Monthly Archives: June 2014

Vice turns into virtue in Bangunsari

Generously hosted by Ibu Raudlotul

Generously hosted by Ibu Raudlotul

Our Surabaya evening was destined to turn into a rather late night. After the Jawa Pos, we crossed town to visit the compassionate compound of Ustadz Khoiron Syu’aib and his capable wife, Ibu Raudlotul Jankaroti. The Taman Pendidikan Islam is situated in the middle of the former entertainment district of Bangunsari. This amusement quarter used to be packed with brightly lit karaoke bars blasting top hits across the streets and shady dancers roaming the dark alleyways.

Although this has recently changed, due to the grip of Ibu Risma’s reign, there are still needy and vulnerable women and children, remnants from those days of profligacy, typical of a port city.

The Ustadz’s legendary institution is an oasis of hope and peace, set up with the purpose to show and teach the lost souls of Bangusari the essence and compassion of Islam.

The Ustadz himself was attending a seminar in another province, so Ibu Raudlotul showed us around her tranquil compound and offered us delicacies from her kitchen.

Kartika, toured around the compound by Ibu Raudlotul

Kartika, toured around the compound by Ibu Raudlotul

Intrigued by the harmony of this place, we wanted to explore further the roots of Javanese Islam in Surabaya. Ibu proposed an impromptu pilgrimage to the holy site of the Sunan Ampel Cemetery. This was the tomb of one of Java’s early missionaries from the Middle East, the holy Sunan Ampel, the spiritual force behind Java’s first Islamic Kingdom, who passed away in 1481.

Author: Joana Schliemann

Deliverance at Sunan Ampel and the Majapahit


Back into our fleet of cars and equipped with colourful scarves from Ibu, we were on our way to Sunan’ Ampels grave. Nearly midnight, we were jostling our path through a narrow lane of stalls selling spices, scents, cloth and garish souvenirs. I was told this mellow bazaar is inhabited by Arabs from Yemen and Chinese, who have lived and traded here for hundreds of years.

Even at this hour, the dimly lit cemetery of Sunan Ampel was crowded with devout men and women. Paying their respects and finding solace at this serene holy site, the pilgrims were whispering and singing their prayers, children squeaking, fountain splashing, all merging into a blanket of soothing sounds.


Enlightened by this spiritual experience, it was time to turn to more worldly aspects of our outing and check into our Hotel before it was closing its doors.

We wished a warm fare well to Ibu Raudlotul and her team, leaving a boxes of English chocolates to thank her.


Slightly fading after this action-packed day, our arrival at the Hotel Majahapit brought me back alive. I had travelled in time: This impeccably preserved, tropical Art Deco palace with its non- chalant elegance, evokes adventures of sensual indulgence and feudal society.

The Majahapit exudes historic gravitas. This is the place, where in 1945, one of the first public patriotic acts was committed: The Dutch flag was removed and proudly replaced with the Merah Putih, the Indonesian flag, reaffirming Indonesia’s independence.


A rare gem of a hotel, with its lush patios of exotic flowers, Palm trees and columned, white marble archways, it conjures up the splendour of a time long past.

I finally slumped into the crisp linen of my bed and slept blissfully….

Author: Joana Schliemann

The Miracle of Surabaya


Our day started at the coffee shop of the Majapahit with Pak Liem Ou Yuen, a kind-hearted Surabaya charity veteran, who umbrellas about 60 different charities. To check if KSF could cover some common ground within the framework of Pak Liem Ou Yuen’s initiatives, new ideas were thrown into the conversation.

Energised with freshly brewed Indonesian coffee, the moment had come to meet the legendary Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, alias Ibu Risma, at her official Residence.

It was a great honour that this omnipresent Über-Mayor, who is rumoured to be at different places at the same time, would find the time to receive us. Our mission was to explore, if KSF, together Ibu’s team of ‘Duracell’ town hall officers, could join forces to bring education up to exemplary standards in the Surabaya region.

Apropos ‘exemplary’. Ibu Risma, also a mother of two adult children, has quite something to show for: The minute you enter the city gates of Surabaya, a town of no less than 9 million people, including the metro area, a blissful atmosphere evokes a healthy equilibrium between progress and nature. Garbage and urban curb scrapings of all sorts appear to have been miraculously hovered away. Surabaya’s air is properly photosynthesised and breathable – something Jakarta air fails to be. There is green, and lots of it: almost every street corner boasts bunches of lush vegetation. Water permeates the city, not only the recently- cleaned up River Mas, but also the numerous, newly built fountains to the joy of local children.

