A tour of the Harry Darsono Museum by Maria Cristina Obordo

Taking a tour of Harry Darsono’s Museum with the maestro himself, Maria Cristina Obordo finds inspiration in the life of a creative genius.


Like a richly dressed grand dame standing amongst commoners, Harry Darsono’s Museum looks out of place in Cilandak Tengah. It is huge, it is defined by its Baroque architecture, and it houses thousands of dollars worth of bejewelled ball gowns, fine furniture and furnishings, intricately crafted accessories, grand pianos, and many collectors items like the tiaras and fascinators worn by the late Princess Diana.


You know that you are in for a uniquely personal experience as you enter the mansion and meet Dr Harry Darsono, PhD, designer extraordinaire, in person. My expectations were more than met because he didn’t just take us on a three hour museum tour, he also shared his amazing and inspiring life story….


About a boy with dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) who became mute for 22 years and found salvation in the form of a spinning wheel, needles and threads. Harry was expelled from many schools in Surabaya because he misbehaved and the educators were not able to handle his excess energy. His parents packed him off to a boarding school in Paris where he discovered that he liked to sew. Thus, Harry’s energy was channeled to more creative and productive use. Unable to sleep at night and needing only two to four hours of sleep, Harry created intricately woven fabrics, wall decorations and embroidery. Furthermore, his inability to speak forced him to communicate via drawing. The faster that he drew, the more that he could express himself. Sewing and drawing became his therapy and helped him gain some measure of peace and stability. Throughout the tour, he kept repeating that he was lucky that he has supportive parents who did not beat him and instead actively sought ways to address his issues. Of course it helped that his family was well-off and they had options.


About a man whose world class creative talent and relentless energy brought acclaim and landed him a distinctive place in the world of haute couture. Harry was commissioned to make bejeweled  and embroidered ball gowns for the late Princess Diana, Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Sirikit of Thailand and many other royals, dignitaries, and the moneyed lot. He created costumes and accessories for West End theatrical productions like Madamme Butterfly, Turandot, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear. His designs adorn Wedgwood fine bone china tea sets. Rich people sought his aesthetic touch for custom made pianos, decorations, furniture and furnishings. His works of art are exhibited in museums all over the world and he is the most prominent Indonesian haute couture designer.  Many of his masterpieces are on display at the museum and he allowed us to touch them and playfully gave us the go signal to “put on a show for the cameras”. I wore a jacket, tried out his scarves,  donned a few fascinators and even wore a tiara that was used by the late Princess Diana. It was a fascinating peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Even for a minute’s peek I realized that that world is out of this world fantastical. Thankfully, venturing into the third floor brought me back into reality, because the third floor housed the creative areas where his “children” channeled their excess energy into the art of the fabric.


And about his mission to improve the lives of individuals with ADHD and learning difficulties. Harry has made it his life’s work to support as many individuals with ADHD as he can. He helps them find their creative passion and provides the materials, environment and opportunities to become productive and successful.


Our tour started on the first floor and finished at the third floor. He animatedly talked about his creations and vast collection, giving snippets of his life along the way. His is an eclectic collection: Louis VI’s  golden perfume fountain, Ernest Hemingway’s writing table, a letter from Albert Einstein, handicrafts and batik from Indonesian provinces, a mask from the Phantom of the Opera, unique gifts from prominent people and many others. Eventhough he talked non-stop for more than three hours and graciously played the piano for us on two occasions, he didn’t seem tired at the end of the tour. In fact, it seemed to me that he really enjoyed sharing his journey.


Hungry after more than three hours of standing and walking and starting to feel that I’m going to OD from all that art exposure, I welcomed the delicious spread that was prepared for us and served in fine china table wear. As I enjoyed the tea and snacks I quietly reflected on this unique experience of meeting a creative genius. Thankfully there were some prints that we could take home as souvenirs. After we have all eaten and asked for his autograph, Harry asked us to come together and listen to a reading of his poems and sing “I Have A Dream”. Those few minutes of inspiration etched the legacy of Harry’s genius in my mind. It was the best souvenir of all.


About Harry Darsono

Dr Harry Darsono, PhD, born in 1950, studied fashion in Paris and London. He completed his Doctoral Degree in Art and Design at the Ecole Superieur Beaux Arts before he accomplished his second doctoral degree in Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Oxford, England.  Harry continues to design and teach courses in arts, design, and psychology in entrepreneurship. His contributions are widely respected in fashion and philantrophy.

The Harry Darsono Museum

Jl. Cilandak Tengah No. 71 South Jakarta

For inquiries, please call 021-7668553.

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