There is a subtle melody ingrained in the word ESCOMBROS, bearing more pain than the sound of its imperfect equivalents: debris, puing-puing, or ruins. A heavy-hearted tune that echoes from the residues of a physical structure which once stood on its own feet, integral and safe. Can you hear it? Their sound is incomprehensible, made of disconnected fragments, traces of historical passages and ever-changing subjectivities, holding out visions of the unknowns and the possible, the countless might-have-beens. The melody turns into a silent scream for disclosure—what was their act of life? What once stood here in the rubble, before it lost its trace?
We begin our journey through a portal of anachronic escombros—our pilgrimage site—a singular steel foundation standing tall and deserted on Jalan Letjen Suprapto nr. 27, vis-à-vis Blenduk Church in Kota Lama Semarang, Indonesia. A place ordained by fate to remain unknown, its past enclosed within its tiles, amidst a heritage landscape of crumbling colonial architecture. How ironic to stand against this ‘modern’ structure suspended here as a token of our failure to remember, or the inevitability of our forgetting?
In the 1950s, then Purwodinatan nr. 27, a bookstore called LIONG was successfully operating as a center for school requisites, books, and other imported merchandise, while also independently publishing some of the most memorable comic books in Indonesian history. Its creators LIE Djoen Liem and ONG King Nio never knew how far their comics reached or the impact they had on the generations to follow. In 1958, the family unexpectedly migrated to distant Brazil, their dreams dissipating into thin air, perhaps just like those of (some) people that lived here at the time. They never looked back.
From the ruins of a home and the debris of an abandoned identity, the anachronic ruins hold out a reflection of the gradual disintegration of social plurality, traded in for a nativist nationalization program, and the precariousness of living as a minority against a discriminatory sense of nationhood. While standing small against these massive pillars, multiple paradoxes of identity become apparent.
What can we learn from the escombros left by our grandparents and those of the history that dislodged them? Can we untangle the inevitable process of forgetting, complicated by layers of marginalization and erasure?