Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa was the sultan of Banten during the kingdom’s golden age in the 1600s and has been recognized as one of Indonesia’s national heroes for his opposition to Dutch colonialism. But when part of a statue depicting Tirtayasa’s noble figure was found in Banten’s Kalimalang River in Serang about two weeks ago, discarded and covered in mud, most locals didn’t recognize it.
But soon after word of the statue spread, some people acknowledged that they did recognize it and had in fact seen it before. That’s because it was not a relic from hundred of years ago but actually a relatively recent piece of art, one that had been erected in Serang in 1998 but was ultimately torn down over religious concerns before somehow ending up in the river.
Muflikhah, a former member of the Serang Regency Legislative Council (DPRD), confirmed to Detik that the DPRD had decided to tear down the statue in 2003 over concerns that the statue could be considered shirk (a form of idolatry that is banned in Islam).
“We did not want it to become a cult, people sometimes go on pilgrimage and perhaps it might be misinterpreted,” Muflikhah said, adding that the council had only ordered the statue taken down and he did not know how it ended up in the river.
Banten artist Tubagus Ahmad Fauzi was also interviewed by Detik and told the news outlet that while the council said they were concerned with shirk, he and other local artists suspected that there were political motivations behind the statue’s removal. He said that he and other members of the local art community tried to fight the removal, making the point that by the same logic they would have to take down all of the statues in the area. But ultimately their arguments were ignored by the DPRD and the statue was taken down.
The fate of the sultan’s statue, which currently sits by the side of a road, is not yet clear. But its removal certainly echoes similar incidents that happened much more recently in which concerns about religious piety led to protests about indigenous Indonesian art and culture, such as protests by Islamic hardliners against Banyuwangi’s Gandrung Sewu Festival and the cancellation of the traditional Javanese sedekah laut ceremony in Cental Java’s Bantul regency, both of which were attacked over concerns that they could be considered polytheistic and invite the wrath of God in the form of natural disasters.