Monday, October 12, 2015

Penghargaan dari Kembidkbud - hari kedua

Foto by Tatan Daniel
The second day of the Cultural Award ceremony put on by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture built up to the crowning evening when the Minister, Dr. Anies Baswedan, was in attendance. Mid-afternoon we were brought by bus to the Theater Building in Taman Ismail Marzuki where we learned how all sixty (or so) of us were to go on and off stage. At that point some of our ranks were just beginning to put together a performance. After all there were musicians and dancers and writers among the awardees.

The final event was pulled off flawlessly. We all gasped when we realized that a full orchestra would accompany the evening. Changing slide images from the archipelago formed the backdrop. Classical was interwoven with ethnic by young and old from the entire archipelago. The speech by the Minister was of the gentle and thoughtful kind, a carefully aimed message to encourage the audience to continue to work for their cultural traditions. He gave each of the awardees a golden pin and then it was over.

Breakfast with Ibu Chitra and another award winner

The next morning I had the opportunity to discuss the ceremony with the coordinator of all of the events, ibu Dyah Chitraria Liestyati. This beautiful, personable, intelligent and kind person was able to give us her full attention during breakfast. On the face of things, the award ceremony looked like it had been a risk. The awardees had had only a few hours to put together an act. On the other hand, in this land of creative spontaneity, always very much rooted in ‘the moment’, perhaps only such an un-choreographed performance could truly reveal the genius of the performers. In that sense, it had been the smallest possible risk!

They were geniuses, every one of them. I was mesmerized by their performance. Perhaps it was the same for all of us in the audience: the awareness as the evening progressed that we were being privy to something precious if not unprecedented. We were seeing the essence of the Indonesian arts. This was no ‘canned’ performance being dished up. This was genius being given a brief stage, the whole of Nusantara working together, building on each other’s strengths, complementing each other. This was diversity unified into a single act. Many of the performers were elderly. Their movements were testament to their lives having been steeped in the practices. It seemed less that they were ‘performing’ and more that they had briefly assumed a stage where they could be who they were as artists, as cultural leaders working together. What an assembly! Where else would one be privy to the best of the best from the entire archipelago?  Such grace. Such depth of spirit. A singular moment: unexpected, powerful, impossible to plan. It ‘came together’ like a ritual. I had witnessed a miracle.

What was this? Was this the privilege of being witness to the end of the line? Or did this ceremony mark maintenance and revival, a changing of the tide? Our hostess at breakfast, ibu Chitra, the event coordinator, spoke of her excitement when she first read about the talents of the people who had been selected to receive this year’s cultural award and her deep wish to allow them to show their talents. She also spoke of the challenge facing the government in its commitment to encourage this genius, to facilitate its transfer. Two young people among the awardees included a very small boy with an indescribable singing talent and a young girl who lived to write. To me they represented hope for the future, that everything is still possible.
The Director General, Kacung Marijan and ibu Chitra
The award ceremony did me a lot of good. Prior to the two days of festivities I had been assailed by fears that it might consist of stuffed shirts and politics. I have been deeply saddened during this visit to Indonesia to learn about poverty-related suicides in Batak villages, by the haze hanging over Sumatra from burning forests, by the photographs of animals that have become the victims of this habitat destruction, of knowing that cultural traditions suffer just as much. There have been moments when my hope has sunk so low that going into an award ceremony felt like a strange anachronistic act, and more like subjecting myself to salt in the wound of helplessness than celebration. How could I be given an award for struggling to support a weaving tradition on the brink of extinction? The award ceremony re-kindled my love for Indonesian culture and it gave me hope as did the opportunity to speak to the Director General of the culture department, Mr. Kacung Marijan, and the event coordinator, Ibu Chitra, afterwards, whereupon I discovered their genius and sincerity. They also represent the best elements of Indonesian culture. May their goodness, energy and wisdom similarly prevail and be passed on.


  1. Thank you ibu Sandra for your kind and sincere love towards Indonesian culture and congratulations for your award. I hope Indonesians can learn to love their own culture more in the future.