Who Made the Sarinah Relief?
Workers renovating Sarinah building last year found a relief from Sukarno’s era, 3 x 12 meters in size, hidden in the building’s electrical room. The relief depicts the atmosphere of the old market: women in traditional kebaya strolling the market and men in conical hats carrying wares. Records of the relief could not be found, leading to speculation from enthusiasts and experts regarding the origin of the relief and how it was abandoned in the building's generator room. Was the relief deliberately hidden by the New Order because it was deemed 'leftist' or did someone decide the depictions of the relief did not fit with the more modernized Sarinah?
Tempo interviewed children of famous artists from the 1960s to explore the possibilities of who made the relief. Tempo also interviewed the minister of manpower during the New Order era, Abdul Latief, who was an employee at Sarinah at the beginning of its establishment.
THE employee of the compact disc (CD) store on the first floor of the Sarinah building still remembers that day. One day, in 2005, a building maintenance worker was checking the building’s air conditioning and electrical panels. This is a routine maintenance job. The room where the electrical panel is installed is right next to the back wall of the music shop where he was working at that time, which is on the right side behind McDonald’s restaurant.
To enter the room, the maintenance worker must go through the door behind the booth, which was usually locked. Junanto—not his real name—remembered, driven by curiosity, he asked the man for permission to come in. “I was shocked when I saw that one part of the wall in the room contained a large and tall relief of a statue. The statue is really big. The height is more than two meters," he said.
Junanto said his colleagues also knew about the relief. Even though some Sarinah shopping center employees and maintenance workers have long known about the 3 x 12-meter relief, news about the discovery only spread in early January. Sarinah was closed in May-June 2020 due to renovations. The workers were then reported to have ‘found’ the Sukarno era statue in a hidden room. In October last year, Sarinah’s new management invited the Special Team for Cultural Heritage of the Jakarta Provincial Government to examine the ‘mysterious relief’.
Koesnan’s oil painting on canvas titled Kehidupan di Bali (Life in Bali), circa 1960. Presidential Palace Collections/Mikke Susanto
The relief is indeed one of a kind. With carvings out of cement detailed to look like statues on the wall. The scene depicted on it is a humble one, shirtless, albeit muscular farmers in conical hats carrying goods, and women in traditional dress kebaya carrying rattan trays, with a couple of water buffalos for good measure.
It did not take long before questions and speculation ran rampant. Was the relief made in Sukarno’s era but got tangled in a transitional time? Was it discarded during the New Order era because it depicted ‘leftist’ scenes? Or did someone decide it was just no longer suited for Sarinah’s modern makeover?
Keluarga Tani (A Farmer’s Family) by Koesnan, 1962. Exhibition catalogue of the Presidential Palace
“According to information, in the 1966s, the relief was placed on the front of the Sarinah building and could be seen by the public. However, because in 1984-1985 there was a development in Sarinah’s business, there was a change in the layout so that the relief position became what it is now,” said Fetty Kwartati, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sarinah.
Fetty could not explain the exact location of the relief before because she had never seen it herself and Sarinah did not have any archives of photos or other data regarding the relief. “All Sarinah archives before the 1980s were also destroyed when Sarinah was burned in 1984,” she said.
INVESTIGATING the possibilities of who made the relief and where exactly of its previous location gave birth to various versions of the analysis. “I’m inclined (to believe that it was) the members of the Pelukis Rakyat (People’s Painter) who created it,” said Yuke Ardiati. In October, the architect was asked by the ministry of education and culture to track down the relief maker. Yuke is known as a historian of Sukarno’s buildings. The People’s Painter is an art studio founded by Hendra Gunawan and Affandi in 1947.
Members of the studio, such as Edhi Sunarso, Trubus, Rustamadji, Djoni Trisno, and Batara Lubis, are known to have been involved in working on public monuments during the Sukarno era. The late Edhi Sunarso, for example, together with his friends at the studio, created the Selamat Datang Monument in front of the Hotel Indonesia and the West Irian Liberation Monument at the Banteng Square, Jakarta. He is also the coordinator of a number of dioramas, including one at the National Monument (Monas).
