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Tearing Down Some Other Walls

What are Pieces of the Berlin Wall Doing In a Jakarta Skatepark?

For 27 years, four pieces of the Berlin Wall sat in Teguh Ostenrik's art studio. Now, they're a visible reminder of the invisible walls that still divide us all.

by Mutyara Ghani
19 September 2017, 11:00am

Photo courtesy of Teguh Ostenrik

Teguh Ostenrik was a student in West Berlin when the wall fell. Twenty-seven years later, he looks around Indonesia and still sees a lot of walls separating people from each other.

"There are 'walls' among our pluralistic society that divide us into groups like race, religion, and ethnicity," he told VICE. "That idea resonates with the message that is symbolized by the wall."

In November of 1989, Teguh watched the Berlin Wall fall. It marked an end to the Cold War, a silent ideological war that pit the United States and the Soviet Union against each other, most-visibly through a series of proxy wars left some pretty deep scars across Asia and Latin America.

So when the wall fell, Teguh was eager to get his hands on a piece of history. One year later, with the help of the Indonesian government, four pieces of the Berlin Wall arrived in Indonesia.

"I thought I could make something out of it," Teguh recalled.

Each piece is about 3.6 meters tall and 1.2 meters wide. Today they would be worth some 4 million Euros, or Rp 6.2 billion, at auction. But Teguh wasn't interested in the money. An artist, environmentalist, and self-proclaimed junk collector, Teguh wanted the pieces of the wall on display somewhere in the Indonesian capital.

Back in 1991, then-governor Wiyogo Atmodarmito agreed to install the wall somewhere in the city as a piece of public art. But the project fell apart when Teguh and the governor's administration couldn't reach on agreement on where, exactly, the wall would reside.

For years, the project remained little more than a dream. The pieces of the wall sat in Teguh's art studio, and he eventually stopped trying to find a place to display this important piece of world history.

But then last year's contentious Jakarta governor's race reminded the artist how divided the nation remained. The country champions "Bhineka Tunggal Ika"—"Unity in Diversity"—but it is still pretty divided along religious, racial, and ethnic lines. When the city's former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama ended up behind bars on a blasphemy charge, Teguh and his friend Yoris Antar, an architect, rushed to restart this project. The pair approached the jailed governor's second-in-command, the now-governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat with their plan. He was excited and rushed to get the wall installed before the end of his term.

A philanthropist who wished to remain anonymous paid for the installation of the wall at Jakarta's Kalijodo Park—a former red-light district turned into a skate park and public space.

"Let's just say he's a person with good taste in artwork and a lot of money," Teguh told me.

He's aware of the risk of the wall being vandalized once it's open to the public. Today, even an errant selfie can cause as much as $200,000 USD in damages to a piece of art. But Teguh doesn't mind. That's the risk of public art.

"If anyone paint over this mural I'm working on, so be it," he said. "Segments of the Berlin Wall are scattered around the world at various public spaces. I just want this installation to be placed where it should be—among the people."

Teguh was dressed in orange overalls when I met him at his studio. He was painting the pieces of the wall so they looked like they did in the 1980s. He's calling the installation "Patung Menembus Batas," roughly, "A Statue Crossing Boundaries." It will feature all four pieces of the wall, as well as 14 iron statues of people placed around the large structures.

"The human spirit can be as hard as steel," Teguh said. "But with some will power, we can break 'the wall' between us and rise above the differences that separate us from one another."