Jakarta's Shining Star - The dazzling creative influence of an Indonesian artist on Raffles Jakarta



The dazzling creative influence of a late Indonesian artist is imprinted on Raffles Jakarta and its owner

Stepping into Raffles Jakarta, the visitor’s gaze is drawn to an imposing, floor-to-ceiling painting that fills the backdrop of the hotel lobby. Depicting three buxom, long-haired women, one nursing a child, wearing Malay traditional blouses in bright fuchsia, blue and purple, the painting is based on the work of the Indonesian artist and activist Hendra Gunawan. It sets the tone of this latest addition to Jakarta’s five-star hotel scene.


Left to right:wall panels in The Writers Bar at Raffles Jakarta are inspired by the work of Hendra Gunawan; Gunawan's fondness for nature is reflected throughout the hotel; floor-to-ceiling windows offer spectacular views of Jakarta

“Each Raffles hotel has a unique story to tell and its own individual personality,” says General Manager Richard Schestak. “Raffles Jakarta represents a unique blend of both Indonesian and global influences that gives it a true sense of place. We provide the classic Raffles service with a dash of Indonesian spirit through the dynamic soul of Hendra Gunawan. The vibrant colours and flowing strokes complete the romantic and classical architecture that captures the essence of the artist.”

Gunawan’s influence is unmistakable throughout the hotel’s 173 luxurious rooms and suites, which are some of the largest in the city. To the right of the lobby is The Writers Bar, echoing the revered institution at Raffles Singapore. The Jakarta version is an oasis of art and nature with vibrantly coloured, Gunawan-style artwork set in wall panels. Such homages to the artist, whose work was rarely seen until after his death in 1983, is due to Raffles Jakarta’s owner, Ir Ciputra, a passionate art lover, architect and property developer whose Ciputra Group has become synonymous with residential and commercial projects across the country. The hotel is located next to the Ciputra Artpreneur Centre, dedicated to art and theatre and Gunawan’s work, in the Ciputra-developed commercial hub of Kuningan at the heart of Jakarta’s Golden Triangle.

Raffles Jakarta represents a unique blend of both Indonesian and global influences that gives it a true sense of place

Ciputra’s own home, located in a leafy part of Pondok Indah, a Ciputra elite residential area in South Jakarta, almost feels like a Gunawan museum. He met the artist 50 years ago in Bandung, the capital of West Java, when Ciputra was a student at the Bandung Technology Institute (ITB). Their lives took different paths. Gunawan was a left-wing sympathiser who was imprisoned between 1965-1978 for his revolutionary art and political activism against poverty and colonialism at a time when Communism was anathema to the government of Indonesia. During this time, his work was rarely seen or written about.

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Left to right:one of the 173 inviting suites and guest rooms at Raffles Jakarta; Gunawan's works adorn the hotel's walls; sweeping lines are a feature of the elegant interiors

Yet Ciputra stayed true to his passion for the artist’s work. “Hendra’s work was my first love,” says the 83-year-old, his eyes shining bright and his voice quivering with feeling. ‘What drew me to his art were the vividness and vibrancy of the colours, the spontaneity of the lines, the depiction of the everyday life of ordinary Indonesians and yet with an imagination and energy that were unfettered.”

The ceiling above Ciputra’s dining room is a Sistine Chapel of Gunawan’s paintings, while his enormous garden is an outdoor gallery of sculptures – mainly fishermen, farmers and villagers – inspired by Gunawan’s subjects. A painting in one of the many sitting-rooms, painted for Ciputra himself, features portraits of Indonesia’s great painters, including Affandi and Basuki Abdullah, composed as if in competition with one another.

What Hendra captured was the dynamism and promise of this country

“To me, however, Hendra was the real genius, even better than van Gogh,” says Ciputra. “His work embodied not only his creativity. It spoke of his philosophy of life, a love for Indonesia and the people, and an understanding of the country’s history and place in the world.” The entrepreneur clearly feels an affinity with the artist: “What he captured was the dynamism and promise of this country. In this, I see us both as philosophers. Always thinking of the future.”

Left to right:Preparing one of Jakarta Raffles elegant suites for a memorable stay; Jakarta's dramatic skyline; a welcoming drink

By the time Gunawan had passed away in 1983, Ciputra owned more than 100 of his works. It was his private obsession. “Some 30 years ago, I told Hendra that I would build a museum dedicated to him. It was always at the back of my mind. I guess the Ciputra Artpreneur Centre is my way of fulfilling my words.”

These days, Prof Dr Satrio Road, where the Ciputra Artpreneur Centre is located, is part of a thriving commercial district. Twenty years ago, when Ciputra first set his sights on the area, it was undeveloped. What others regarded as a no-man’s land, Ciputra saw as a potential world of glamour and glitter, similar to what he had seen in Singapore’s Orchard Road and Tokyo’s Ginza.

He came up with the masterplan for Ciputra World 1 almost two decades ago, but it wasn’t until recently that it finally opened to the public. Now this mix of commercial high-rises, shopping malls, restaurants and luxury apartment blocks, as well as the arts centre and Raffles Jakarta, are frequented by local and international business people, foreign diplomats and expatriates as well as Jakarta’s socialites and thriving middle classes.

With Raffles, we share the same interest. That is, our love for art and culture

“Having world-class venues and a reputable hotel is my way of bringing Indonesia to an international standard,” Ciputra says with pride. “I’m optimistic about the strength of the Raffles brand. I’ve stayed in Raffles Singapore several times and I’m confident that this will be a place of choice for guests looking for quality, class and service. Moreover, with Raffles, we share the same interest. That is, our love for art and culture.”

Left to right:the exterior of Raffles Jakarta; the hotel's General Manager, Richard Schestak, in front of a Gunawan-inspired painting in the lobby; modern, high-rise Jakarta

“I was born into a family of entrepreneurs,” says Ciputra, who is an Indonesian of Chinese descent. “I lived and breathed entrepreneurship. It made me who I am. But not many Indonesians are exposed to this type of environment of taking risks and doing things for yourself: of creating jobs as opposed to looking for a job.”

He sees education as crucial and has dedicated a lot of his energy and resources into building schools and universities. As well as the Ciputra Group’s many development projects, to date Ciputra has built 14 schools with entrepreneurial curriculums as well as four universities that have produced 30,000 graduates with the same number of students currently studying.

My dream is to help anyone become an entrepreneur

His many books have also earned him recognition as Indonesia’s entrepreneurship guru – and he’s not finished yet. “My dream is to help anyone become an entrepreneur and to create millions of entrepreneurs in Indonesia,” he says. “I am positive that with this kind of spirit, Indonesia can be a developed country that can take her place alongside others in the world.”

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