Archiving Resistance



A Tale of Two Cities: Narrative Archive of Memories



by Marco Kusumawijaya (Rujak Center for Urban Studies)


Urban planning, or urban interventions in larger sense, is never neutral. Power relations always matter. The long-lasting view that urban planning is a technocratic process is strangely upheld until recently in Indonesia. In a way, it is a reproduction of colonial practices. No participation and collaboration is considered necessary, desirable or even possible. As a result, resistance always stands up against plans from above.


“Archiving Resistance” shows select documents and artifacts available in the collection of Rujak Center for Urban Studies on resistance incidents in Jakarta since Indonesian independence in 1945. Some involves the center itself or its staff.  Upon accepting the kind invitation from ARKO via Evaine Sunyoung Oh to participate in the exhibition A Tale of Two Cities: Narrative Archive of Memories, we were immediately caught by surprising realisation that perhaps a serious topical archiving of resistance is necessary and interesting to generate new perspectives and different kinds of reading the city and its historicity. But, how is there a good way of archiving resistance? Are we sure that it will perform as expected? We ended up not being sure, of course, but are willing to experiment assuming that there have been so much resistance with perhaps some material evidence and narratives. Displaying various forms of documentation and touchable artifacts could perhaps evoke some feelings and some lateral reflection.  Preparing for this exhibition is an act of recovering what have been inevitably put aside by ignorance, and hence is since changing our desire to know and to recollect.


We are grateful for being given a chance to take a first step in this type of work, and request understanding that it is yet a very limited archive at this point. We opted for the time being to relate only incidents that we can narrate more intimately. Resistance, at least the incidents that we know of, is inevitably intimate as it requires intimacy to be meaningful and persisting.




Events and Artifacts



Jakarta became the largest city in Indonesia in terms of population only after the country’s independence in 1945. It was before second to Surabaya, which gained exotic popularity and greatest growth in the beginning of 20th century as it was a major port of export for many exotic products bound for Europe and elsewhere.


The large flat plain, perhaps the largest in Java, makes Jakarta easily accommodating to growth, first horizontally and then vertically. The later being ignorant until recently of the fact that the city is actually sinking. Land subsidence is taking place at rate of between 5 and 20 centimeters per year in different parts and times of the city.


Jakarta’s first formal expansion plan is Menteng, built in the early 1920’s.  Already then some resistance took place. Two native city councillors (of the new “Municipal Council”) protested that the compensation paid to the native original landowners was too small. But the project continued and became  now a posh residential area of the old rich and VVIP in the very center of the city and the most expensive area in the city. This development, leapfrogged  kampong Kebonsirih between the the existing city center, the current Monas (Monuman Nasional, National Monument) square, and the site for the project. This leapfrogging seems to have avoided a resistance of that densely populated Kampong Kebonsirih. Indeed there was no report of any protest from that kampong. Is it a successful resistance in silence? Or is it avoided? Was it because of the “relatively ethical early modernism”?


Kebayoran Baru  was a “new town” built in 1940-1950’s with a more brutal statement, as its planner, M. Soesilo, who is the first native Indonesian urban planner professional, wrote in a letter to his critique: “… as a matter of fact, of course most inhabitants in the existing Batavia (Jakarta’s name in the old time) would not be able to afford the future township that we are building. But some of the original settlers in Kebayoran Baru itself might be able to afford it, with the money from sales of their lands.” Nevertheless, 4,500 original inhabitants of Kebayoran Baru were relocated with compensation. 2,500 of them did try to resist. But the authority has warned them, that if they refused moving with due compensation, they will be evicted with force without any compensation. After the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945 fights continued well into 1949. Kebayoran Baru was initiated still by Dutch remaining bureaucrats and technicians. The planning work was passed on to M. Soesilo at later stage.


Kebayoran Baru is 730 Ha large, 8 km away from the city center.  It is basically subdivided into blocks that consist of of small, medium and big plots. The blocks with larger plots are located in the northern half,  logically closer to the existing city’s center in the north, while those with smaller ones are in the South, edging the area that has not been developed. Surprisingly, this way of subdivision is very different from what Soesilo’s mentor, Thomas Karsten, had preached and done in other cities for at least two decades before. In Bandung, each of his blocks consist of layers of different income groups.  The larger plots are on the periphery aligning wider streets and the smaller plots on the inner layers, usually surrounding some common facilities such as market place in the center. Soesilo’s blocks separated economic classes, while Karsten’s integrated.