“I have known Pak Edhi Sunarso for a long time. I remember in 2010 Pak Edhi briefly told me that he had relief in Sarinah. At that time I asked, was there any documentation? Pak Edhi said no,” Yuke recounted. She tried to find the relief every time she came to the Sarinah building. She then received information that on the 14th floor of Sarinah there used to be a nightclub called Miraca Sky Club, which was burned down in 1984 and there was a relief. From a businesswoman, Dewi Motik, Yuke got a photo of Dewi when she was young in front of a relief of a woman made of bronze in Miraca in 1968. “I was comparing the gesture in the picture with Pak Edhi’s. I think there are similarities,” she said.
A woman gymnast by Manizer. russianartdealer.com
When the education ministry asked Yuke to examine the mysterious relief in Sarinah that had just been found, she immediately thought of Edhi. “I was given a bunch of writings by Pak Edhi. It contains a kind of biography of him. There, he told a story, after the Liberation statue was finished, he was called to help complete the Monas diorama. So, in his writing, Pak Edhi mentioned that the members of the diorama team had previously stayed at Sarinah. Did any of them work on the Sarinah relief? It’s possible,”said Yuke.
The only problem is that Edhi Sunarso’s daughter, Titiana Irawati, 59, never heard from her father about the relief in Sarinah. “Never. When I was old enough, my father took me to Jakarta to see all of his works, the Selamat Datang statue, the West Irian Liberation, Dirgantara, Monas dioramas, Satriamandala, Lubang Buaya, but we never stopped by Sarinah,” she said.
Edhi Sunarso's assistant, Mon Mudjiman, 79, who is part of the group of sculptor Artja Family—a sculptor who always helped Edhi with his projects—was also unaware that Edhi had a relief in Sarinah.
Titiana Irawati added, her father always works based on research, and that research is always in the archives. “For example, when my father made a diorama of the Diponegoro War, my father researched it. Where the battle was, what the cliffs, mountains, valleys looked like, and sketched it first. He would made the design first, them the diorama followed, so it's not careless, and everything has a record. But there is no record belonging to my father about the relief in Sarinah.”
LISYA van Sorren, 54, daughter of Djoni Trisno, is sure that the relief work involved her father, Trubus and Rustamadji, although she has no data and never got a story directly from her parents. “(It was) not made by Edhi Sunarso. But I have no doubt that it is the work of the People’s Painter studio. “One thing that makes me sure is that the face of a woman with a kebaya on the relief looks like my mother, Tina Sutina,” she said.
Tina Sutina, wife of Djoni Trisno, is known as a model and posed for the Selamat Datang statue at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout. “Yes. The models were my mother and artist Gambir Anom,” said Lisya. At that time, Tina was known as a theater actress and model from Yogyakarta.
The New Miraca restaurant, Jakarta. Tempo/Ed Zoelverdi
Lisya suspects that when her mother became a model for the Selamat Datang statue, she was also asked to model for the relief in Sarinah. “Usually the artists go ‘wes, nganggo Tina wae’ (just use Tina as the model). I think the Sarinah relief was packaged with the Selamat Datang statue. Mother once told me that at that time she often went back and forth between Yogyakarta and Jakarta.” According to Lisya—from their research—Rustamadji, Trubus, and Djoni Trisno often worked together on projects.
Even though Lisya was convinced, Rustamadji and Trubus’ children were not as confident that their fathers were involved in making the relief in Sarinah. “Father did live in Jakarta during those years. But my brother and I never heard from my father or mother about the Sarinah relief,” said Karang Sasongko, Rustamadji’s son.
Likewise, Trubus’ daughter, Monica Sri Sudaryati, 69, said she did not see her father’s handiwork in the relief. “I don’t think so. I am very familiar with father’s drawings and sketches. When my father drew human figures it was naturalist in style. Very uncanny. He once painted Bu Hartini Sukarno, and it was prettier than the real thing.”
