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Arts and Culture for Expats in Indonesia

Submitted: October 2014


The most famous traditional music of Indonesia is gamelan (‘percussion’), which is an ensemble that includes tuned metal percussion instruments, gongs, drums and bamboo flutes. Generally, an instrument called a metallophone plays the central melody while the others play complimentary harmonies, with drums providing a laid-back rhythm. Gamelan has a chimey and dreamlike quality, and the instruments are imbued with much spirituality and believed to be linked to heaven. For this reason, gamelan performers will never step over their instruments for fear of breaking the threads connecting them to heaven. Here is a link to a video showing an entire gamelan concert, though it does not pick up fully until around 10 minutes in. Gamelan is most popular in ceremonies on Java and Bali, though it can be found in venues all around Indonesia as it is the ‘national orchestra’ in a sense.

One of the more popular contemporary styles of Indonesian music is dangdut, an interesting mix of genres that incorporates disco drum patterns, traditional folk melodies and instruments, and modern rock instruments such as electric guitars and basses. Here is a link to a young band playing in this style; if you like the style, you will likely find venues of all sizes putting on dangdut acts.

There are also many Indonesians playing familiar styles of pop, rock and jazz around the country, in venues ranging from the underground Rossi Fatmawati or Café Mondo’s weekly High Fidelity night to the larger Jakarta Convention Center or Mata Elang International Stadium, which have both featured large international acts.


Art Galleries and Museums

There is a rich history of art in Indonesia, from the 35,000 year old cave paintings in Sulawesi (Celebes) to the beautiful contemporary works in Edwin’s Gallery in Jakarta. If you are looking for historic Indonesian art, the Museum Pasifika in Bali is an excellent choice, containing notable pieces by artists from Indonesia and other Asian countries as well as works celebrating Indonesia from European artists. In recognition of the gallery’s achievements, it has been awarded the Wonderful Indonesia award by the Ministry of Tourism, cementing it as a must-see. Alternatively, the Tugu Kunstkring Paleis is an innovative art hotel, incorporating exhibitions on the upper floor and a fine dining restaurant on the lower floors, giving a chance to experience artistry for two senses.

If your tastes in art fall more towards the contemporary side, the Indonesian National Gallery can be found in Central Jakarta and contains modern works in the form of paintings, sculptures and other cross-disciplinary media. Another excellent gallery is Art:1 (previously Mon Décor), which is devoted to both the old Indonesian masters and the contemporary art of the country. Finally, if you wish to view some up-and-coming talents from Indonesia, visit Artsphere, dedicated to the exciting works of young and fresh artists both from Indonesia and the international world. Contemporary Art in Indonesia has a full list of galleries and spaces here.

As for the museums of Indonesia, the National Museum in central Jakarta is also known as the Elephant Museum due to the large bronze sculpture of an elephant outside, donated by a king of Thailand in the late 19th century. This museum contains prehistoric and archaeological artifacts from Indonesia’s distant past as well as ethnographic and colonial collections. In addition, there is an exhibition hall that aims to provide a complete exploration of all aspects of Indonesian life, from the environment to technology and science. Another option is the Jakarta History Museum, which has collections from prehistory to modernity in the form of textiles, crystals, porcelain, bones, and even execution tools. This museum also has an old prison under the building; this is visible from the garden from where you can still see the huge iron ball-and-chains that were used to restrain prisoners. There is a whole list of museums and places of historical interest here.




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