City’s architecture and stories it tells

The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Fri, 05/01/2009 2:50 PM  |

Article By : Hasyim Widhiarto

A couple of university students stood in front of a blackboard displaying pictures of Jakarta’s pecinan (Chinatown) in the 18th century at an architecture student exhibition in Depok, West Java.

After perusing all the pictures in less than a minute, the couple spent some 10 more minutes reading an article titled “Land of the collective memory: De Chineezen te Batavia en de Troebelen van 1740”, which recounted a massacre of Chinese people in the city.

According to the article, the Dutch killed more than 10,000 Chinese people in 1740 and threw their corpses into Kali Angke River in West Jakarta, later named the Red River.

The Dutch initiated the massacre because they were worried about Chinese immigrants’ increasing economic domination of Batavia, Jakarta’s former name, the article said.

Some five meters away from them, a middle-aged man stood in front of another board, watching pictures of a boy and three girls posing at the Grand Indonesia shopping mall in Central Jakarta.

All three visitors were intrigued by the exhibition they attended, titled “Ketika Kota Bercerita” or When the City Tells Stories, held from Monday to Friday at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Indonesia (UI).

Associating old and new images of selected city areas with articles about their experience visiting those spots, three UI postgraduate students in architecture – Christine Mauboy, Ega Nindita and Galih Suharjan – not only offered exhibition visitors their interpretation of the city but also challenged the visitors to find their own.

“Even though people can get various experiences from visiting a city or a place, they sometimes fail to witness an eye-opening experience as they hear too much about the popular history of the place,” Galih told The Jakarta Post recently.

“With this exhibition, we expect people to think they can have their own interpretation of any place,” he said.

Instead of analyzing the architectural shape of Grand Indonesia, Galih, Ega and Christine, for instance, presented the place as a venue where fashion law exists.

The narration on display, titled “Dress up is a must!”, explained city residents tended to pick their latest, most attractive outfits before visiting the mall.

“It is interesting to see how a structure can force people to act a certain way,” he said.

Among other spots captured by the three students were the Buddha Bar in Menteng, the house of renowned painter Raden Saleh’s in Cikini, Central Jakarta, the Puppet Museum in West Jakarta and the Bogor Botanical Gardens in West Java.

Galih, who is also a lecturer at Pelita Harapan University (UPH), said although people can conjure up their own subjective views about places, it was also important for them to put their views in a certain historical context to understand the city’s physical and sociological changes.

“The Buddha Bar is a good example illustrating how more and more public places in the city have been converted into private places,” he said, referring to the controversial upmarket restaurant in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

Many citizens have voiced their concerns about taxpayer’s money being used to renovate a building used as a restaurant catering for a select group of people.

The exhibition also reflected other social issues besides shrinking public spaces. “By observing Kali Angke, for example, we can reflect that ethnic segregation is not really a new issue in the city,” Galih said. (hwa)

Chrissie explaining the Chinese Massacre
Chrissie explaining the Chinese Massacre
Ega Dyas Nindita and her diorama.
Ega Dyas Nindita and her diorama.

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