SOEs Minister Erick Thohir inspects the site where the relief was found in the Sarinah building, Jakarta, January 14. Antara/Dhemas Reviyanto
According to Monica, her father is the artist that created the mockup of the Selamat Datang Monument. “Father made it in his backyard in Karangwuni (Condongcatur, Yogyakarta). I remember, around 1962, when the statue was still half finished, Bung Karno and a team from the Palace came to visit Karangwuni.” Monica also remembered that when her father was asked by Bung Karno to make a statue at the Bogor Palace (a statue of Si Dhenok, Putri Kodok, and the Guard), all family members were brought to Bogor.
Monica had never received information that her father was part of the crew that made the relief in Sarinah. “Trubus could have been part of the planning. But I personally don’t think that the relief was based on Trubus’ sketches.”
A painter belonging to the Bumi Tarung studio, affiliated with the People’s Cultural Institute (Lekra), Djoko Pekik, 84, also did not think that the relief maker in Sarinah was Djoni Trisno or Trubus when he saw the photos. “Nope. Their traits are not there. The model is also not Djoni Trisno’s wife,” he said.
According to Pekik, the theme of the relief indeed depicts Sukarno’s political expressions at that time. “My gut feeling, when I look at the shapes, is that it wasn’t made by anyone popular at the time. It’s rough, and it’s made out of cement. Maybe they used models for the women but definitely not the men.”
Another member of Bumi Tarung, Misbach Thamrin, 80, said he is unsure if the relief was made by Edhi Sunarso, Djoni Trisno or Trubus, when he saw the pictures. Misbach never knew that a Lekra artist had worked on the reliefs in Sarinah. “I heard that Pak Edhi Sunarso and Trubus’ men, ASRI (Indonesian Fine Arts Academy) students who helped with sculptures and dioramas in Jakarta, had done side orders.” According to Misbach, they included Jan Mingkit and Budiani. Both are sculptors. “After seeing the photos of the Sarinah statue, the anatomy is clearly not the style of Jan Mingkit or Budiani. In fact, I don’t think it was made by other ASRI students either,” said Misbach.
Conservation works in progress at the Tugu Tani statue, Jakarta, November 2013. Tempo/Dian Triyuli Handoko
Art observer, Agus Dermawan T., said that whoever the sculptor was, it is likely that he was influenced by the Tugu Tani statue made by Russian sculptors, Matvey Manizer and Ossip Manizer. “The style or the style of the farmer with the muscular arms tends to be similar to the sturdy arms of the Tugu Tani statue,” he said. According to Agus, the Palace has two statues that they made. “The oval shape and softness of the two women's faces are similar to the women in the Sarinah relief.” Agus is intrigued by the three-dimensional style of the relief. “As far as I know, this is unusual, because most of our reliefs are usually flat and decorative.”
Agus added that such three-dimensional relief forms are very common in Russia. “I’ve seen it myself at St. Petersburg, there are many reliefs in three-dimensional style in public buildings,” he said. But the assumption that Matvey and Ossip Manizer created it, according to Agus, is less grounded. “This is because there has never been any data on Manizer making a statue in Indonesia. The Tugu Tani statue was made by Manizer at his studio in Moscow, after which it was brought to Jakarta.”
However, Agus once heard that the Manizer’s Jakarta visit was quite extensive in 1962. “When I was in Ancol, I often met with Pak Harijadi Sumodidjojo. He told me vaguely that he used to have a studio behind Hotel Indonesia. There, Harijadi often received guests of foreign sculptors, including the Manizer family.”
HARIJADI Sumodidjojo is another artist believed to be behind the relief work in Sarinah. Harijadi is a famous relief maker. He joined the Community Artists’ Studio and Young Indonesian Artists in Yogyakarta in 1946. In 1957, together with Sudjojono and Surono, he made reliefs in the VIP Room at Kemayoran Airport, Jakarta, titled Flora dan Fauna di Indonesia (Flora and Fauna in Indonesia).
