According to some Indonesian experts, the act of conservation is similar to a grandmother rediscovering her youth. Static and frozen monuments, like old dusty albums and decaying physique, are dead history, and not attractive to the present time. Whereas a true conservation effort reveals the body and soul of heritage as a living and relevant history.
A conservation expert is like a surgeon of history. Based on historical records, he or she determines the authentic form of a certain time to refer to. The conservation expert evaluates history critically, not romantically, fully realizing that history is a present interpretation of a past. He or she must also innovate to tackle the things that have slipped from documented history.
In this kind of surgery, it’s usual to use the latest technology, methods and materials to extend the lifespan of a patient. Rejuvenation is not only about beauty, but also about wellbeing, and more importantly, a restoration of a past role to render it relevant with the present
This exhibition, presenting five conservation projects in Indonesia endowed with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, narrates such stories through texts, photographs, documents, objects and videos. Each conservation site has a unique story. The Virtuous Bridge in Medan is a functional monument to commemorate someone whose social spirit broke through racial, religious and national boundaries. The National Archives Building in Jakarta, more than 250 years old, is a silent witness of Batavia’s history to become the Jakarta we know today. The elegant De Driekleur in Bandung is a visionary manifestation by a Dutch architect who supported the new society that would become Indonesia. Mbaru Niang traditional houses in Wae Rebo, Flores Island, are legacies rebuilt for the sake of cultural knowledge transfer among generations. Lastly, the conservation of C.P. Wolff Schoemaker’s conservation in Bandung is a tribute to the services of the eccentric architect for the city of Bandung.
This exhibition is a part of an effort to spread the knowledge about conservation practice that essentially is not just concerning technical matters. It’s more than that and the works in this exhibition reveal the actual values for the present time: community involvement, traditional expertise, flexibility toward building conversions and cultural diversity. Each site is represented by a story with a distinguished focus.
In the end, a conservation practice is a cultural practice interlaced with history. Considering that history is a process, it is a responsibility of the conservation act to make history relevant and actual in the present. So much so, to quote an expert, that the rejuvenated Grandmother’s charm is not only physical, making her youthful once more, but also spiritual—a beautiful soul existing in a new era.