A pioneering new museum in Bali focusing on Indonesian masks is a one-man (and woman) show aiming to help preserve the nation’s cultural treasures and heritage.
Text by Katie Truman
With encroaching modern ‘progress’, there’s a distinct possibility that Indonesia’s priceless heritage and traditions could disappear as fast as southern Bali’s rice fields. Luckily there are people like Surabaya natives Reno and Elly Halsamer who not only recognize this, but have done something about it.
Rather than just being some fleeting whim, the Halsamer’s have been avid collectors of Indonesian heritage and cultural objects for nearly two decades, personally amassing hundreds of valuable masks, shadow puppets, daggers and decorative textiles, sourced everywhere from remote island villages to private European collections.
“The thousands of Indonesian islands each have their own unique culture and art,” explains Reno. “We want to preserve this and the magnificent heritage left behind by our ancestors so that it’s not forgotten.”
Their grand plan was always to open a museum that houses their precious, unique collection and share their cultural finds with the world – not to mention helping the nation preserve its heritage on home soil. That dream was finally realized when they opened the Indonesian Heritage Art Museum, d’Topeng Kingdom, in 2011 – and crucially, in Bali, arguably the world’s window into Indonesia. This unconventional-looking museum, located in a not-so-frequented part of Kuta, is the first of its kind in Indonesia in both concept and content and is independently-run and privately funded.
It is a one-stop show of Indonesia’s art and cultural heritage, but it is masks (topeng), however, that are the main inspiration and dominant force amongst the 6,000 or so exhibits. “Masks have individual significance (for tribes) and are symbols of their culture and island, so they vary greatly,” explains Reno. “Originally used mainly in spiritual rituals, masks later expressed beauty in art and culture – they display a wonderful range and depth of human expression.”
Within the museum, a fascinating Harry Potter-like mini-tour of the Indonesian archipelago unravels through eighteen individually-themed gallery rooms showcasing exhibits from Bali, and East, Central and West Java, to the more remote Borneo and Papua. Each islands’ distinctive cultural style permeates through these traditional hand-made masks; most carry historical significance, having been used for religious ceremonies or worship rituals in sacred dances by ethnic groups, while others originate from Java’s royal palaces with some as old as the 18th century.
Displays also include a historical array of fine ikat and batik textiles and relics from the ancient Majapahit Kingdom. Arguably the finest collections of their kind in Indonesia, there is also an outstanding assembly of aged shadow puppets – each varying by region – and rare Islamic cultural objects such as a priceless original Holy Qur`an, plus one of the world’s largest collections of antique Keris hilts. The oldest exhibit, a sacrificial stone statue from remote Leti Island, allegedly dates back to 500BC.
Unlike other Indonesian museums, this brightly-lit space is well-organized and informative, clearly explaining the exhibits and their habitats. D’Topeng Kingdom also offers a progressive, fun and interactive approach, combining education, amusement and entertainment with insightful audio-visual displays, kid’s cultural activities and theatre space for indigenous music and dance performances. All helping to achieve another of the Halsamer’s goals.“We have to educate the younger generation about the importance of our cultural heritage,” insists Reno. “It’s important to establish a record and legacy for future generations.”
Indonesian Heritage Art Museum
D’Topeng Kingdom, Open daily 9am-7pm.
Jalan Setia Budi No. 10, Kuta, Bali.
Tel: +62 361 764 777