In 1958, Harijadi founded the Selobinangun Studio in Yogyakarta. Together with Selobinangun, in 1958-1959, Harijadi made a relief in the VIP Room of Adisutjipto Airport, Yogyakarta, entitled Bandung Bondowoso. After that, in 1964, he made a relief at the Hotel Indonesia titled Pesta Pura di Bali (Temple Party in Bali). In 1965, Harijadi completed a granite relief work at the Ambarukmo Palace Hotel, Yogyakarta, with the theme Untung Rugi di Lereng Merapi (Profit and Loss at the Slope of Merapi) and at Samudra Beach Hotel, Sukabumi, West Java, entitled Ombak Sepanjang Pantai (Waves along the Beach). It was Harijadi who together with the sculptor Saptoto was sent by Sukarno to Mexico to study dioramas and murals for Monas dioramas. However, after Harijadi-Saptoto returned from Mexico, the making of Monas dioramas by their team was stopped because of the 1965 incident, to be continued by Edhi Sunarso's team.
Tina Sutina. Lisya van Sorren
One person who is close to Harijadi is cultural observer Adjie Damais, 78. As a historical advisor in the restoration project of old Jakarta buildings, in 1974, during the era of Governor Ali Sadikin, he accompanied Harijadi when he made a mural of Batavia at the Fatahillah Museum. The mural was not finished because it was stopped in 1975. Unfortunately, this son of archaeologist Louis-Charles Damais had a stroke and forgot about the mural. Adji’s younger brother, Asmoro Damais, 73, a batik collector, is also sick and has difficulty speaking. Asmoro’s house used to be very close to Sarinah, which is on Jalan Sunda No. 5A. It is certain that Asmoro often went to Sarinah in the 1960s. When Tempo asked Asmoro’s daughter, Ade Zelda, to show a relief photo in Sarinah to her mother, her father, according to Zelda, immediately rushed to the cupboard and took a mug with Harijadi’s picture while pointing at Harijadi’s picture. The mug was made to commemorate Harijadi’s death anniversary.
But Harijadi’s children immediately denied that there were observers who linked the relief with Harijadi. “I have seen the Sarinah relief as a child. I was born in 1952. If someone says that the reliefs in Sarinah were made by Harijadi S., I deny it because I didn’t see our father making it,” said Santu Wirono, Harijadi’s son.
A section of the relief found in the Sarinah building, Jakarta, January 14. Antara/Dhemas Reviyanto
According to Santu, his father’s works always contain inscriptions. “The first concrete relief in Indonesia in the VIP Room of Kemayoran Airport, made by my father, Sudjojono, and Surono, contained an inscription like a signature. Inscriptions are documents and artistic accountabilities of a sculptor. Other stone reliefs that Harijadi made in hotels are also accounted for in the inscription. Meanwhile, the reliefs in Sarinah are without inscriptions,” he said.
In the book Andesit Andesit untuk Bangsa (Andesite for the Nation), written by Ireng Larasati, Harijadi’s daughter, there is also no mention of Harijadi making relief in Sarinah. “There is no evidence that my father made relief in Sarinah. I called Mas Woto (Sudarwoto), son of the painter Sudarso (member of the People’s Painters studio, Harijadi’s best friend). Mas Woto even said that it was Bandung style, there was a bit of a cubistic element,” said Santu.
THE Bandung-style traces are also seen by Mikke Sutanto, an art observer. “There is an anatomical lengthening in the Sarinah relief. The anatomical size is still correct, but it is stylized,” said Mikke. According to the art lecturer at the Indonesian Art Institute in Yogyakarta, it is clear that this style is very different from the relief style of Harijadi Sumodidjojo or the statues of Edhi Sunarso. “Pak Harijadi and Pak Edhi are perfectionists when it comes to anatomy.”
Mikke sees the elongated anatomy as the key to the mysterious Sarinah reliefs. “I think we can rule out Trubus, Edhi Sunarso, and Harijadi. I’m not so sure about Djoni Trisno, though. (It’s) far from his work in the Yogyakarta’s Legislative Council building. I suspect that (in the making of the reliefs in Sarinah) Bandung artists were involved,” added Mikke.
Art observer, Amir Sidharta, agrees with Mikke about the lengthening of the body in the relief in Sarinah. “There is an ‘elongation’ of the body. And this is in no way a feature of the work of People’s Painter or Harijadi,” he said.