There is a sense of integrity about Surabaya’s buildings, its people, and their history. This regional capital is also dubbed “City of Heroes” due to the game-changing Battle of Surabaya, inciting Indonesian and international support for Indonesian independence during the National Revolution that raged from 1945 to 1949. Most importantly though, Surabaya is the birthplace of Kartika’s father, Indonesia’s first and founding President Soekarno.

Ibu Risma holding audience....

Ibu Risma holding audience….

It is this place of historical significance, where Ibu Risma has reigned for over 6 years and shaken the political establishment. Ibu Risma is continuously fighting multi-front battles, which has earned her the respect of her citizens, offering deeds rather than the usual empty promises of politicians. Her reputation of being efficient and straight forward, making the impossible possible, Ibu Risma has become a beacon of good governance that is shining far beyond Java.

Ibu Risma, Budy Sutanto and Kartika exchanging welcome presents

Ibu Risma, Budy Sutanto and Kartika exchanging welcome presents

After a cordial welcome at her Official Residence imbued with nostalgic flair and a light hearted chat over sweet tea and coco jelly, in true Ibu Risma manner, we got down to ‘business’ instantly.

Pak Ikhsan chatting to Ibu Risma and Kartika

Pak Ikhsan chatting to Ibu Risma and Kartika

It was agreed that Indonesian teachers lack the necessary education to produce capable and competitive graduates of the 21st Century. In the PISA study (Progress In Student Achievement), Indonesia ranked 64 out 65 nations. The Education Officer, Pak Ikhsan, was called in straightaway to take matters further. Pak Ikhsan was to co-ordinate the KSF teacher training programme with the municipal’s school administration in a few weeks’ time.

Boasting with local fashion accessories and interior objects...

Boasting with local fashion accessories and interior objects

Ibu Risma then proudly presented us with a vast variety of stylish and skilfully produced arts and crafts goods, home-and-hand made by housewives. These women were trained as part of a community initiative to help increase the low incomes of their families without neglecting their motherly duties.

Most generously our wish was granted that Ibu Risma would take us on a tour around town. Not in her car though, as it was not meant to ferry snooping out-of-towners around. Ibu Risma’s iconic ‘Mayor Mobile’ is packed with more important stuff than passenger’s seats: A broom, in case of a garbage emergency, a shovel, should a plant need impromptu replanting, a football, to have some fun with local rascals, black bin bags, and a pair of wellies to master flooding and possibly more unpleasant incidents. And, don’t be fooled, these tools would not be passed on, it is Ibu Risma herself rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done.


During our cruise around Surabaya, Ibu Risma is not letting go of her constantly crackling Walkie- Talkie, the umbilical cord to her city.


Our first stop is ‘Taman Ekspresi’. This outdoor library, diorama and open-air gallery, is showing art works made out of recycled materials, among other surprising objects. This is one example of her famed 972 ‘Mini Libraries’, commonly placed in pleasant ‘Edu- Parks’. These parks all aspire to have an educational angle, be it history, nutrition or even cancer. The topics are visually explained through figurines and other tangible items, which are poetically positioned within their green spaces.


Kartika posing next to a historical scene with her father at ‘Ekspresi Park’


By the way, all ‘Edu parks’ are equipped with free Wi-Fi and have subsequently turned into a vibrant forum for Generation X. Your basic ‘Mini Library’ is equipped with an array of books on everyday matters, such as religion, geography, biology, business administration and more, as well as providing early learning tools. These bibliophilic abodes radiate harmony and peace. They are the perfect environment for parents and children to hang out after school to complement, or possibly advance the school curriculum, or even the parent’s knowledge.


‘Edu Parks’ are Ibu Risma’s trademark. We are simply awe-struck by this idiosyncratic idea and metropolitan philosophy.


While we are hopping across town, Ibu Risma’s popularity is indisputable. Everybody, young and old, privileged or poor, students or labourer, all came up to say hello and have a casual chat. No protocol, just mutual respect and warmth.


The ‘Ibu Risma Kliniks’ at the youth centre

The youth centre we visited, offered small-group language courses in English and Mandarin, as well as career clinics for accounting, investments, stock reading, computer sciences, and a pop-up job agency.

We stopped for a quick lunch to refuel at Ria Galleria, a chic art gallery-cum-restaurant, a Surabaya institution. Upon arrival we were presented with a tray of extraordinary, luminous rainbow-coloured drinks with frothy coco toppings, immediately raising insulin levels and restoring our energy.


Kartika and Ibu Risma in front of the Rumah HOS Cokroaminoto

With not much ado, Ibu Risma seized the moment and drove us to Rumah HOS Cokroaminoto. This used to be the house, or rather compound of activists, under the auspices of Hadji Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto. HOS was the head of the influential and revolutionary organisation ‘Serekat Islam’ at the time and most importantly the mentor of the young Bung Karno, later the founding father of Indonesia. As a young man, Kartika’s father boarded and spent some of his forming years here.


