An extraordinary cultural icon

Standing atop a hill in Jimbaran, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue, Bali’s newest cultural icon,(and the biggest) is now open and ready to be admired. Created by award-winning Balinese sculptor Nyoman Nuarta (often cited as Indonesia’s most successful contemporary artist and certainly the creator of numerous colossal public artworks), it is impressive in the extreme.


This enormous 22,000 square meters Garuda Wisnu Statue, GWK is the show piece of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park in Jimbaran. The 75-meter tall, 65-meter wide statue sits atop of a pedestal with the total height of 121 meters. It is the second tallest statue in the world, just shorter than the Spring Temple Buddha in China. It has also turned out to be the most challenging of the sculptor’s illustrious career. “The idea of building GWK first come to mind in the late 1980’s, when I was already a well established sculptor, living in Bandung,” says Nuarta who was born in Tabanan, Central Bali in 1951.

“The statue’s concept, and the cultural park were conceived by the GWK Foundation, a group consisting of two ministers of the then Suharto government, including Joop Ave Minister of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications, myself, and a few individuals and businessmen close to President Suharto,” Nuarta added. “I was then commissioned to build a giant statue of the Hindu God Wisnu perched upon the back of his sacred cosmic vehicle, the mythical Garuda bird.”

The GWK Cultural Park, set in limestone hills on a 60-hectare site, first began construction late in 1996. From the outset, the idea was met with controversy. Balinese religious authorities objected that the statue’s immense size would disturb the spiritual balance of the island, and they opposed the sacred symbol being used as a commercial tourist attraction. The project was pushed through, however, by those who argued that it would bring in more tourists and revenue to Bali. “GWK had to sustain the paralysing effects of a political regime change, a nationwide financial crisis, conflicts within the project’s management structures, and more,”Nuarta said.

Problems began in early 1997, when the original budget estimate inflated by hundreds of billions of rupiah. The project came to an abrupt halt in July when the Indonesian economy collapsed in the Asian Financial Crisis, followed by the fall of the Suharto government in May 1998. Other complexities shadowed, including complications between GWK investors. After a 16-year delay an extra IDR 450 billion in finance was committed, in August 2013 another chapter in the statue’s construction began, only to be paused

again, early in 2015. Since 2016, however, its progress has been steady. “We hope that we could introduce different cultures of the world through our main mission, the GWK World Cultural Forum. The forum’s goal is to educate people to become more understanding towards other cultures. So, in the end, the main objective of the GWK Statue and Cultural Park is world peace,” Nuarta, said.

At the beginning of the project Nuarta understood that the Balinese tourism industry relied too heavily on cultural heritage alone and this was unsettling for him. “There were only minimal efforts from the government, private and public sectors to sustain the tourism industry. I understood that we needed to build a place where our heritage can be both protected and also be developed.” Nuarta is aware of the distinctive creative potential of his island and the future possibility of contributing something completely unique to the sphere of global art.

“I used the image of Garuda and Lord Wisnu as Wisnu is a symbol of courage and loyalty. The Balinese consider Wisnu, the preserver of life, as the most important God of the three (Siva, Wisnu & Brahma), yet Wisnu is also responsible for cosmic balance and harmony of all life. The statue, therefore, symbolizes a universal calling for all people in this world to play their parts in nurturing and protecting the Earth,” Nuarta stated. Made of copper and brass sheeting, and stainless steel framework, imported from Japan, Europe and Latin America the statue has been constructed in Nuarta’s workshop in West Java. The outer parts of the statue were cut into 700 modules, each weighing on average 800 kilograms, and transported to Bali by 400 individual trucks journeys. A crew of over 200 personnel from various academic and cultural backgrounds then systematically began assembling the modules on site.

Situated upon the windy Ungasan ridge, unpredictable weather has been one of the obstacles to the statue’s installation process. The modules were lifted up by two cranes and bolted onto the framework by workers who specialize in high altitude construction. Rigorous scientific integrity testing has been undertaken on all the construction materials and the statue itself, even taking earthquake resistance into account with the pedestal being able to withstand up to 8 on the Richter scale. Wind tunnel tests have indicated the statue, the largest in Indonesia, could withstand winds speeds of up to 259 nautical miles per hour.

Scheduled originally for completion in March 2019, the project was given the hurry-up in mid 2017 by the Indonesian government, ordering the statue be finished before October 2018 when IMF and World Bank delegates are planning to congregate in Bali for annual meetings to be held from 8 -14 October. As a part of their itinerary, a dinner will be held for the delegates at the GWK Festival Park. “By the 4th of August this extraordinary combination of art, technology, and science will be complete,” Nuarta recently said.

“This nation will have a new cultural icon, that, despite taking more than 28 years, and without help from the Indonesian government, it shows that the private sector can contribute greatly to the nation and state, if we are determined enough to realize our goals.” “Despite the years of delays this project has taught me to be patient and to never give up on my dreams. Along with big aspirations will come big challenges that come with great risk, and require great effort to overcome. The best thing that you can do is remain focused and trust in your ability to succeed.”

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Jl. Tangkuban Perahu III No. 4 Padangsambian, Denpasar
Bali - Indonesia


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