What is Troubling Jakarta’s Cultural Centre, Taman Ismail Marzuki?

(Photo courtesy of Noorca Masardi)
19th century Indonesian artist Raden Saleh is only one of the many prominant names in culture associated with Taman Ismail Marzuki. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Rijksmuseum/ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Portret_van_raden_Syarif_Bustaman _Saleh_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-4703.jpeg)

IO – The nine hectares of land where the Taman Ismail Marzuki Jakar­ta Cultural Centre or Pusat Kebu­dayaan Jakarta Taman Ismail Mar­zuki now stands once belonged to the celebrated 19th century Indonesian artist Raden Saleh. His house still stands in what are now the grounds of Cikini Hos­pital. On the property which is now the cultural centre he once had a small zoo . Raden Saleh was known for his paintings of wild animals – tigers and lions leaping on horses or fight­ing buffaloes – and he kept a small zoo of wild animals as subjects for his paintings. Later Raden Saleh sold his house and donated 10 hectares of land and his collection of animals to a Netherlands Indies flora and fauna lovers’ organization known as the Vereneging Planten en Dieren­tuin of Batavia . He was a member and the zoo that they created was known as Taman Raden Saleh. Beside the animals there was also an area for dog racing, roller skating and two cinemas: the Podium and Garden Hall.

The Culture Centre was named after composer Ismail Marzuki, a true Betawi son of Indonesia. (Photo: Wikipedia/ https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Ali Sadikin was one of the most far sighted and visionary governors Jakarta has ever had. During his time as Governor of Jakarta he moved the zoo to Ragunan in South Jakarta where he provided it with 140 hect­ares of land – making it the second largest zoo in the world – but another thing that Ali Sadikin understood was the importance of culture and artists in the welfare of a city and so on the 10th of November 1968 he opened the Taman Ismail Marzuki Cultural Centre (affectionately ab­breviated by Jakartans to TIM) where the zoo had previously stood.

It was named after Indonesian composer, songwriter and musician Ismail Mar­zuki who is famous for songs such as Rayuan Pulau Kelapa (Seduction of the Palm Trees), Halo, Halo Bandung and Selendang Sutra (The Silk Shawl). This Betawi lad who was known as the Bing Crosby from Kwitang died in 1958. He was elevated to the rank of Pahlawan Nasional or National Hero in 2004. Naming the new cultural centre after him must have felt just right and a good way of celebrating a Jakarta Betawi hero.

Taman Ismail Marzuki was the vision of one of Jakarta’s best governors: Ali Sadikin. It was his legacy not only to Jakarta but to the nation. (Photo: Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, and Spaarnestad Photo/Wikimedia https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Ali_Sadikin_(1975).jpg

Ali Sadikin knew that in a relative­ly new nation like Indonesia – a na­tion consisting of so many cultures, traditions and beliefs – the identity of that nation would play an important role in keeping it united and he also understood that culture and the arts had an important role to play in this. Providing artists with the freedom and means to express their creativity would help build a democratic Indonesia. It was also for this reason that he not only invited artists to play a role in the new cultural centre but also art critics, philosophers and cul­tural thinkers. Sutan Takdir Alisjah­bana, one of Indonesia’s best known philosophers and the pioneer of the cultural polemics of the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s was the head of the Centre’s Jakarta Academy for nearly 25 years. This was also why Ali Sadikin cre­ated the centre to promote and help develop not only Jakarta regional culture but the arts and culture of the whole Archipelago – as well as Indonesian culture. International arts and culture were also to be performed at the TIM for the exchange of ideas and comparison. He did not want the government to interfere too much in the artistic and cultural world that would be created at Centre and so he tried to ensure a certain amount of independence for the artists and promoters of culture at the Taman Ismail Marzuki.

Philosopher, linguist, novelist and sociologist Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana was head of the Jakarta Academy for 24 years during TIM’s heyday . (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Lontar Foundation/ https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=R3pvMeivFCg)

The Cultural Centre that Ali Sadikin established at Taman Ismail Marzuki con­sisted of several buildings and insti­tutions created in order to support artists and cultural thinkers and their work and to provide a place for the public also to enjoy the arts. At the time the Lembaga Pusat Kese­nian Jakarta (now known as the In­stitut Kesenian or Art Institute) was established at the Centre for training in the arts.