Bung Karno’s favourite book store, Toko Buku Peneleh, Peneleh, is still across the street.


Today these beautifully kept and restored tropical, semi-colonial houses are perched along a calm pedestrian alleyway, stoically reminding of a place, where history was concocted.


Visiting the sleeping quarters of Bung Karno, as Soekarno was then called


Stirring up emotions of memory and loss, Kartika was moved by the prevailing ambiance of erudition and idealism, defined by memorabilia, sepia-coloured photographs and elegant, art-deco- ish teak furniture, witnesses of a game-changing moment. It certainly was a solemn occasion and I felt privileged to be part of it.


Ibu Risma is admittedly a Soekarno devotee and often takes lots of young school children to this place to teach them about their country’s beginnings and how it came about.


Ibu Risma, Kartika and Juliarty paying tribute to the Founding Father of Indonesia

Back at the Majapahit, we had our last bonding session on global political issues, while a few seats away, a beautiful, young bride was getting prepped by her chatty girlfriends for her big day in a big dress. This is Indonesia’s future.

Jakarta was calling and it was time to say our farewells. Our 24-hour stint to a transformed Surabaya was a revelation with its memorable encounters of visionaries and doers.

A discovery of home-grown Indonesian social activism with global appeal and a cultural commitment to their citizens at large.

At the airport, we are taking our gift bags from Ibu Risma through security, they claim: ‘Surabaya – you will love every corner of it’. Indeed, we did.

Author: Joana Schliemann

By the way … Art|Jog and legacies of power

Art|Jog is a unique art fair as it is organized by artists for artists to meet collectors directly, without the intermediary of galleries.

It has become the most popular art fair in Indonesia and this year’s theme is “Legacies of Power”. It is a very timely theme.

When asked to officiate Art|Jog this year, I was honored but was also unsure. I had just returned from London and had no nanny for two weeks, so it looked difficult.

But then I saw the date — June 7 — just one day after my father’s birthday on June 6, and I thought what better way to celebrate his birthday!

My late father, the country’s first president Sukarno, was not just a leader who led the struggle for Indonesia’s independence. He also loved the arts and was one of the first Southeast Asian art collectors.

I just wonder where his collection is today and I wish it was more accessible to the public.

My father collected the work of so many Indonesian artists for the sheer love of it and to inspire people to consider their own art, develop it, promote it and value the richness of art and of artists in society.

Artists should be embraced, not feared, and my father did just that. Artists are the only ones who can communicate and express the Pancasila concept of harmony between different religions and the concept of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity), which is the basis for peace in Indonesia.

Artists require freedom of expression, which is at the root of an open society. By artists, I mean not only painters, sculptors, poets, writers, performers, musicians and filmmakers but also artisans and publishers.

Maestros like Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and Sudjojono have participated in the struggle for independence while painting.

Our history, in the 1960s, shows tension between politics and art. Indonesia has suffered decades of cultural stagnation under years of obsession with censorship and the government placing a ban on the Cultural Manifesto.

Creative freedom in Indonesia is important as it records history in a country that forgives but should not forget. Censorship is the greatest enemy of all artists and of artistic imagination and creation.

After all, art is communication and whether verbal or non-verbal, it is our most powerful tool. That is why dictators always go after the artists. Art is beyond politics and that makes it political. Artist Ai Weiwei has been questioned as China’s most dangerous man. He has been arrested and harassed.

We should soon be careful that our freedom of thought is not endangered again.

There are many ways in which artists draw attention to political and social issues. Whether it is through such overt outcries, political satire, conceptual art, theater or filmmaking.

One such important topic, the global waste crisis, was well-portrayed by the British filmmaker Candida Brady, and I have felt personally compelled to bring this film to the attention of the Indonesian public.

The waste crisis is truly global and I would like to draw attention to this in the hope it will lead to individual, regional and national action to save our planet from suffocating in plastic.

Art|Jog is the perfect arena to discuss and raise awareness of important issues as the event’s host city, Yogyakarta, has become the country’s capital for arts and culture and is drawing international attention.

Art enriches social and political life and it has a lot of potential in Indonesia. As a country with huge natural resources and a young population, let us not forget to foster our artistic talent with all the diverse messages it might bring along.

We are on the eve of our next presidential election and I would like to quote Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat’s message in Davos this year to her president: “Mr. President, take care of your artists, your intellectuals and accept that art is no crime, that it is every artist’s responsibility to make art that is meaningful, that questions tyranny, that questions injustice. It is the artist’s task to advocate change, peace and unity”.

On behalf of my father, I am grateful for events like Art|Jog for continuing the work he could not finish and for encouraging freedom of thought and creativity for all Indonesian artists.

— Kartika Soekarno