Thirteen centuries ago, a group of artists and religious leaders remaining anonymous until presently began founding a structure of massive rocks I a location regarded sacred and encircled by volcanoes in Central Java. Apparently, they didn’t live long enough to see the finished construction of what they had initiated but they knew very well that the coming generations would complete, marvel and maintain it. (Daoed Joesoef, Borobudur, Penerbit Kompas, 2005)
For us who live in today’s world to see, observe, and interpret Borobudur, questions around it and around our own relevant roles remain to be answered. Borobudur as an historic artifact, an art object and an element of Buddhist rituals has kept silent. The ‘crazy’ idea of Syailendra Dynasty kings to show the world that they were able to make real a dream doesn’t seem very striking to many people today. Very possibly, the region or the dynasty was affluent in those days. Yet, will the structure that comprises 504 Buddha statues, 72 stupas and 4 passages embellished by 1300 panels of stone carvings remain inspirational for us in our contemporary setting?
Such social concern provides the background for us (UNESCO Office Jakarta, Department of Culture and Tourism of The Republic of Indonesia, Jogja Gallery, and all our partners) to run this exhibition. Borobudur as an historic site that belongs to Indonesia (and the world) is a precious heritage. This exhibition forms a medium and space to explore various aspects that remain vague concerning the monument. The exhibition tries to make its historical details easy to understand by people at large without denigrating the roles of scholars and scientists. Indonesian historians, religious people and artists are challenged to reassure the world on the significance of Borobudur.
Mysteries & Interpretive Dialog
This exhibition is forum for persons and instructions having concerns for Borobudur to meet each other. We believe that art offers an attractive ‘middle way’ in the uncovering of various aspects of Borobudur that have become mysteries. While religious leaders function to voice spiritual beauty and bliss, historians reveal the charm of theory and rational thinking, art provides the way of imagination of one – together with the founders of Borobudur – to walk the various realms of dreams ever conceived.
Visual arts apparently offer support to the validity of historians’/scientists’ findings while providing the medium for new assumptions and creativity to emerge. Visual arts refer to creative attempts in the realm of sight and to the revealing of images no longer restricted by certain standardized approaches, conventions, schools, styles and artistic norms already established. It gives freedom by which individuals can find the suitable ways to put across their own findings. Visual arts also include maps, sketches, comics, performances, documentary photos, posters and others materials (those not acknowledged as fine art in the past) in addition to paintings, sculptures and prints (that used to be conventionally taken as ‘art’). Furthermore, visual arts are not defined by just its physical materials but also inspired by the interpretations of its viewers. That’s why this exhibition forms a forum of interpretive dialog for anyone through the media of visual arts. This is because we believe that every person has his/her imaginative and interpretive abilities since he/she is aware of his/her own life.
Illustrations of Ideas and Thoughts
During the curation process, various ‘findings’ about Borobudur were revealed. The ‘middle way’ that we pursue accommodates and integrates different fictions, myths, hypotheses and theories hitherto existent. This exhibition mediates personal opinions as well as the results of formal discussions as found in significant publications. In this exhibition of twenty works of competition winners, conjectures and perceptions, which might seem too mischievous, fantastic, allegorical, narrative symbolical, and even absurd and abstract, are presented. This exhibition is designed to display notions of Borobudur as represented by some selected works from among the competition participants, the works by invited artist, as well as works based on scholarly/research findings, which together seem to point to a new interpretation of the monument. It turns out that Borobudur still keeps mysteries for rational consideration and imaginative reflection.
Certain works try to articulate the existence of Borobudur and its mysteries (further, see ‘Ten Main Subject Matter of the Exhibitions’ some place else). Borobudur becomes rich with metaphors and provides as a source of inspirations for individuals to manifest what they have in mind. These interpretations by artists, scientists, and believers of today represent the richness of a civilization that was perhaps already forecast by the founders of the monument. With that in mind, this exhibition seems to open the path not only to visit the past but also to prefigure the future by drawing on an old artifact.
Mysteries as Collective Pride and Identity
By this exhibition, we are not going to only deal with the results of research studies and interpretations that are useful for Borobudur itself but also with the possibility of new creations with relevance for the image and development of Indonesian culture and art. Issues and mysteries around Borobudur being explored here offer the chance to elevate the quality and development of Indonesian culture and art on the international level. On the basis of its high culture root represented by Borobudur, Indonesian art has the opportunity to feature a subject matter regarded significant by the international world. This means we have a source of inspirations that may lead our Indonesian art to become a “topic”.
The inspirations from and the subject matter of Borobudur can give a possible ‘collective identity’ we’ve been searching for. And from Borobudur we can accumulate the results of comparative studies over time to help us in dealing with the developments of various contemporary issues underway.
In a flash various questions raid our heads. Two of them are quite crucial. Firstly, I am feeling ashamed sometimes regarding as a local person, in among of the pride for having Borobudur, there still not balancing with the mature way for taking care of it. Will do the Borobudur as an only matter continuing considered? Secondly, what are the possibilities for religions, science and art spinning will provide for the emergence of interesting intellectually encounter? So, it could simultaneously provide the possibility a new creativity which is more gigantic – as well as the way artists, scholars & scientists, and religious leaders managed to generate when they joined to work together in building the Borobudur thirteen centuries ago.
[Source: Mikke Susanto, The Thousand Mysteries of Borobudur, Jogja Gallery, Yogyakarta: 2007]