The Centre consisted of six mod­ern theatres, an exhibition hall, a gal­lery, an archives building and a cin­ema, where art and cultural events were held. It also had a planetarium. Taman Ismail Marzuki was intended as a place for traditional, national and international performances and exhibitions. Dramas, dances, musical performances, discussions and poet­ry readings were all held at TIM. At the Institute Kesenian lectures and training were provided both in the performing as well as the plastic arts.

Arief Budiman (here as a young man) wanted the Jakarta Academy modeled on the Academie Francaise. (Photo: https://wikivisually.com/wiki/ Arief_Budiman)

TIM had two other institutions the Akademi Jakarta or the Jakarta Academy which at the suggestion of Arief Budiman, Indonesia’s renown Chinese Indonesian sociologist at the University of Melbourne, was created along the lines of the Academie Francaise in France. Consequently, its members were elected for life. Their task is to advise the Governor of Jakarta on any matters pertaining to the art and culture not only of Jakarta but of Indonesia. The members have to be over 40 years of age and have al­ready produced significant artistic or cultural work.

The third institution, the Jakarta Arts Council or De­wan Kesenian Jakarta (popularly known as DKJ) is responsible for dai­ly administrative matters pertaining to TIM. It consists of seven commit­tees for literature, dance, the visual arts, theatre, film and music. The committees are composed of around five members and each committee suggests its annual programs at TIM in their respective fields. In the field of literature for example they pro­pose poetry and novel reading events, competitions, awards, discussions etc. These suggestions are then dis­cussed at the plenary meeting of the Jakarta Arts Council for approval. So, the DKJ and its committees have a very important function in that they decide which artists and cultural groups are worthy of being represent­ed at TIM.

Artists’ silent demonstration against the commercialization of Taman Ismail Marzuki in front of the Graha Bakti Budaya building before it was torn down (Photo: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

The DKJ had one or more exec­utive directors and 25 members (al­though currently it is 30 members) of whom 3 hold ex-officio positions representing the municipality and the regional parliament. All members were nominated by the Akademi Ja­karta and appointed by the Governor of Jakarta although the Governor has the right to refuse the nominations but nin such a case must then ask for new nominations from the Jakarta Academy.

There is a forth organization at TIM namely the Unit Pengelola Pusat Kebudayaan Jakarta TIM or the Management Unit of the Ja­karta TIM Cultural Centre. It is their job to carry out the cultural programs decided upon by The Jakarta Arts Council and to take care of the phys­ical aspects of TIM such as cleaning service, electricity, maintenance etc. They are appointed and paid for by the City of Jakarta. Both, the Jakarta Academy as well as the Jakarta Arts Council receive subsidies from the Municipality.

At TIM, W.S Rendra one of Indonesia’s most prominent dramatist produced many of his best plays which were often highly critical of the government. (Photo: Wikipedia/Victor Pogadaev/https://id.wikipedia .org /wiki/Berkas:RendraS.jpg)

In its early years TIM was extreme­ly successful. It had exciting, cutting edge performances and exhibitions in all the arts both modern and tra­ditional and such names as Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Mochtar Lubis, W.S. Rendra, Sardono, Teguh Karya, Dolorosa Sinaga, Tony Prabowo, Garin Nugroho – to mention but a few – all came to be associated with TIM. They not only performed and exhibit­ed there but in many ways TIM also helped to train and form many of them. In re­cent years TIM however, experienced a decline not only physical but also in the membership of the AJ and DKJ and in its output and produc­tion.

Writer and journalist Mochtar Lubis worked with Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana to try to bring about Ali Sadikin’s vision for the Culture Centre. (Photo: Wikimedia/Nationaal Archief/https://id.wikipedia.org /wiki/Berkas: Mochtar_Lubis_(1979).jpg)

During the course of time com­plaints crept in – predominantly from artists – that the members of the Jakarta Academy were not per­forming their task well due to at ­times senility or an inability to attend the once monthly meetings because of transportation difficulties (some did not live in Jakarta), health prob­lems, other activities and that they frequently were unable to follow the latest artistic and cultural develop­ments both in Jakarta as well as in Indonesia and so could also not find active and creative artists worthy to be proposed as members of TIM’s third institution, the Jakarta Arts Council. Many artists considered the AJ to be out of touch with the latest artistic and cultural trends and new artists on the scene.

Demonstrations after the demolition of the Graha Bakti Budaya building. (Photo courtesy of Noorca Masardi)

At present although there should be between 9 to 17 members of the Jakarta Academy for the last 2 years there have been only 3 outgoing members (demissioner) of the Jakar­ta Academy who are carrying on until replace­ments can be found. They proposed a number of new candidates for the Jakarta Academy but several artists protested that the members of the Jakarta Academy were out of touch with the current art world and protested their nominations for the Jakarta Academy. Consequently, the Governor refused to appoint them leaving the AJ with a shortage of members.

