If you’ve walked by South Hicks Street and Moore Street in the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed a new mural in the works. It’s something that Diana Widjojo, co-owner and chef of Hardena, has wanted to bring to the restaurant for years, not just to share her family’s culture, but also to reflect the vast and diverse experiences of the Indonesian community in Philadelphia.
Indonesia is the world’s largest island country consisting of over 17,000 islands, with Java, the world’s most populous island, being home to more than half of the country’s population. Its depth of diversity is due to hundreds of years of contact with Chinese, Indian, Arabic, Dutch, and Portuguese, as well as other cultures that have influenced the religions, languages, food, and art present throughout Indonesia.
In the United States, Widjojo, whose family immigrated from Java, says Indonesian families tend to be scattered. There isn’t really a centralized Indonesian presence and not much of a sense of community, not even in New York City where Widjojo grew up. But in Philadelphia, she says, there’s a high concentration of Indonesian people, particularly in South Philadelphia. “We wanted to show the tight-knit community that we are,” says Widjojo, explaining the intent of Hardena’s new mural. “We wanted to show that we’re all made up of so many different backgrounds and different religions, but we acknowledge that we are all Indonesians.”
Widjojo approached the Mayor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs with her idea to bring an Indonesian mural to the exterior walls of Hardena. Along with the Porch Light Department at Mural Arts, a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, whose focus is on creating meaningful works of public art, Widjojo set out to create a body of work that would help tell that story.
Winnie Sidharta Ambron, an Indonesian painter based in Queens, N.Y., designed the mural, which charts the journey of Indonesian immigrants to Philadelphia. “I wanted to create a work that shows the different phases of immigrant life, like past, present, and then hopefully the future,” says Ambron. “It’s this idea of combining mythology, storytelling, traditional crafts, and art, but also the current life of immigrants in South Philly.”
Every mural has a story. Murals are larger-than-life depictions of people who came before us and of events that brought us to where we are today. They’re visual representations of who we are and who we are capable of becoming. Just as they are walls covered in layers of paint, murals are stories with layers of meaning.
The mural being installed at Hardena is called “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” Javanese for “Unity in Diversity,” which is the official national motto of Indonesia. Incorporating batik, a Javanese dyeing pattern used on fabric, Ambron creates a tapestry of the diverse influences like language, artwork, and food that resonate within the Indonesian and Southeast Asian communities. Anchored in the center is the cosmic mountain, a symbolic representation of a journey that, as Ambron explains, is often used in Javanese shadow puppetry to indicate a change of scene when there’s a big event.
The mural also incorporates the specific experiences of the Widjojo family. On the left-hand side, there’s a woman in a red apron who Widjojo says looks like her mom. There’s also a man pushing the food cart which she says represents the food cart they have inside the restaurant. But the most meaningful part of the mural to Widjojo is the little Pride Parade next to the food cart. “I’m so grateful to incorporate that because the LGBTQ community in Indonesia is very much a closeted thing,” she says. “Being an LGBTQ member myself, it makes me feel a little bit more seen.”
The completed work of art will be unveiled during a block party and dedication that is scheduled for Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Vendors including Sate Kampar, Sris Co., Tabachoy, Ratchada, as well as Hardena, will be selling food as part of the celebration. The family-friendly event will also feature music and performances.
“I hope that people will see the mural as a landmark, as a present representation of a community that is very vibrant and that exists there,” says Ambron. “I think it’s good to have a mural that reminds people that they have a rich history and culture and that they can be proud of who they are — be proud of their identity.”