Salihara – The New Cultural Oasis: Jakarta, West Java

Residents and visitors of the capital will soon to have a new modern cultural enclave with the establishment of the Salihara community and its building complex in South Jakarta.

The 3,060-square-meter cultural complex on Jl. Salihara in the Pasar Minggu area will add to the city’s very few “alternative” art centers, such as the Utan Kayu community in East Jakarta and the Bentara Budaya in Central Jakarta.

The Salihara complex is to have the country’s first black box theater, a flat arena on which players and spectators can interact with each other.

“We are left behind by our neighboring countries. Singapore has six black box theaters,” noted writer and essayist Goenawan Mohamad, a Salihara patron, said on the sidelines of the complex’s ground breaking ceremony last week.

Besides Goenawan — who is also former chief editor of Tempo magazine — several other well-known figures such as political activist A. Rahman Tolleng and Jawa Pos CEO and former chief editor Dahlan Iskan are on Salihara’s board of patrons.

The theater, which can accommodate up to 300 people, will have sound-proof walls, a green room and modern sound and lighting equipment. The rooftop of the theater is also designed to be an open-air theater.

The Rp 17.5 billion (about US$2 million) cultural compound will also have a gallery housed in an ovate-cylindrical building without any corner, to provide a wider perspective for the viewers.

A unique four-story building that will accommodate a library, offices, guest house and a bookshop will also be part of the Salihara complex.

The offices will be used by the Salihara’s curators, including essayist Nirwan Dewanto, poet Sitok Srengenge and internationally-acclaimed composer Tony Prabowo.

A cozy foodcourt with an open view situated below the ovate gallery will provide food and beverages, recalling the similar setup of the Utan Kayu cafe. Cultural discussions and book readings are some of the activities that could be conducted in the food court.

Goenawan said the establishment of the Salihara community was inspired by the success of Utan Kayu, which also has a theater, gallery and a bookshop.

“Actually, Utan Kayu was not designed as a cultural center. It’s also smaller than the Salihara community complex,” he said. It was established as a symbol of resistance against the Soeharto regime that had banned Tempo, along with another magazine and a tabloid, in 1996.

“Utan Kayu was set up to fight Soeharto while Salihara is established to fight stupidity and intolerance,” Goenawan said.

Although it might be smaller, some respected programs, such the Islamic Liberal Network (JIL) and the KBR 68H news radio station, are to remain in Utan Kayu.

Goenawan said the establishment of the Salihara community was also based on a survey that revealed most visitors to Utan Kayu, including students, were living in southern Jakarta.
“So, it would be easier for them to reach Salihara,” he said.

The Salihara complex will be an architectural experiment combining the talents of three architects: Adi Purnomo, who is to design the theater, Marco Kusumawijaya the art gallery and Isandra Matin Ahmad, the administrative building.

The designers worked together to integrate their different perspectives into the same vision: to build a new cultural home that is environmentally friendly and spends less energy.

“In the gallery, for instance, we use glass in the roof to maximize the use of sunlight. I put the glass in such a way that we will get a soft light,” Marco said.

Salihara’s managers believe the complex will grow along with a smarter, more open and more democratic public, as the mastery of arts is an investment for the people’s future.

Supported by several institutions, including the Jawa Pos daily,
Tempo magazine, the Prince Claus Fund, Hivos, the Ford Foundation, Erasmus Huis, Goethe Institute, the Freedom Institute and The Japan Foundation, the art enclave is expected to be completed next year.

The embassies of the United States, Finland and the Netherlands, as well as the French Cultural Center (CCF) also contributed to the development of the art complex.

A. Junaidi