Complaints also emerged from artists with regard to the Jakarta Arts Council or DKJ and the Municipality. There came a point in time when buildings at Taman Ismail Marzuki needed to be renovated or restored or even replaced but funds were not available. The Jakarta Arts Council set up a foundation to try to raise the funds. After 1998 the closed the­atre, the open theatre, the arena, the dance and exhibition spaces were de­molished to make way for new build­ings but the funds never materialized and TIM was left with a gaping hole in the ground which filled up with water during the rainy season and where a child later drowned. The artistic commu­nity was clearly not happy and increased their com­plaints.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is attempting to address TIM’s problems. (Photo: Yoga Agusta/IO)

Several governors of Jakarta tried to address the issues at TIM and the gaping hole in the ground at least was filled. Anies Baswedan is probably the governor who has taken the most forceful and comprehensive steps to ad­dress the issues at TIM. Unfortunately, his actions were not combined with sufficient public discussions and consultation with Jakarta’s artistic community which – as is the case with many artists – is highly vocal, independent and creative. They also feel very strongly about TIM which many consider as belonging to them – which in a way it does. It should per­haps be remembered that it is this form of consultation with the peo­ple that brought President Jokowi to power in Solo and which are the attributes of true democracy – some­thing else that most artists are quite passionate about.

The Jakarta administration is­sued a decree appointing PT Jakar­ta Propertindo (usually referred to as Jakpro) to manage TIM for the next 28 years at a budget of Rp1,8 trillion. Jakpro announced its inten­tion of building a five star hotel on the grounds of TIM. Jakpro is a property development company whose shares are owned by the City of Jakarta and which now also carries out in­frastructure projects such as roads and dams. The new Head of Cultural Services of the City of Jakarta, Iwan Henry Wardhana explained that Gov­ernor Anies Baswedan wants to turn TIM into not only a regional or even national cultural centre but into an international one on the scale of the Esplanade in Singapore or the Syd­ney Opera House in Australia.

Silent demonstration of artists at TIM. (Photo courtesy of Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

The artist community was im­mediately up in arms protesting the commercialization of TIM which was not what TIM was created for. They were also deeply suspicious of Jak­pro which they see as a purely profit oriented enterprise. Finally, Governor Anies wisely agreed not to build a com­mercial hotel but to build instead a new Wisma Seniman (Artists’ House) to be used as a hostel for artists coming from the provinces or visitors from abroad. Iwan Wardhana says, “It will be a hostel for artists with a reasonable price that they can afford and it will have space for social interac­tions as well as personal space for the individuals staying there. It will have a similar function as the old Wisma Seni in TIM before it was de­molished.”

Artists protesting the demolition of the Graham Bakti Budaya building at Taman Ismail Marzuki. (Photo courtesy of Noorca Masardi)

As for turning TIM into an area for commercial profit, the newly appoint­ed Head of Jakarta Cultural Services dismissed the suggestion by explain­ing that with an investment of Rp1,8 billion from the Jakarta Municipali­ty it would be impossible to make a return on the investment let alone a profit for scores of years to come.

Things then might have cooled down if Jakpro had not torn down the Graha Bakti Budaya building at TIM which houses a cinema and a the­atre where the dramatists W.S. Rendra and Ariffic C. Noer produced so many plays. There was an avalanche of protests from TIM’s artists. It was then that the Forum Seniman Peduli TIM or Artists Concerned about TIM Forum went to parliament to voice their com­plaints to Comission X which deals with culture. Tatan Daniel who co­ordinated the Forum claimed that Jakpro had torn down Graha Bakti Budaya without first informing the Jakarta Academy or the Jakarta Arts Council.

Former actor Rano Karno who is now a member of parliament was visibly upset at the meeting of TIM artists with Commission X. (Photo: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Theatre dramatist Jo Marbun protested that Jakpro was already starting work in TIM without its environmental assessment report approval and that Graha Bakti Bu­daya had already been recommended as a heritage building by the City of Jakarta Heritage Experts Team which means that it was not legal to tear it down. The session became quite emotional with not only artists but also mem­bers of parliament such as former ac­tor Rano Karno expressing their love for TIM and the importance of culture in building up the non-material side of national development. Comission X recommended a moratorium on Jak­pro’s activities at TIM.

