One of the most popular transportation in Jakarta was provided by becaks, a two-seater tricycle driven by a driver from the back. Usually the becaks were decorated, some quite elaborately with floral motifs, others more elegantly, with the backs of the seats painted with paintings of scenery.
Apparently, some of the becak seat paintings painted by S. Toemon caught the attention of some affluent Jakartans living in the 1970s, who had the idea of commissioning the becak painter in order to provide him with additional income Many other affluent residents of Jakarta and expatriates asked the artist to make paintings of their houses.
I remember having seen these paintings for the first time in the house/office of Adji Damais on Jl Sunda, in the 1980s, and was very impressed by the quaint imagery. A few years ago, during a wake of a friend of my mother I noticed another becak seat painting hanging on one of the walls of the house. I noticed that it was one of Toemon’s paintings, and it gave me an idea to document the artist’s works.
Gradually I found more paintings by Toemon. Recently, when visiting friends of family during Lebaran, the sight of another of Toemon’s painting encouraged me to ask the owner more about Toemon and his story. From the lady I learnt about more owners to visit to learn more about the artist.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out too much about the artist except for his controversial life. Whether or not he is still alive still remains a mystery. Yet in any case, his works provide the owners and their family with memories about their personal life during those years, and collectively provides a unique documentary evidence about in Jakarta in the 1970s and 1980s, and the way of life of a segment of its inhabitants.
It is so much fun to see the houses as they appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, what has remained the same and what has changed, from a comparison between the old paintings and the recent photographs. In some paintings we notice that the trees and vegetation have changed or one small tree has become fully grown. Viewing Toemon’s paintings we learn to appreciate history and historical preservation. Imagine how sad it would be if the houses that he painted will one day disappear from the sight of Jakarta.
originally published in Now Jakarta 2014