Build Djakarta as beautiful as possible, build it as spectacularly as possible, so that this city, which has become the center of the struggle of the Indonesian people, will be an inspiration and beacon to the whole of struggling mankind and to all the emerging forces. If Egypt was able to construct Cairo as its capital, Italy its Rome, France its Paris and Brazil its Brasilia, then Indonesia must also proudly present Djakarta as the portal of the country” (Soekarno, 1962)


The ambition worthy for the capital city as voiced by Sukarno made Jakarta his nation- building project. Itself, the ambition is a resistance to be less than other cities of the world, to be beyond a mere colonial remnant, a continuation of resistance to the colonial itself.


Sukarno managed to build a few monuments that persists until today, although some are made less visually important by more dominating new cityscape that surrounds them.

One of the more persistent project is the now Bung Karno Sport Complex and National Parliament complex. They were before intended respectively for the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO, 1962) and Conference of the New Emerging Forces (CONEFO) which did not eventually take place.


As of recently, some historians reminded us of how Sukarno treated the people that he asked to be relocated to give way to those projects. There was no resistance, they said. He went to them, told them his intention, requested their consent and agreement to move, and compensated them handsomely satisfying all their requests.


Despite many praise Sukarno’s influence on the city, little thought is given to respect some of Sukarno’s monumental sculptures in the city’s major spaces during the big development push after he was replaced by Suharto 1965.

“Before” appears as time of chaos, with men and women angrily gesticulating and debating. Then Suharto takes control – the symbol of reason and harmony. “After” shows people quietly going about their business, under the protective eye of the military. (Abeyasekere, 1987)


To achieve this stability, Suharto explicitly linked the new socio-political order to the goal of economic development. This “development” strategy welcomed capitalist lines as a strategy to stabilize economy and restore some sense of order within social life.

His developmental policy also included a peculiar Indonesian form of leadership known as “Pancasila Democracy” which also tried to configure the national identity based on his image of “Beautiful Indonesia”, while suppressing democratic life of citizens.


In May 1998 Suharto was forced to resign after 32 years of ruling. His resignation, logically an outcome of year-long economic difficulties in East Asia, followed violent chaos in Jakarta. Massive students’ protest, initially against increasing price of all basic commodities  that itself a consequence of the fall of value of Indonesian currency, rupiahs,  developed into fierce political discontent.


In the first decade after the so called “Reformasi”, 1998-2007, Jakarta was still led by a retired military general as its governor.  Privatization and capitalization on land and most urban and suburban developments were the words of the time.  Forced evictions were at its peak. The period of 2007-2012 witnessed less chaotic events, if not less number, of eviction. Civil society groups expected even less eviction after the new popular governor took office. But then he became the country’s president, and his successor proved to be more brutal in eviction. In at least one eviction occurrence military force was deployed. This was actually forbidden by the new law passed after 1998.


Jakarta Kota Proklamasi, Januari 1945-Januari 1946 (Jakarta the City of Proclamation, January 1945 – January 1946)

An interesting publication by the Government of Jakarta, it is a documentation of  select photographs, posters and poems during the first year of independence  on Jakarta’s role to resist colonial power and to consolidate independent Indonesia.


Kebayoran Baru New Town Project (1949-1950’s):

Letter from urban planner M. Soesilo to Professor of Architecture van Romondt

on Kebayoran Baru new town project,  March 1949)


The letter responded to van Romondt’s critique of the new town.


Kebayoran Baru was a “new town” with a brutal statement by its planner, the first native Indonesian urban planner professional.  “As a matter of fact, of course the existing inhabitants of the area would not be able to afford the future township that we are building. They will have to move.” Indeed,  of the 4,500 existing inhabitants, 2,500 have tried to resist. But the authority has warned them, that if they refused moving with due compensation, they will be evicted with force without any compensation.


The Indonesian town by Dutch Scholar
(Wertheim, editor, 1953)

The book is among the first published after the war on Indonesian cities in the first decades of the 20th century. It reveals social and economic problems as well as housing condition in the colony. It mentioned Kebayoran Baru new town project and a debate between M. Soesilo, the architect of the new town, and Prof. Von Romondt about it.


“However, since, it, contrary to the original design, provides housing primarily for a relatively well-to-do social group, the project has brought little grist to the mill of low-price housing. Also of interest has been a discussion between Professor von Romondt and Soesilo on the character of the Indonesian town of the future, with the Dutch scholar attaching more importance than the Indonesian engineer to a search for a style of urban architecture and urban planning rooted in Indonesian traditions.”


Thamrin-Sudirman Avenue

Part of Sukarno’s project of transforming Jakarta into a modern capital of certain pride.