Noorca Masardi speaking on behalf of the Artists Concerned about Taman Ismail Marzuki to Commission X of the parliament. (Photo: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

A further concern of TIM’s artists is Gubernatorial Regulation number 4 of 2020 which states that members of the Jakarta Arts Council shall be nominat­ed by the Jakarta Academy and the Jakarta Art Community. Noorca Ma­sardi is an artist, writer and cultural practitioner who was formerly head of the Jakarta Arts Council. “The Gubernatorial Regulation does not clearly explain who makes up the Jakarta art community and who will choose and appoint them? What are the requirements to be considered a member of the Jakarta Art Commu­nity? The gubernatorial regulation is silent on this.” says Noorca Masardi. “The regulation also does not provide a mechanism for them to reach a con­sensus. So, it is also not clear what is meant by the Jakarta Art Community Consensus whereas these are entities that will nominate members of the AJ and DKJ.”

A protester against the commercialization of TIM with a picture of Raden Saleh in the background. (Photo courtesy of Noorca Masardi)

If the gubernatorial regulation is referring to Jakarta artists, cul­tural practitioners and members of the art loving public when it re­fers to the Jakarta Art Community then the regulation is in fact an at­tempt to increase their powers and involvement in appointing the AJ and the DKJ and therefore also the running of TIM which should in fact please, the art community. The reg­ulation does however need further clarification.

Jakarta Governor Anies Bas­wedan, Prasetyo Edi Marsudi, Head of Jakarta’s Regional Parliament and the Director of Jakpro met with Comission X of the parliament last week where they explained the Re­gional government’s position with regard to TIM. The Commission ap­proved the Municipality’s plans for TIM and the appointment of Jakpro to manage the revitalization of TIM. The Commission also reminded the Jakarta Municipality and Jakpro to follow all legal requirements including environmental and heritage require­ments, to be transparent in their ac­tions and not to commercialize TIM. They are also not to build a hotel but a hostel to support the artistic environ­ment at Tim and perhaps most im­portant of all the Jakarta Municipality and Jakpro must increase their efforts at commu­nicating and involving the cultural stakeholders of TIM in their plans and management of TIM.

In this respect Governor Anies has already taken the step of separating Cultural and Tourism Services into two service. Cultural Services pure­ly for cultural matters and Tourism Services which will have a commer­cial element to it. To head Cultural Services, the Governor deliberate­ly appointed a man who believes in consulting, discussing and listening to the public.

Iwan Henry Wardhana, the new head of Jakarta’s Cultural Services. (Photo: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Before the Graha Bakti Budaya was torn down Iwan Henry Wardha­na spent three days discussing and persuading Jose Rizal the owner of the second hand bookshop Bengkel Deklamasi to move his bookshop to a new location in TIM. He says that Jakpro will be holding a public dis­cussion open to artists and cultural stakeholders of TIM where Jakpro will explain the final revitalization plan for TIM, the facilities that it in­tends to build and their functions, the details of how Wisma Seni hostel will function for the art community, the various institutions of TIM and how they are to function. He himself will attend the public discussion and also speak.

Artists protesting at the parliament. (Photo: Tamalia Alisjahbana/IO)

Noorca Masardi says that what the artists truly want is to be consulted and involved in the revitalization and future of Tim. He says, “Taman Ismail Marzuki and its Jakarta Arts Council have reared me and made me what I am today. I have won awards there for my plays. I headed the Arts Coun­cil and for many years its Theater Committee. I have directed plays at TIM. All through those years Taman Ismail Marzuki acted as a barometer of Indonesia’s art and culture. I am proud to be a member of the forum of artists who care about TIM and to speak for them.”

Iwan Henry Wardhana’s grandfa­ther worked for the PPD bus compa­ny but was an expert kecapi (a zither like stringed musical instrument) musician who was a part of the Movement of 1966 and worked from Taman Ismail Marzuki. Iwan himself used to act at the Suryasine Studio in Tanah Abang where he once played Macbeth. So, he has a soft spot for the arts and believes that artists should not be limited in work space, finances or freedom of expression. He also believes in discussion. He says, “It is the desire of the Jakarta Region­al Government to fulfill the needs of society and in this case the needs of the artists, cultural stakeholders and the community at large with regard to art and culture.”

It seems that a way forward at Taman Ismail Marzuki might be pos­sible… (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

Many great names are associated with TIM. If artists and government can find a way to cooperate it will help maintain Jakarta’s cultural leadership of the nation, no matter where the capital is moved. (Photo courtesy of Noorca Masardi)