganefo) in 1963, features a man and a woman on a high pedestal, lifting their hands up. The woman, in high spirits, holds a bouquet.
Open arms: A man and a woman stand at the top of the Welcome Statue, made by renowned sculptor Edhi Sunarso. Courtesy of Yori Antar
It was the first of three monuments Sunarso was to build. The sculptor was able to capture the visions of a president, who possessed an artistic instinct and technical knowledge matched by a burning desire to change the face of the capital city. He embarked on the president’s mission to transform Jakarta from a repressed colony into a metropolitan equal to others in the world, one that would radiate the spirit of nationalism.
The launch of the book Edhi Sunarso, Seniman Pejuang and the opening of his exhibition Patung at Salihara Gallery on Aug. 14, coincides with Indonesia’s 65th Independence Day and its spirit. Edhi Sunarso was a freedom fighter, and the monuments that emerged as a result of his spiritual closeness to the president, carry the spirit of Indonesian nationalism. The exhibition includes replicas of the monuments, black and white pictures of the process and the president’s visits to the construction sites, as well as part of Sunarso’s private collection of sculptures.
There is no doubt the monuments, erected amid the turbulent sixties, demanded an all out effort from all those involved — artists, architects and construction engineers — including the president, the driving force behind this project who was willing to sell his car when finances were drying up. Erected in strategic places in the city, Sunarso’s creations became enduring landmarks, while also representing the beginning of public art, or public monuments in the capital city.
By looking at the sculptures he made in the same period, one can clearly see that the figures he created for the monuments all bear the same expressive and realist style, highlighting how tenacious he must have been when carrying out the concept, despite not having come up with the ideas himself, and the president’s tireless intervening in his work. The president would show him and the team working on creating those monuments how the figures should stand, and what emotions their faces should express.
Sukarno would lift up his arms, stand with his feet apart, and impersonate the figure in the monument.
Landmark of pride: The Welcome Statue, erected at the epicenter of Jakarta, was designed to greet the contingents of the Fourth Asian Games in 1962 and the Games of the New Emerging Forces (Ganefo) in 1963. Courtesy of Yori Antar
Today’s artists would probably not tolerate such meddling with their creativity, but in Sunarso’s case, Sukarno’s insistence stirred the sculptor’s creative emotions, taking him to invaluable artistic heights.
Now, almost 50 years after the erection of the monuments, most of us are hardly aware of the artist and the forces behind him, the turbulence at the time of the making, and the stories of struggle, peril and victory buried in those statues.
We pass the Welcome Statue a thousand times. But do we ever notice the figures, the man and woman, who seem to be excitedly waving their hands, almost dancing in place, impatiently waiting for the guests to come?
And have we taken a serious look at the dramatic expression emanating from the man screaming for freedom in the West Irian Liberation Monument, commemorating the liberation of West Irian from the Dutch?
I must say, the Aerospace Monument (Monuman Dirgantara) in front of the former Air Force Headquarters in Pancoran, challenges my imagination every time I pass it.
When I am stuck in traffic with a view of that monument, I often wonder what the figure high up in the air, standing as if it were going to jump off into the sky, represents?
It is said the monument was erected to honor the Indonesian Air Force for its heroic defense of the country with only very modest fighter planes. And Sukarno wanted it to be like a flying Gatotkaca (a character in the Mahabarata epic).
Edhi Sunarso was born in Salatiga, Central Java, on July 2, 1932. Since his early teens, he was involved in campaigns against the Dutch colonial force, and eventually landed in jail. It was there he learned how to draw. When released from jail, Sunarso went back to fighting for his country, and did not pursue an education in art until he socialized with students and was accepted at the Indonesian Arts Academy in Yogyakarta. Some say Sunarso shared the passion for art and nationalism that was driving president Sukarno.
The exhibition, its plates and video combined with the book, brings back the atmosphere during this fascinating time in our history when not material gain, but national integrity, was more important.
The 317-page book edited by Mikke Susanto — which includes essays by writers highlighting many aspects of art, art development, architecture, national thought — is one of the most resourceful manuscripts of its kind published here so far.
Liberated: Visitors to the exhibition can take a closer look at Edhi Sunarso’s sculpture of the face used for the West Irian Liberation Monument. JP/Carla Bianpoen
A solo exhibition by Edhi Sunarso
Curated by Asikin Hasan
Aug. 14-28, 2010
Jl. Salihara 16, Pasar Minggu,
South Jakarta Tel. 021-789-1202