Muntilan craftsmen create 'ancient' Buddhist statues

by Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, April 9, 2005

Magelang, Central Java (Indonesia) -- Creating the appearance of antiquity in a newly made Buddhist statue made from volcanic rock is not too difficult a job for craftsmen at the stone craft center in Tamanagung village, Muntilan subdistrict, Magelang, Central Java.

With a few additional procedures, a newly made statue can be given an antique appearance that can look quite convincing -- even to collectors.

"I used to have orders to make such products, but I haven't made one for a few years," statue craftsman Kasrin Endro Prayono, 64, told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.

There are a few secrets, says Kasrin, for producing a newly made statue with an ancient appearance.

After being carved according to the desired form, the surface of the statue is hammered using a special tool known locally as a keprak to make small indentations on the entire surface of the statue.

"It is done to create the impression of natural aging," said Kasrin, adding that the same effect could also be created by pouring or smearing storage battery liquid onto the surface of the statue.

To create the image of antiquity, the statue is then "smoked", or burned using a welding blowtorch. A coloring agent made of a mixture of turmeric and tea is also often used to make the statue look even more aged.

"Some craftsmen often prefer to bury the statue under the soil to achieve the antique appearance but that takes at least two years," Kasrin said.

Kasrin, the owner of Cailendra gallery, said that he produced such products only to order.

Also, he claimed to have never sold such a product as an ancient item. Rather, he sold them as works of art with an ancient appearance.

According to Head of Borobudur Conservational Office Dukut Santoso, there were indeed many ways either to make fake ancient statues or to give ancient ones a new appearance to enable them to pass the customs checks at the airport.

"Some are done with such great sophistication that it is often difficult for even a collector to recognize the authenticity of a statue claimed to be ancient," Dukut said.

"Careful, scientific examination, however, can reveal the true nature of a statue," Dukut said.

Tamanagung is home to thousands of statue craftsmen.

However, only some 200, including Kasrin, are large-scale producers, whose products are mostly exported. Of these, only a dozen are known to be capable of creating statues "from antiquity".

If the one at Christie's, which was withdrawn from an auction last week, is proven to be a fake, then it could be the result of Muntilan craftsmens' handiwork.

Kasrin said some buyers, mostly based in Jakarta, often artificially age some of his statues further.

"Sometimes, I can hardly recognize that they are my work because they look so completely different from when I sold them originally," Kasrin said.