Indonesian’s art places everything under Christ’s reign

Artist finds path to peace in Jesus Christ, connects Javanese culture and Christianity

Dec 16, 2019 by and

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JEPARA, Indonesia — Harjo Suyitno uses a traditional Indonesian art form to portray the concept that everything in the world is under the authority of Christ.

Harjo Suyitno designed the ­“cosmic Christ” cross artwork in the Indonesian gunungan style at the Mennonite church in Jepara. — Karla Braun/MWC

Harjo Suyitno designed the ­“cosmic Christ” cross artwork in the Indonesian gunungan style at the Mennonite church in Jepara. — Karla Braun/MWC

His wood carving at the Mennonite church in Jepara features the gunungan, a figure from traditional Indonesian theater that represents the world. The leaf-shaped art is used frequently around the country.

“This wood carving expresses the mission and vision of the church,” Suyitno said through the interpretation of his pastor, Danang Kristia­wan.

With a cross placed on top of the gunungan, the visual worship symbol represents the cosmic Christ (Col. 1:15-23).

“Christ reconciled all crea­tion to himself,” Suyitno said, pointing to the tiger, bull, fish, monkey and birds in his artwork. “The cross reconciles the cosmos into the family of God, who presents peace in the world. It’s a vision of the church.”

The gunungan usually has a mask in the middle representing evil and temptation. In the Jepara cross, it is replaced with a tree, representing life, with the cross on top of it all.

“Everything is under the authority of Christ — even the bad things,” Suyitno said.

Some Christians question why he placed a snake in the drawing. He pointed out it’s also a symbol of wisdom, and repeated that it is underneath the cross.

Kristiawan highlighted the fact that Mennonite World Conference member church Gereja Injili de Tanah Jawa is a Java­nese church, with a different language and culture than Indonesia itself.

The GITJ is one of three Mennonite synods in Indonesia.

“The good news is that Jesus loves this world,” he said. “We want to picture this for our culture — Javanese people.”

The island of Java is part of Indonesia.

At the same time, many young people have become distanced from their own culture, so the Javanese artwork helps connect them. The pastors preach in a mix of Javanese and Indonesian languages on Sunday mornings, with a smaller, more modern service in Indonesian in the evenings.

Anabaptists have often emphasized separation from the world, but “Javanese culture and Christianity have many shared values,” Suyitno said. In the church, “we accept culture, but we must modify it, cultivate it, reimagine it.”

Suyitno has changed his own culture for Christ. Born in a Muslim family, he became a Christian at middle age. A divorced father of four, he did not feel peace, but a Christian colleague urged him to pursue Jesus as his path to peace.


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