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Teguh Ostenrik's Berlin Wall in Jakarta: Art to overcome divisive powers

Carla Bianpoen

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, October 5, 2017  /  08:54 am
Teguh Ostenrik's Berlin Wall in Jakarta: Art to overcome divisive powers

Placed with care: Teguh (below) observes the placement of a part of the art installation in Kalijodo Park. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

On Tuesday, Patung Menembus Batas (Sculpture Beyond Boundaries) was unveiled at the Kalijodo child friendly integrated public space (RPTRA).

To have a Berlin Wall memorial monument in Jakarta seems odd to many people, raising the question of what exactly the Berlin Wall has to do with the city of Jakarta. 

But Indonesian artist Teguh Ostenrik, who lived near the wall for more than 10 years, was steadfast, so much so that it did not matter to him to wait 27 years until its realization. 

It was not so much a memorial that he intended to make. 

More than that, he wanted to create a new space and one that was infused with the spirit of survival. 

In fact, he says the German title Grenz Ueberwindung is more precise. It is about overcoming difficulty and victory.

He explained why he was so intent on having segments of the Berlin Wall in Jakarta. 

“I saw the perilous impact of the wall in Berlin, the dramatic and fatal impact on human lives and I felt signs that similar trends had already reached my country, already back then,” he said. 

With all your power: Two workers push a part of the art installation.With all your power: Two workers push a part of the art installation. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The Berlin Wall, a guarded concrete barrier spanning 150 kilometers that divided East Berlin from West Berlin and Europe from 1961 to 1989, was a defining symbol of the Cold War.

It was not easy to find a suitable place for the memorial. 

Teguh and his architect friend Yori Antar tried unsuccessfully for almost three decades. 

Their patience however, paid off, with the Kalijodo RPTRA offering a perfect and meaningful setting. 

Here, people from all walks of life come together and mingle. 

Young and old, rich and poor, they are all free and equal to interact together in peace, says architect Yori Antar.

Segments of the Berlin Wall are found in a host of countries, most received as gifts from the German government. The four segments in Jakarta, however, arrived here through the stubborn efforts of Teguh.

The artist returned to Indonesia in 1988, but when he heard the news of the fall of the wall, he rushed back to Berlin, purchased and shipped back pieces to Jakarta with the help of the Jakarta Administration in 1990. He wanted to create a monument to the human spirit that was able to transcend the perilous human tragedy inflicted by the wall.

Transcending boundaries: The artwork is aimed at reminding residents about the importance of maintaining unity despite difference.Transcending boundaries: The artwork is aimed at reminding residents about the importance of maintaining unity despite difference. (JP/Carla Bianpoen)

Unlike the Berlin monuments in other countries, Patung Menembus Batas celebrates the everlasting human spirit. 

Instead of planting the slabs in the form of a wall, Teguh made an installation, adding sculptural figures and creating a new space.

“I like to go spatial and play with space,” Teguh said. 

Patung Menembus Batas is therefore not a static monument.  

The four slabs at Kalijodo have space in-between. Set amid fourteen iron sculptured figures, the installation infuses life into the memory of death. 

The artist says that when the public interacts with the work, the sheer act of it evokes an animated space and the shaping of a new art work.

In progress: Artist Teguh Onsterik paints on a segment on the historic Berlin Wall at his workshop in Depok, West Java, on Aug. 2.In progress: Artist Teguh Onsterik paints on a segment on the historic Berlin Wall at his workshop in Depok, West Java, on Aug. 2. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Patung Menembus Batas can be considered transcendental but rendered in a playful mode.

The playful mode in the artwork goes well with the vibrancy of youth cycling and rushing about on skateboards in the park. Such playfulness is further accentuated by scratches and coloring that the public is free to add.

The graffiti on the slabs are like collages of cut words or images, a mix of past and present.

Teguh also adds the image of a shark as a representation of the present time. They are flashes from memory that pop up spontaneously, he revealed.

Kalijodo Park architect Yori Antar says he indeed designed the space for Jakarta’s youth to play and enjoy games and sports. Here people from multiple backgrounds come together, whether poor or rich, and mingle with each other and feel equal, he says.

Yori also designed a space for the arts as evident from the huge mural that was jointly created by some 20 artists. The murals created by female artists showed consideration for specific female interests.

Praising the public for their appreciation, Yori said no art work had been vandalized and he is certain that the installation adds to significance to the area.

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