Word of Mouth: Jakarta

Car-free Sundays, affordable art auctions and, of course, coffee in the Indonesian capital

by Maureen Ferry Cuellar

Jakarta has come into the spotlight recently with Indonesia being hailed as an economic wunderkind. More and more, people are being drawn to the capital of this vast Southeast Asian archipelago in hot pursuit of business opportunities. Parallel to this economic progress, a local creative revolution has been stirring, producing a fresh cultural mix that is uniquely Jakarta in feel, but most certainly global in mind. Visitors who long for something more than a visit to one of Jakarta’s famous mega-malls will not be disappointed, even if it may cost a bit of time sitting in notoriously bad traffic. Here is a view into that culture which is decidedly eclectic, definitely individual, often intriguing and never dull.



To get an intimate look at what local creative minds are up to, a trip to
Dia.lo.gue in the Kemang district is a must. The space was designed by Indonesia’s most celebrated contemporary architect Andra Matin, and its name is a play on the English “dialogue” and on the native Jakartan dialect “dia,” “lo,” “gue”—which mean he/she, you and me, respectively. This name is quite important in describing the community surrounding Dia.lo.gue because it serves as a gathering space for the incubation and expression of new ideas. Not only are there regular exhibits but also evening discussions and film screenings in the green courtyard, a shop featuring local artisans and a café outfitted with sublime examples of locally designed and produced minimalist wood furniture. The most recent event featured a discussion with renowned artist Eko Nugroho and an exhibit of his DGTMB Comics collective called Postcard Revolution.


The Goods Dept

What started as a personal search for high design in tropical Jakarta, has exploded into a cultural movement that is defining a generation in Southeast Asia. Instead of lamenting the dearth of innovative retail, party and hang-out venues in Jakarta, The Goods Dept founders (Cynthia Wirjono, Anton Wirjono, Chris Kerrigan and Leonard Theosabrata) started to collaborate with young independent designers, brands and DJs in Indonesia in 2009.
The Brightspot Market was their first venture, providing a twice-yearly opportunity for the Indonesian design community to display their wares while rocking to DJ Anton’s indie beats. Noticing these local brands needed an established showcase for promotion, the Goods Dept was established in 2010.

In the process of growing this retail outlet, Brightspot and the Goods Dept have become the de facto leaders of independent Indonesian design by mentoring and nurturing such vibrant talents as Pvblic Affair, Monday to Sunday, Milcah, PotMeetsPop, and Voyej. Only five years after their first Brightspot Market, the Goods Dept has an online store, three Goods Cafe outlets and two Goods Dept storefronts, with many more in the pipeline. Of the 200+ vendors they promote, 80% are Indonesian.


Tugu Kunstkring Paleis

Set in an old colonial neighborhood in Jakarta’s Menteng area, the recently renovated, 99-year-old “Kunstkring Paleis” is one place not to miss. The revamp was masterminded by Tugu Hotel Group—famous for artfully pairing its large antiques collection with select over-the-top decorations, resulting in spaces that are fantasy lands. Tugu call their operations “The Art, Soul and Romance of Indonesia,” and any visitor will feel instantly transported, while at the same time enjoying some of the most artfully prepared dishes in town. At Kunstkring, each space is a stage set so guests can sit and become part of the play. Enjoy dinner in the dining hall while admiring murals of Indonesian hero Prince Diponogoro and sumptuous decorations from old Javanese sultans, sip cocktails at the Suzie Wong Bar, taste a bit of the colonial life at the café, browse eclectic items at the shop, or stroll through the second-floor gallery which returns the building to its origins as a center for art and culture.

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SIDHartA Auctioneer

After studying architecture and art history in the United States, Amir Sidharta returned to his native Jakarta to establish himself as respected curator, author, editor and auctioneer. With a vision to make the enjoyment of art accessible to many, SIDHartA Auctioneer’s ArtFordable auction series was created. A few times a year, SIDHartA runs an ArtFordable auction featuring up to 150 lots—including hand-picked collections from newcomers—to the delight of art lovers looking for fresh and affordable works. Given all the recent global attention to the Indonesian art scene, it is possible to find a true gem in the rough that can even be bid online from your home.


Fresh Air Fixie: Car-Free Day on Thamrin Avenue

Cultural and artistic expression is not limited to well-designed, enclosed and air-conditioned venues. It is enough to take to the streets of Central Jakarta on Sunday mornings for Car-Free Sunday to experience a cross-section of this megalopolis’ society. Habitually choked with traffic, Jakarta’s main avenue springs alive on Sunday mornings, serving as an outlet for all who are deprived of decent public parks. Started in 2007, Car-Free Sunday has become an event in itself with thousands flocking to see and be seen. From vintage “Onthel Kuno” bikes to custom fixies and low-riders, a morning spent bike-watching will leave you inspired and enamored with the relaxed and creative heart of Jakartans.


Anomali Coffee

Any review of Indonesia cannot be complete without a salute to its fertile soils and abundant natural resources. Founded in 2007, Anomali Coffee has carefully developed a selection of specialty single-origin, as well as blended roasts, all sourced within Indonesia. From Sumatra Mandailing to the west, Toraja to the north, Papua Wamena to the east and the renowned Luwak delicacy, Anomali’s coffee is of the absolute highest quality. It is served in many hotels and restaurants, and also in Anomali Cafés, which serve as gathering spaces for the city’s young and creative set. The Black Pearl blend used for espresso drinks is perhaps the city’s best kept secret.

Store image courtesy of TheGoodsDept, bar image courtesy of Tugu Kunstkring Paleis, artwork courtesy of SIDHartA, all others by Maureen Cuellar