Amir further identifies the existence of a cubistic approach in the appearance of figures in the relief in Sarinah. “Look at the way the artist presents the hands, body and face in the relief. (The artist) divides the relief in small triangles. The way he sculpts plants is also different." Amir is of the opinion that the relief in Sarinah are similar to Koesnan’s paintings in the Presidential Palace collection.
Another hypothesis of Amir is that the relief found in the electrical installation room is related to the relief at Miraca Sky Club on the 14th floor of Sarinah, which was burned down and then closed. From the photo of Dewi Motik in front of the relief on Miraca distributed by Yuke Ardiati, Amir suspects that the relief style is the same as the relief in electrical installations. “I think the maker is the same. The relief below is connected to the relief above,” he said. However Amir never entered Miraca. He only saw one photo from Yuke.
Tempo has an archive of photos from the nightclub in 1971. The photos show Miraca’s interior when the nightclub was empty, taken by Tempo’s photographer, the late Ed Zoelverdi. In the photo we can clearly see the whole wall inside Miraca.
The relief in Miraca is three-dimensional, just like the hidden Sarinah relief, with a female figure kneeling on a triangular base. The base itself is attached to the wall, the figure’s legs are folded back and the torso tilted forward as if thrusting towards the visitors. The figure sits off center with western facial features.
The female figure is the only human figure on Miraca’s wall. Presumably, the figure is a Miraca icon. From a photo in Iphos in 1968 that captures the signing of the Indonesia-Philippines economic cooperation in Miraca, it can be seen that the table of the speakers is placed right in front of the female figure.
There is something interesting if we observe the wall to the right of the statue leading to the stage. The long wall is filled with relief with plant motifs. At first glance, the shape and arrangement of the reliefs of the plants are reminiscent of the plants in Koesnan’s paintings.
Farmers on the relief sculpture in Sarinah building, Jakarta. Ministry of Education and Culture
However, from an interview with Abdul Latief, the Suharto era minister of manpower who from a young age participated in Sarinah’s planning, including Miraca, Tempo received information that when Miraca was built by director Usmar Ismail, the walls were decorated with paintings, not relief. “There is absolutely no connection between the relief below and the designs on the Miraca wall. Usmar Ismail requested the relief upstairs himself,” said Latief. According to Latief the relief might be a design addition after Miraca was banned from becoming a gambling spot.
Abdul Latief explained that Sukarno wanted Sarinah’s walls to be decorated with reliefs with the theme of Indonesia’s past glory. However, all this could not be realized because Sukarno wanted the construction of Sarinah to be completed immediately. One thing that is interesting is that Latief revealed that the Sarinah relief maker was a combination of Yogyakarta and Bandung artists, although most of them came from Yogyakarta. At this point, it is possible that there were Bandung artists among Yogyakarta artists who made the Sarinah relief.
Relief work is teamwork. Is it a possibility that for the relief to be able to be finished quickly, Sukarno, who wanted to make relief like three-dimensional relief in Russia, after choosing a design, left the work to the Yogyakarta-Bandung artists? Then in the Yogyakarta-Bandung artists group there is a division of labor. Bandung relief makers created female figures, while Yogyakarta artists worked on figures of buffalo, farmers, and so on. Of course this is still speculation. Abdul Latief admitted that he saw the relief artists working day and night. Mikke Susanto suspects that Sukarno did not have the chance to inaugurate the relief, because there is no information about the inauguration in the archives. Likewise in the Harian Rakyat newspaper. “You can see that the relief is not finished yet,” Mikke said.
Regarding the absence of recordings of the names of the relief makers in the media, Djoko Pekik believes that they do not have big names. “Maybe the artists were looking for projects in Jakarta,” he said.
Of course, all these possibilities must be verified before the grand launching of Sarinah takes place in November this year. The relief, according to Fetty Kwartati, CEO of Sarinah, will again be placed in an honorable place, at the face of Sarinah. “So relief restoration is now important. Because, who knows maybe an inscription will be found during restoration. One of the legs of the figures was deliberately covered with cement. Maybe it can be carefully lifted and checked, to see if there is a name written on it. There’s also the other wall,” said Mikke Susanto.