Thamrin-Sudirman avenue was developed to connect other Soekarno’s prestigious projects such as Hotel Indonesia (1960-1962), Sarinah Department Store (1963), the sport complex for the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO, 1962) and conference facilities for The Conference of the New Emerging Forces (CONEFO, 1965) that did not eventually take place to the National Monument (1960-1966) square to the northern and to Kebayoran Baru to the south.


Sudirman Central Business District

In period of early to late 1990’s Jakarta experienced the first large scale high intensity private property development. The Sudirman Central Business District replaced about 5,000 family homes. One of them is the family of the famous and very uch respected senior architect, member of the first generation Indonesian architects that graduated from a European university, Han Awal.


Homo Ludens (J. Huizinga, 1952) is a seminal book by the Dutch philosopher J. Huizinga on the importance of playing. The book was discovered abandoned in a house the night before it was bulldozed together with about 5,000 other houses to give way to a new development now called ‘Sudirman Central Business District’ (SCBD) in 1994.  The house, which also sheltered an architectural design studio, belonged to of a very respectable and beloved senior architect, Han Awal (born as Han Hoo Tjoan, died in 2016) that tried to resist to no avail and eventually decided to receive compensation money as the only option available.




Kampung Anyar: Community Evicted after New Elevated Railway.


The city elevated segments of its railroad that pass the dense inner city, thus freeing the space on the ground. The project started in 1988 and was completed in 1992. Soon the space was occupied by urban poor communities. They were evicted in 2001 (?) by the railway company. They fought back by bringing the case to the court, claiming that the railway company no longer had a right over the land after they elevated the railroads above. Indonesian agrarian law indeed stated that the ground was allowed to be used by the railway company only for railroad, and since this “function” no longer applies, they should let go the use of the on-ground space, and so the communities can use it and even request titles on it.


Belantara Jakarta

(Herve Dangla, 1994)

The French photographer took pictures of  Jakarta people, the elite as well as the ordinary, some old some young, together with the cityscapes and  scenes of heritage and other iconic images of Jakarta. Some resisting changes, some resisting giving-up against all odds.



Fencing of Monas Park, 2003


The park surrounding the National Monument was never fenced before, even during the authoritarian Suharto regime. Ironically it was fenced after the Reformasi that go Suharto down. About 1,000 people protested a resistance and formed human chain around the park, but was not successful in preventing the project. It has since been fenced, with only a few entry gates provided to control access to the park.


Imagining Jakarta (Workshop and Exhibition, 2004)

Imagining Jakarta catalogue

(Marco Kusumawijaya, Rifky Effendi,, Hivos, 2004)

Imagining Jakarta is a multi-disciplinary collaborative  workshop and exhibition by writers/poets, photographers, architects, graphic designers, sound artists, visual and artists to imagine differently different places and issues in Jakarta. It encourages generating alternatives ideas to counter top-down plans technocratically produced by the government.


Rakyat Miskin Kota Menulis Riwayatnya Sendiri (Urban Poor Writing Their Own Chronicles, Afrizal Malna and Urban Poor Consortium eds. 2003)

A book compiling stories written and illustrated  by multiple members of the urban poor communities in Jakarta, curated by the poet and writer Afrizal Malna. It provides glimpses of their daily personal resistance against elitist urban planning and development practices imposed on the city.


Perayaan Kemerdekaan di Kampung

Independence Day Celebration in Kampong, Digital print copy of original painting on a mat made of woven pandanus leaves

(Cepot, 2000’s)


On the height of forced eviction campaign by the government of Jakarta, NGO Urban Poor Consortium and the communities that they have helped get organised also increase their anti-eviction campaign.  Poet/writer Afrizal Malna helped curating artistic engagements. Many professional artists performed or simply assisted in several events of the campaign. that lasted several years. Out of the communities, some talents came forward. Cepot, one of them,  painted on mats of woven leaves with the cheap wall paints to insist on their contributions and rights,  tell their struggles and express their minds.   Mats or tikar  in Indonesian language, are very close to Indonesian life of families and communities. Mats transform a simple floor of a house or a ground in the landscape into meaningful places, charging them with norms, positions and relations, and ways of behaving.  Tikar is hand-woven. In rural areas, a tikar is often woven by members of the families for their own use.


Urban Poor Consostium (UPC) is one of the most important NGO’s working with urban poor communities in many cities in Indonesia. They help urban poor communities getting organised, rising awareness about their conditions, contributions and rights  among themselves and Indonesian society at large, advocating pro-poor and pro-rights policies as well as  finding concrete solutions for their housing, livelihood and other problems.



