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article imageStrange Statues Tell A Tale Of Two Presidents In Jakarta

By Peter Janssen     May 28, 2002 in Lifestyle
JAKARTA (dpa) - Jakarta offers few attractions for tourists. Lonely Planet's guide to Indonesia describes the capital as "the Big Durian, the foul-smelling exotic fruit that some can't stomach and others can't resist."
As the country's main centre for government and business, some 10 million people apparently can't resist living in the city, helping to make it crowded, traffic-bound and polluted.
Although Jakarta is somewhat lacking in special attractions, the city does boast of a rich history.
The Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) made Jakarta, or "Batavia" as they dubbed it, their commercial headquarters back in 1619 and it has remained the heart of the Indonesian archipelago ever since.
Unfortunately, many of the city's buildings and monuments harking back to the Dutch colonial period have fallen victim to decades of neglect or the urban construction boom of the late 1980s to mid- 1990s, halted by the Asian economic crisis that struck in 1997.
"The only good side-effect of the economic crisis is they don't pull down old buildings so quickly anymore," said Adolf Heuven, author of "Historical Sites of Jakarta".
Heuven, a German Catholic priest who moved to Jakarta in 1960, has waged a lifelong campaign against city authorities to preserve the capital's historical sites from "greedy" developers, but he concedes it is a losing battle given the public's lack of appreciation for the past.
Consequently, even Jakarta's oldest part of town, Kota, has not been well preserved as a possible tourist attraction.
Jakarta is unique, however, in boasting the largest collection of public statues in Asia, which provide a quick glimpse at Indonesia's more recent history of post-independence, achieved in 1945.
The capital's many statues and monuments are the work of two men - Indonesia's first President Sukarno (1945-1965) and his long-lasting successor President Suharto (1966-1998).
Sukarno kicked off the city's statue-building trend in 1962, when his incredible popularity had peaked after the harsh realities of Indonesia's economic plight became clear. Sukarno's leftward-leaning tendencies came out in 1964 and 1965, and so did the statues.
During his last years in power Sukarno commissioned the construction of half a dozen bronze statutes portraying the politically charged concepts of independence, liberation and revolution, or simply marking his own triumphs.
Some works speak for themselves, such as "The Monument to West Irian Liberation" showing a man dramatically breaking his chains asunder, commemorating Indonesia's victory over Dutch troops in Irian Jaya in 1962.
The "Welcome Monument," of a man and woman heartily waving hello in the center of the traffic circle outside Hotel Indonesia, was also built in 1962 to mark Jakarta's hosting of the Asia Games that year.
Both were created by the late Indonesian artist Edhi Sunarso.
Perhaps more interesting historically is the "Hero Statue", depicting a muscular young peasant shouldering a rifle and going off to war while his mother fondly passes him his lunch.
The statue, made by Russian artists Matvei Manizer and his son Otto, was put up in 1963, a year when Indonesia was not going to war with anyone but the communist movement was gaining strength in the country, with tacit support from Sukarno.
Sukarno met the two Russian Stalin-era artists during a visit to Moscow where he persuaded them to travel to Java for inspiration for the "revolutionary era" statue, said Nurhadi Sastrapraja, head of education and museum affairs at the Jakarta City Administration.
Sukarno's downfall came on October 1, 1965, the day army chief of staff General Suharto successfully crushed an alleged communist plot to seize the government, launching his own political ascendancy.
To commemorate the day, Suharto built the "Supernatural Pancasila Monument" in 1972, glorifying his political doctrine of national unity and social justice.
One of Suharto's most remarkable statues is the "Youth Builds the Nation Monument," nicknamed "Hot Hands Harry" or the "Angry Waiter" because it seems to show an angry young man carrying a flaming pizza.
Suharto erected the statue in 1971 to symbolize youth's dedication to building a united Indonesia.
"Sukarno and Suharto had totally different ideas on statues," said Sastrapraja. "Most of Sukarno's statues represented his ideas of liberation, revolution, while Suharto's statues were about filling out independence, developing the country."
One statue that both presidents built was Monas, or the "National Monument", a towering edifice with a burning head that was started by Sukarno in 1961 and finished by Suharto in 1975.
While Suharto can claim to have completed the job, this statue was definitely a Sukarno inspiration, in the form of a 115-metre-tall phallus with four portals at the base representing womanhood.
With Monas, Sukarno, a notorious playboy who had three wives and numerous girlfriends, has seemingly left a bigger imprint on Jakarta's skyline than his successor.
"Monas represents something universal, man and woman," said Sastrapaja. "And ya, Sukarno was the big lover, so this is the big..."
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