Thursday, June 05, 2008

National awakening museum in need of revamp

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 05/30/2008 4:41 PM | City

In contrast to the glamorous 100th National Awakening Day at the Bung Karno sports stadium, the National Awakening Museum on Jl. Abdul Rahman Saleh in Senen, Central Jakarta, is in an appalling condition.

The neoclassical building, built in 1899 for the School tot Opleiding Van Inlandsche Arsten, or Stovia, a Dutch medical school for native students, is struggling to preserve its grand history as a place where local students initiated a movement and established a modern organization, Boedi Oetomo, against colonialism in the country.

Once you walk through the main entrance, you will find parts of the building have been overtaken by white ants.

Not much national awakening memorabilia can be found here.

What can be found are faint trails of the past, like some replica Dutch sailing vessels, hundreds of reproduced photos and paintings of national heroes, reproductions of old newspapers, life-size bust models of nine people believed to be the founders of Boedi Oetomo and several dioramas.

"Apart from the building, the only originals are some furniture and medical equipment," said Edy Suwardi, the National Awakening Museum head.

The poor preservation has made it difficult for the museum's management to attain original items, Suwardi said.

"People may be willing to donate their heirlooms, but they are worried they will not be preserved."

Some of the museum's collections are poorly kept. Some photos have no labels and the ones that do are accompanied by vague explanations. Some photos have already gone missing. Only a few rooms have the correct amount of light and the right temperature.

Built as a medical school by Dutch military engineer corps, the Stovia building's design is more like a fortress or military dormitory than a medical school.

The facade above the main entrance is classical Greek in style, but the main entrance itself is a colonial fortress.

The 19th-century building has long windows inviting sunshine. Every window has two shutters and a semicircular grille fanlight attached to each one.

Some windows were restored to their original style in 1973, but glass panes have been replaced by iron bars.

Until a renovation by the Jakarta administration in 1973, the building was home to 196 households of Ambon soldiers.

During the renovations, former Stovia, Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs (MULO) and Algemeene Middlebare School (AMS) students provided photos and shared their memories of the original building.

Some changes have been made, including new doors connecting rooms, to accommodate visitors to the museum.

Suwardi said despite being of heritage status since 1983, the museum still lacked government funding.

Last year the museum received Rp 2.8 billion (US$ 300.8 million) from the government, but this year it received only Rp 1.8 billion.

Every year, the government earmarks about Rp 300 million for maintenance.

"With this amount there is not much we can do. Painting doors and window frames is cheap, but replacing old and broken materials is expensive," said Suwardi.

Suwardi said the government allocated 30 percent of the funding to fixed-expenditures, such as employee salaries and building maintenance, while the remaining 70 percent should go toward museum activities.

However, more than half of the money is used to pay its 44 employees.

"It is difficult to apply this ratio because we have many employees and obviously our expenditure on human resources is larger," said Suwardi.

Earnings from entrance fees and the museum shops form only a tiny part of their income.

Suwardi said the museum received up to 1,000 visitors a month, but since the entrance fee was set by the government in 1998 at Rp 750 for adults and Rp 250 for children, the museum does not earn much money.

In addition to rooms exhibiting photos, four rooms are dedicated to specific occasions and national awakening dioramas.

There is a Boedi Oetomo memorial, a diorama room of a Stovia lecturers' meeting, a room for a Stovia class diorama and a room depicting national heroine R.A. Kartini's classroom.

On the front corner to the left of the building is the Boedi Oetomo memorial room, which is the only room in its original state. It is believed that Raden Soetomo and eight other students held a meeting here on May 20, 1908, to establish Boedi Oetomo. Back then the room was used for anatomy studies.

In this dark room there are the bronze busts of eight people believed to be the founders of Boedi Oetomo, including Goenawan Mangoenkoesoemo, Raden Angka Prodjosoedirdjo, Gondo Soewarno, Raden Mas Goembrek, Soeradji Tirtonegoro, Moehammad Saleh and Moehammad Soelaiman.

An original human skeleton used for medical students is still hanging inside a display case. A surgery table lies next to it.

Next to the Boedi Oetomo memorial room is a room with an exhibit detailing the situation of the lecturers' meeting when Stovia director H.F. Roll defended Soetomo.

When Soetomo was about to be expelled from Stovia due to his activities in Boedi Oetomo, Roll was able to defend him with his famous saying: "Wasn't anyone among the gentlemen present here redder (more radical) than Soetomo when they were at the age of 18?"

The original table used during the meeting is on display, but the exhibit itself does not represent the real event. From paintings and photos depicting the event, it appears that eight people attended the meeting, but we only find three people in the exhibit, one being Roll.

It's common knowledge the poor management of many museums in the country is caused by a lack of funding. Not only are the collections poorly kept, but they also lack modernity. In a shop inside the museum, apart from soft drinks and snacks, don't expect to find souvenir proving you visited the museum.

"Our museum shop is run by our cooperative, which emphasizes employee welfare. We have some miniatures of the building and some T-shirts and caps, but sometimes we just give them to visitors for free," Suwardi said.

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