Museum di Tengah Kebun, Swirling around the past

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Museum Di Tengah Kebun
One of the backyard corners of the Museum Di Tengah Kebun, with 5,000 square meters area in total. Photo: Freddy Wally

IO – Very few people are aware that Jakarta is home to a unique museum, located in the middle of an large enchanted garden. This hidden gem is called “Museum di Tengah Kebun”— translated as “Museum amid the Garden”. Built with a Joglo roof, an example of classical Javanese architecture, it is located at Kemang Timur 66, South Jakarta.

Initially, the Museum was a private home, the residence of Sjahrial Djalil, a successful advertising practitioner of the 1970s, and the founder of the nation’s first advertisement agency, Ad Force Inc. Prajodi Daris Andaru, the Museum tour guide, related how the house was built stage by stage, from 1975 to 1980.

“Bapak (an honorific name for the late Sjahrial Djalil) started off by buying the bottleneck-shaped plot of land, narrow on the front side, like an alley, but with a vast and spacious garden on the inside and a house built in the middle,” Jodi, the helpful guide who took Independent Observer on a museum tour, explained during a visit in early December.

ethnic collections
One of the Museum Di Tengah Kebun lobby corners, filled with ethnic collections from various periods. Photo: Freddy Wally

Those intending to visit the Museum, operated by the Museum Di Tengah Kebun Foundation, should make a booking for the weekend, as it is only open to the public on weekends, with a maximum number of two batches of visitors for morning and afternoon sessions. The Museum provides a storage area for visitors’ belongings; flip-flops are provided, to roam about the garden.

Guests are not allowed to photograph any of the Museum collection. “Visitors can take pictures only in the lobby and garden areas,” Jodi explained. Visitors will pass by some of the approximately 4,000 artworks in the Museum collection, on display in 17 rooms, each named for the most iconic collections or Sjahrial’s favorite groups.

At the entrance to the Museum, visitors encounter the Loro Blonyo Room, framed by a pair of statues consisting of a man and a woman sitting, clad in traditional Javanese wedding costume—the figures are considered symbols of fertility and prosperity— welcoming visitors to the Museum.

Sjahrial spent much of his life organizing his private collections, based on his personal aesthetic, for the Museum. Among the displays, visitors will encounter pre-historical objects, side-by-side with modern ones, in the same room. Collections are stacked and systematized to enliven each room’s atmosphere.

Sjahrial Djalil’s tomb
The Museum owner, Sjahrial Djalil’s tomb, accentuated with a replica of an Acehnese nobleman tombstone at the backyard, inscribed with calligraphy. Photo: Freddy Wally

Sjahrial was renowned as an interesting person, and his energy infuses the Museum. Visitors will run across several examples of iconic the architecture the Batavia (ancient Jakarta). There is a display built from 65,000 bricks, brought from the former VOC Fish Market warehouse, Kota Tua, North Jakarta, neatly arranged in the corridor.

Sjahrial also added accentuated rocks from the former meteorology building, built in 1896 as part of the Museum’s collection. The door and hinges were acquired from an 18th-century women’s prison in Buki Duri, South Jakarta, a Dutch colonial heritage which also held political prisoners in 1965.

In 2013 the unique Museum Di Tengah Kebun was selected as the best private institution for a Museum Award, from a total of nominees from 63 countries and 26 provinces in Indonesia. The Museum holds essential relics in human history, starting from statues of the age of the Andesite to valuable collections of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.

“The Emperor’s collections are separated in a special storage room,” said Jodi while walking us to the room dedicated for the last German monarch who died in the Netherland in 1941 during his years of exile.

The Singa Garuda Room is a 9×11-meter unique room – the a private bathroom of the late Sjahrial. It is called The Singa Garuda Room since a magnificent winged lion (famously called Singa Garuda in Indonesian) is prominently placed inside. Singa Garuda is a significant mythical winged lion for the Balinese.

Other rooms worth exploring are the Mari Jepang (Japanese Mari) Room, Dewi Sri (Shridevi, the Goddess of Rice) Room, Ming and Qing Dynasty Rooms, to Ganesha Park as the God and patron of intellectuals, in the middle of the green garden with a comfortable gazebo to sit after the Museum trip.

In the detailed information handout, Jodi also expressed how the original items of the Museum are obtained from Christie’s auction house. “Bapak mostly attained the collections from Christie’s auction house, which certifies its validity and provenance, shown by the stickers’ items, like this,…” he showed the sticker attached to one of the collections to Independent Observer.

The Museum not only takes us back to the past, but also visually indulges us with abundant rare treasures which no other museums own, from the former Javanese kings’ scepters to a set of teacups and saucers once used by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Towards the end of the Museum trip, we visited the grave of Bapak Sjahrial Djalil, the Museum’s founder and owner. His final resting place is located at the back of the Museum near the swimming pool, in the middle of a shady garden. A replica of an Acehnese noble’s tombstone is placed next to his modest grave.

The Museum is only open on the weekends; should you visit the Museum Di Tengah Kebun. Come on Saturdays or Sundays from 9.30 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. for the morning shift and 12.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. to visit in the afternoons. The batch must consist of five to seven people maximum. Less than the required number of people will have to join other visitors. Visitors are expected to be punctual if not early, complying with the safety protocols of wearing masks and keeping a safe distance.

The Museum obliges all visitors to pay a booking fee of IDR 100,000 prior to visiting, to avoid false bookings. Booking money will return following the tour. While the booking fee will be forfeited if visitors fail to show up, they can still reschedule a different time. To book a tour, visitors may fill in the form on the Museum’s social media account. Enjoy the historical tour! (fred)