Nuarta ‘resurrects’ tallest Wisnu statue

by I Wayan Juniarta on 2013-07-24

True scale: Workers weld the head part of the Wisnu statue in Nuarta’s workshop in Bandung on Tuesday, while in the foreground is the model of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue. BD/I Wayan JuniartaTrue scale: Workers weld the head part of the Wisnu statue in Nuarta’s workshop in Bandung on Tuesday, while in the foreground is the model of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue. BD/I Wayan Juniarta

After a long hiatus of nearly 14 years, the construction of the 126-meter tall Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK), dubbed the tallest sculpture in the world, will be continued and is expected to be completed in early 2015, Bali-born Bandung-based sculptor Nyoman Nuarta announced Tuesday.

GWK, a project comprising the monument and a cultural park, is an expensive endeavor 25 years in the making. It had a promising start before being continuously plagued by critical problems, ranging from the global financial crisis, a change of regime, lack of investors and internal strife, to opposition from Balinese scholars and activists. These problems derailed the construction for many years.

By 1999, the main buildings of the cultural park had been completed, but the statue was far from completion. The gigantic head and chest of Wisnu, the head part of the Garuda, and several minor parts were already installed on the site when the money dried up and Nuarta had to scramble to find committed investors. The project then entered its longest hiatus to date.

“I am optimistic that this time we will be able to complete the statue and present it to the Balinese people,” Nuarta stated in a jubilant tone at his spacious studio in Bandung, West Java.

The optimistic tone was the result of an inked deal between Nuarta, the GWK Foundation and a giant real estate company, PT Alam Sutera Realty, which agreed to shoulder the cost of building the statue, projected at Rp 150 billion (US$15.12 million), and buying out 80 hectares of land on the site. This means the company has basically bought out 82 percent of the shares in the company that owns GWK, including all of Nuarta’s share.

“I don’t care about the shares, as long as the statue is built so I can keep my promise to the Balinese people.”

Later on he escorted journalists into his workshop, where dozens of workers were busy welding and constructing various parts of the statue, which was inspired by Wisnu the Sustainer, the second primary deity in the Balinese Hindu trinity, riding the mythical hawk, Garuda.

The statue is so huge that its main parts must be cut into smaller pieces before being transported to the GWK cultural park in Jimbaran, south Bali. Once on that site, workers will weld the pieces together before mounting the statue on a core structure made of a combination of concrete and steel.

“Tomorrow morning the first batch of parts will be transported to Bali using a trailer truck,” project manager Djuki Ridwan said, adding that the whole statue would take up the space of 400 trailers.

Nuarta also said that he had made a critical decision on the existing head and chest of Wisnu, which had become the icon of the cultural park. Initially, it was intended to be the part of the GWK statue.

“Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika and members of the tourist industry suggested that the head and chest be left untouched in its present condition and site because it has become the icon of the park. I think their suggestion is valid, therefore, we will build another statue of Wisnu for the GWK and the whole statue will be constructed on a new site, some 300 meters from the current piece,” he said, adding that the change would cost around Rp 20 billion.

Nuarta conceived GWK around 1990 and his idea soon gained support among influential figures in the country, including the then-Bali governor Ida Bagus Oka, former tourism minister Joop Ave and former mining and energy minister Ida Bagus Sudjana.

In 1993, Nuarta presented the plan to then-president Soeharto, who embraced it warmly and instructed his ministers to provide Rp 30 billion to finance the project.

In Bali, the plan received mixed response as scholars and activists accused it of being a pork barrel project, while opposing groups praised it as a clever way to transform barren land in Jimbaran into a promising tourist attraction. Today, an average of 2,000 tourists visit the cultural park each day.

“In light of the new development, including Nuarta’s initiative to position GWK as a place for a global cultural dialogue, I believe we have to view GWK as more than just a physical monument but also as a cultural symbol,” noted thinker Taufik Rahzen said.

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