Tue, 26 Aug 2003

'Sudirman' statue commands respect ... from afar

Yusuf Susilo Hartono, Contributor, Jakarta

Holding a walking stick in his left hand to support himself, a tall man in military dress and donning a sacred kris, stands in full salute. On his head is a blangkon (Javanese cap) and his eyes reflect sincerity, awe and charisma, although the corner of his lips, ever so slightly, shows that he endures a private pain.

This tall, stately figure is the statue of Supreme Commander- in-Chief Sudirman, who died on Jan. 29, 1950. Weighing about 4 tons, this 6.5-meter-tall bronze statue stands on a pedestal 5 meters high.

A master work of Sunaryo, renowned sculptor and fine arts lecturer at the Bandung Institute of Technology, the statue stands across the BNI 46 building, Central Jakarta, at one end of a long strip of green that runs through Jl. Jenderal Sudirman near Dukuh Atas railway station.

Facing north, this newly erected statue of Sudirman invariably seems to be watching the notoriously heavy traffic along Jl. Thamrin and around the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, in the center of which stands the ever-waving Welcome Statue. The new statue also gazes down at Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat, where the Arjuna Wijaya Monument stands and the National Monument burns an eternal gold.

People coming from the direction of Jl. Thamrin will be saluted by one of the most respected leaders of the National Army. It is we who should be saluting him, a man whose dedication and love for the country helped liberate Indonesia from the colonial yoke.

Sculptor Sunaryo has his own reasons for immortalizing Sudirman in this particular pose and not, for example, depicting him leading our Independence Fighters or being carried on a stretcher during the historic, 1,007 km long march undertaken by him and his freedom forces from Dec. 19, 1948 - July 10, 1949.

"Pak Sudirman spent his whole life struggling to liberate this nation from the shackles of colonialism. In the present context of our country, amid the protracted multidimensional crisis, we also must keep up our struggle to substantiate our independence. We must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, as well as love and respect our motherland," Sunaryo said.

Unfortunately, this heroism has yet to be understood by the ordinary Jakartan. Even when the statue was already under construction in Bandung, Jakarta was rife with pros and cons.

Those against it criticized that the statue was not offered on a tender, but it was not the tender itself that posed a problem -- it was the advertising points in this strategic area, because the proceeds from these advertisements were used to finance the construction of the statue. Others questioned the felling of four trees to make space for the statue.

The biggest protest came when Jakarta governor Sutiyoso inaugurated the statue on Aug. 16, 2003. A group of protesters held a rally carrying banners that read, "Don't Exchange A National Hero for Advertising Products", "General Sudirman Does Not Belong to Businessmen" and others in a similar vein.

Nurhadi H. Sudirman, one of General Sudirman's grandchildren, said a total of Rp 6.6 billion had been spent on the statue's construction, gathered from the proceeds of the two advertisements strategically placed in the Dukuh Atas area. In regards the appointment of Sunaryo, he said the recommendation came from artists and history buffs.

Meanwhile, head of the city park service Mauritas Napitupulu responded in regards the felling of the trees -- that they had been replaced with 20 palm trees planted in front of the Bank BNI 46 business complex.

This Sudirman statue, one of the capital's many landmarks, is the most recent addition to the list of Sudirman statues that have been erected by various sculptors at other sites in Jakarta, Bogor, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Purwokerto. The nation's Sudirman statues have enriched the country's collection of esthetically superior statues and monuments.

In Indonesia, sculpting generally lags behind painting in terms of artistic development. Some people -- educated or otherwise -- still believe that statues are proscribed by the Islamic faith. However, a number of Muslim figures, including the respected Buya Hamka, stressed as far back as the 1970s that statues were forbidden as an object of worship, but that statues as art forms were not proscribed at all.

Bung Karno (former president Sukarno), who was among those who proclaimed Indonesian independence on Aug. 17, 1945, said that a great nation was one that could respect the merits of their heroes.

In the case of Sudirman, he has been celebrated in various ways -- the streets of many cities across the country have been named after him, as well as hospitals, a museum and a university. His ideas and strategies continue to be studied and are held up as a source of inspiration. Patriotic Indonesians have kept his spirit alive, and his commanding figure has found eternity in art as poems, paintings and sculptures.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to take a photograph with the statue because it stands in the middle of horrendous traffic. If you insist on crossing the road for a snapshot with the immortal Sudirman, you may get yourself hit by a speeding car -- or arrested by the police.

This is one of the shortcomings behind the grand idea that underlies the construction of the Sudirman Statue -- a work of art that is expected to encourage love and respect of the motherland -- but inaccessible, nonetheless.