By Wiyoga Muhardanto, Area Olah Karya

25 September 2023 - 18:26

Speakers and moderator in the PULANG presentation and discussion. ©

Doc. by Angela Sunaryo.

Is repatriation possible when a cultural artifact was taken before the nation-state had been established? Area Olah Karya (ID) and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (UK) embark on a research journey across two countries to find out.

PULANG (“Returning Home”) was based on a simple idea: an imaginary repatriation. While many artifacts taken to Europe during colonial times have been successfully returned to Indonesia, this is not the case for all of them. PULANG focuses on one such case: the Sangguran Inscription.

Known as The Minto Stone (after British diplomat The Lord Minto) in Scotland, this artifact was particularly unique. When Sir Thomas Raffles presented the Sangguran Inscription to The Lord Minto, Indonesia was not constitutionally present as a state. This meant that the transfer of this Inscription was done between individuals, not governments. This made repatriation very challenging.

The idea for this project emerged in early 2021, coinciding with COVID-19 restrictions in most parts of Indonesia. Lockdowns encouraged us to look for opportunities to express ideas virtually. This made us think, “Why not conduct a virtual repatriation?”

Whether this artistic activity would consist of a digital or 3D-printed reproduction of the artifact was something we will decide at a later date. For the first phase of this project, we were going to focus on research. My organisation Area Olah Karya (AOK) will conduct the research in Malang in Batu, and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) ESW will do the ones in Edinburgh and Roxburgshire.

Research activities in Malang and Batu

On 9-11 March 2023, members of AOK took a short trip around Malang and Batu to trace the imprints of the Sangguran Inscription.

a) Site visit: Mpu Purwa Museum

Located at the centre of the Griya Shanta Housing complex in Malang, Mpu Purwa Museum has a collection of mostly Javanese ancient artifacts. These include statues, temple fixtures, and inscriptions from various kingdoms from the time of Mpu Sindok to the Majapahit Kingdom. Unfortunately, we did not manage to find any references to the Sangguran Inscription.

b) Interview: Drs. Ismail Lutfi, M.A.

Drs. Ismail Lutfi, M.A, is a teaching staff from Malang State University with expertise in epigraphy (the archaeological study of ancient inscriptions), whom we know from his published works in several academic journals as well as a few interviews on YouTube. The Sangguran Inscription has been one of his focus areas. We talked over coffee at a coffee shop near his residence, discussing the key problem of the transfer of the Sangguran Inscription, which was the lack of governmental oversight during the transfer.

c) Site visit: Pendem Temple & Sangguran Cultural Centre

Pendem Temple, currently still under excavation by the Cultural Heritage Preservation Center of East Java, is strongly suspected to have close connections with the Sangguran Inscription, according to experts. It is located in the Junrejo sub-district of Batu, very close to residential areas and only a short distance from Sangguran Cultural Centre. The centre houses a cement replica of the Sangguran Inscription, initiated by local artist Siswanto Galuh Aji.

The area is home to many inscriptions. Unfortunately, the locals do not yet have a lot of awareness of their stolen heritage. For example, when we visited, the locals tried to explain to us about this replica, stating that the original Inscription was in Switzerland. Their oral account do not match historical facts, and we believe this should also be addressed in our project.

Research activities in Edinburgh and Roxburghshire

ESW initially planned to involve more members in this research activity, but due to time constraints, curator and researcher Dan Brown was the only one taking part. Dan conducted his desk research and reached out to Dr. Talat Ahmed, a teaching staff of South Asian History from the University of Edinburgh, but unfortunately did not get a response.

He then contacted the Collection of West, South & South East Asia Department of the National Museum of Scotland. From this contact, Dan managed to get in touch with the living heirs of The Lord Minto, who currently reside in Roxburgshire. 

Unfortunately, the short time frame meant that correspondence was limited. When Dan went to Roxburgshire at the end of March, things were still unclear, and he was not allowed to see the heirs of Lord Minto.

In the future, we hope to be able to remedy this situation by establishing a closer relationship to them. They were receptive to the idea. We are currently considering doing further residencies in the area and conducting a proper 3D scan of the artifact.


The interior of Mpu Purwa Museum. ©

Doc. by Pedro Musa.

The primary excavation site of Pendem Temple. ©

Doc. by Pedro Musa.

The replica of the Sangguran Inscription from afar, with its stone stage above a pond and a traditional umbrella above. ©

Doc. by Pedro Musa.

Presentation and discussion at Indeks Project Space, Bandung 

Indeks Project Space is a creative space focused on arts and knowledge transfer, run by a collective experienced in international residency programs, grants, and symposiums, making it the perfect space for our initiative.

The hybrid presentation and discussion sessions were moderated by Rizki Lazuardi. I gave an overview of this project and why the Sangguran Inscription is such a unique case. My colleague Budi Adi Nugroho presented more about the project and our research. Another colleague, Tisa Granicia, proposed several artistic strategies for our idea of imaginary repatriation. And finally, Dan Brown (presenting online), presented his research findings in Scotland.

We managed to engage with an enthusiastic audience. Most have never heard of the Sangguran Inscription before, so it was a great pleasure for us to be able to bring this important historical knowledge to them.

While our Indonesian audience were naturally more invested in the project—it is, after all, our cultural heritage—our European audience were nonetheless curious to discover the existence and story behind an artifact that connects their contemporary society to this other part of the world.