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Will the Taman Ismail Marzuki facelift erase its mythology?

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, February 28, 2020  /  06:52 pm
Will the Taman Ismail Marzuki facelift erase its mythology?

Step forward?: Pedestrians walk by a rendering of the planned revitalization of the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) art and cultural center in Central Jakarta on Wednesday, Feb. 19. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

The brouhaha surrounding the ongoing revitalization of the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) art and cultural center is likely to continue. 

Abimana Aryasatya was a complete actor long before assuming the lead role as the titular character in Gundala, which he says is partly thanks to his time at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) art and cultural center.

Many have forgotten, but the actor was once homeless and found refuge there, including at the Jakarta Arts Institute inside the compound, earning money as a parking attendant.

He is just one of the many Indonesian artists who got their start at the center, which has long been a hub for students and artists to exchange ideas and engage in philosophical discussions over coffee.

The romanticism of the center, which located in Cikini Raya, Central Jakarta, is understandable but is that a good enough reason to oppose the revitalization project?

Artists from all around Indonesia have joined the Forum Seniman Peduli TIM’s (Artists Care for TIM Forum) protests against the revitalization project, which has been overseen by the Jakarta administration since mid-2019.

Street performances outside the compound, most of which has been closed for construction, and opinion wars on social media embellished with the hashtag #SaveTIM have been motivated by distrust toward the administration.

An ode: Artists from Forum Seniman Peduli TIM stage a theatrical protest on top of the ruins of the Graha Bhakti Budaya building at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) art and cultural center in Jakarta on Feb. 14. An ode: Artists from Forum Seniman Peduli TIM stage a theatrical protest on top of the ruins of the Graha Bhakti Budaya building at the Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) art and cultural center in Jakarta on Feb. 14. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

A rumored plan to build a five-star hotel inside the compound and the signing of a gubernatorial decree to appoint administration-owned enterprise Jakarta Propertindo (Jakpro) to handle the revitalization and manage the center afterward were among the reasons the group took the matter up with the House of Representatives last week.

Writer Noorca M. Massardi, who requested the hearing at the House, said the group had also asked to meet with Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan to seek clarification on the matter.

“We have met with Jakpro, but the issues were not clarified,” he said. “We are against the commercialization of the art center, which is not something that should be done in a civilized nation.”

The art and cultural center was built on roughly 9 hectares of land that was previously a zoo in 1968 by then-governor Ali Sadikin after Jakarta’s artists ask for place to create and display their works.

Named after Jakartan composer Ismail Marzuki, the plan was also aligned with Ali’s goal to make the capital a cultural city – a window into the country’s rich culture.

A mural of literary figure H.B. Jassin is seen on the wall of the Jakarta Planetarium at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) on Feb. 20.A mural of literary figure H.B. Jassin is seen on the wall of the Jakarta Planetarium at Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) on Feb. 20. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Ali gave the artists the full authority to manage the center, which consisted of an outdoor theater, an indoor theater, a gallery, a rehearsal and workshop building, a multifunctional hall and an arena theater.

Management of the center was handed to the Jakarta Arts Council, with members elected by life members of the Jakarta Academy, which comprises well-known cultural activists and intellectuals. 

The center's operations are funded by rental fees for the facilities and subsidies from the city administration.

Over the decades, some minor changes were made to the center, before, in 2007, the city administration held a design contest for a complete revitalization. However, the winning design by Andra Matin was put on ice for a decade.

In 2017, then-acting governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat stated that the revitalization of the center would be his administration’s legacy. 

Anies included the revitalization on his list of strategic plans, which was followed by the establishment of a team in 2018 that excluded the art council members.

“We tried to include three of us on the list, but they were omitted,” said the council’s acting chairman Danton Sihombing.

“Since then we chose to fight in our own way by focusing on our duty to ensure that all the planned events went ahead despite all of the changes.”

Throughout 2019, the council held 44 programs that included 200 theater, dance, literature, music, fine art and film committee events. 

While still supporting the protesters, the council has preferred to focus on the fate of the center.

“The lack of communication from the administration and Jakpro about the master plan and the new management scheme has not reflected the public's attachment to the center and their shared history,” said the council’s acting deputy chairman Hikmat Darmawan.

“We should stop holding onto the myths surrounding the buildings and focus more on the essential issue: Making sure the center continues to cater to the needs of artists and that the new management keeps the center’s function to foster artists at its core.”

Even though commercialization is considered by many to be the best way to fund the center, the Jakarta Arts Council has maintained that to honor TIM’s spirit, business and political events should not be held there.

“The council represents artists and we should be included in running the center’s operations and be given a say in determining its future,” said Danton.

“Although all this brouhaha has created opportunities for people to envision ways to build a better art ecosystem outside the center, we need to redefine the meaning of the center for art and cultural activists and find a sustainable creative economy scheme to keep the center alive.”

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