Koalisi Warga Jakarta 2030: Jakarta Citizens Coalition Rejecting the Top-down Jakarta Spatial Plan 2030. In 2011, weary with repeated problems of flood, traffic and other issues, activists and citizen protested against a spatial planning exercise that the city is quietly doing. A survey revealed that 93 % of its population were not informed at all about this planning process. The high expectation of that time was that the spatial plan should engage its citizens in order to really and concretely target at responding and solving the city’s real problems


Artificial Islands (2001- …)

Jakarta started issuing permits for developers to build artificial islands in its bay. Resistance from civil society and fisherfolk communities are based on its environmental and social-economic problems.  The islands do not serve any real need of the city, despite all claims made by the developers and their consultants.


Marco Kusumawijaya’s books Jakarta Metropolis Tunggang-langgang (Jakarta Helter Skelter Metropolis) and Kota Rumah Kita (City Our Home) were published in 2004-2005. They compile his writings published in 5 preceding years in several print and digital media, critiquing the way in which Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia have been developing.

The books contain photographs by Erik Prasetya (see below) and Peter Bialobrzesky (coverfor the second book)


Rayuan Pulau Palsu (The Tempation of the Fake Islands) is a documentary of the voices of the fisheefolks by Watchdoc, 2016)
Jakarta Estetika Banal: a Photografic Essay Book

(Erik Prasetya, January 2011).

This photographic essay book is the result of more than 10 years of Erik’s work on Jakarta and its people. He captured different people of different social and economic groups and walks of life in their daily moments of  resisting to give-up to metropolitan ordeal. The book also recorded the events in 1997-1998 that lead to the fall of  president Suharto. It portraits the amalgamation process of collective will  to dismiss the persistent authoritarian regime. The power resists extinction. The people resists its persistence.


Eviction: Kampung Pulo-Bukit Duri – Kalijodo

In two years 2015-2016, there had been 306 forced evictions in Jakarta. (Two reports by Jakarta Legal Aid Institute about evictions)


Evictions in the last decade have new pretext: climate adaptation. This seems to also be the case in some other metropolises. In the case Jakarta, sea water level at the bay of Jakarta is rising at about 6mm per year while land subsidence is taking place at a rate between 3 and 20 cm per year in different times and periods. One measure that the authority is taking is to wall the water ways (some rivers, some canals) with concrete.  Settlements along the river and canal banks have been destroyed, their community evicted, to give space for the “concretization” or “normalization” project.   In total circa 300 clusters are identified for eviction. What emerged along are co-production about histories, riverine traditions, on-site rehabilitation alternatives, re-naturalisation alternatives. Resistance in Kampung Pulo was followed by reciprocal violence between the police/military forces and the community. In Bukit Duri the people resisted the violence. In Kalijodo resistance did not have a chance facing the huge force mobilized by the government.


Eviction: Kampung Aquarium


Eviction was done for the sake of coastal defense and heritage conservation. The settlement was demolished without clear plan about what to do after demolition.


The community resisted the demolition without success, but some members succeeded in returning and built makeshift shelters. Part of the community manages to continue functioning, as is apparent in persistent occurrences of community meetings among the ruins, and a plan that they have so far produced to re-settle the site. Resistance is not about fighting against the physical force of demolition, but in the will to stay, even if it is because of non-existence of other options. More than one year after, nothing is known about its future plan. Some of the community members return and are developing a plan for reconstruction. This take a new form of resistance, which is by deploying a plan and architectural design to fill the gap of the non-existence of government’s plan, and to negotiate with politicians, in this case a then candidate governor who has become the governor elect after the election on April 19th.


Political Contract between Jakarta Urban Poor Linkage and Candidate Governor (Now Governor Elect), 2017.

23 communities co-signed a contract with a candidate governor who is now the governor elect. The contract is elaborate and seriously developed and negotiated. The then candidate governor signaled that he will take the contract seriously and intends to execute it. Can this resist the pretext of the climate change and environmental improvement programme? Apparently it depends on creative thinking in developing eco-social approach that could simultaneously solve environmental problems and improve housing and livelihood conditions of the urban poor.


Constitutional Review: Jakarta Legal Aid Institute is requesting Constitutional Court to annul a clause in Indonesian agrarian law that is often used by the government to evict people by force. Marco Kusumawijaya and many other activists testified in the constitutional court.


A Personal Letter by Elisa Sutanudjaja to Archbishop of Jakarta, questioning the silence of the catholic church with regards to on-going evictions, requesting due reading of the new encyclical Laudato Si by Pope Francis. Why does the church not resist?



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