Indonesia: Its Underappreciated Talents

Two Sundays ago my mom took me to a place in Jakarta that I had never visited before, even though I was born and raised in the city. Located in the recreational complex in North Jakarta (Ancol) where you would find amusement parks, marinas, Sea World, etc., Pasar Seni, or the Art Market is one of the less popular subsections of Ancol.

We went there to get a customized wood carving for a gift, and there were plenty of shops to choose from. The market is comprised of many small galleries and shops, and its setting natural and open, producing the feel of a traditional market, devoid of modern and sophisticated architecture. The artists are local or regional, and nearly all pieces displayed there, statues, paintings, shadow puppets, etc., are original and handcrafted. In many cases, the artists themselves are attending the shops.

Pasar Seni Ancol, North Jakarta

In other words, it was a sea of talents. One may expect that such a place would be buzzing with visitors and tourists. But that Sunday, the market was empty. The shops were open, the artists were there, but the entire time we were there, we did not pass by or see another visitor. This is not always the case of course, since there are local events and festivals held at Pasar Seni from time to time. But if one were to compare the statistics of the parks in Ancol, I would venture a confident guess that Pasar Seni is the least visited part of the complex.

It really is a shame that Pasar Seni and the artists there are underappreciated. Indonesian artworks are usually very intricate and elaborate, and their price tags would be much higher if they were brought to other countries. I got a 31″ x 23″ oil painting for about $9 USD – not the highest quality, but still very good. Some of the large paintings there were simply breathtaking, and they cost about $600-$800 USD, way lower than similar pieces found elsewhere.

The oil painting I bought.

At a gallery with the most amazing paintings, made by the brother of the shop attendant.

Wayang, or Indonesian shadow puppets.

The guy that I bought the wood carving from sold it for about $16 USD, including customization. He was from Bali, as were many of the artists there, and I think he made the carvings himself. When we asked when we could pick up the final product and whether his shop would be open on Idul Fitri (or Eid ul-Fitr, end of Ramadan, extended public holidays in Indonesia), he said we could pick it up any time we want. He would be there 24/7, since apparently, he sleeps on the floor of his shop, about a 5 meter x 5 meter space with many wood carvings of different shapes and forms.

I’m very curious about the livelihood of these artists…

Recommendations:

I really think that more people should visit Pasar Seni in Jakarta, even just for a walk. It’s a fascinating place, one that stores many interesting stories, I’m sure. You get to see beautiful artworks, interact with the artists themselves, and get a good deal. If you were looking for a gift or a piece to decorate your home, try visiting Pasar Seni instead of art shops in malls or department stores. You will likely find a better deal and you get to support local artists directly. You can bargain for lower prices, but I’d say don’t bargain too much. I’m sure the artists would appreciate it.