|By Yuliman Sanento
the capital of West Java Province, is one of the modern art centers in Indonesia. The
other centers are Jakarta, the capital; Yogyakarta, a big city in Central Java; Surabaya,
in East Java; and some centers in Bali: Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and Ubud. There are
also some smaller centers like Surakarta and Malang in Java, and some capital cities
outside Java like Padang (West Sumatra), Medan (North Sumatra) and Ujung Pandang (South
Modern art has been rapidly developing in Indonesia since the Indonesian Independence
in 1945. This art does not start from - and therefor is not the continuation of - the
traditional art of any of the existing ethnic groups, of which there are more than 300 in
the archipelago. Modern Art is a part of the superculture of the Indonesian metropolitan
and is closely related to the contact between the Indonesian and Western Cultures. Its
birth was part of the nationalism project, when the Indonesian people consisting of
various ethnics were determined to become a new nation, the Indonesian nation, and they
wished for a new culture, and therefore, a new art.
The cultural contact with the West can be traced as far back as the 17th century.
However, a widespread and close contact occured only in the 19th century, under the
colonial government of the Dutch East Indies, which was established in the beginning of
that century. It was in this century that some Indonesians began to study painting. One of
them was a very famous painter in the Dutch East Indies, Raden Saleh (1814-1880), who
roamed over the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and France for 22 years and who got the
title of the King's painter from Willem III, the King of the Netherlands.
Towards the beginning of World War II, there were some Indonesian youths who were
interested in the Western modern painting and yet they were driven by the spirit of
nationalism. They adopted Western painting to express the environment and their own
subjectivity. The identification with the national struggle, the absence of the supporting
institution to channel the works of the painters, as well as to channel their compensation
(apart from painters and their associations, there was no modern art institution),
military, political and social upheavals were some of the factors that lead to the
creation of painting that was emotional, tense, dynamic and giving the impression of
nature and the surrounding life. This was the painting of Sudjojono, Affandi and Hendra
Gunawan, just to mention a few.
The period up to the 1960s, which was the beginning of the creation and development of
the painters and the painters associations, was the first stage of of the development of
modern art in Indonesia. The second stage showed the important role of the higher
education institutes for art. These institutes have developed since the 1950s and in the
1970s they were the main education institutes for painters and other artists.
Through their artists who were once their students, these higher education institutes
introduced various kinds of innovations. The concept of art was extended including various
fields of designs. The artists awareness of the medium, forms or the organisation of
shapes were encouraged more intensely and these encouraged the exploring and experimental
attitudes. Meanwhile, the information about the world's modern art, particularly Western
Art; was widely and rapidly spread.
The 1960's and 70s were marked by the development of various abstractions and abstract
art. Non-figurative abstract lyricism was constistenly used by painters like Ahmad Sadali,
while abstract painting with strict geometrism and simplicity was the trademark of
Handrio. Mochtar Apin was a senior painter and graphic artist who never ceased to
experiment, to explore. This period was marked by the great number of explorations in
various new media, like the experiment with collage, assemblage, mixed media. Graphic art,
which at its early stages was limited to woodcut and lino cut, is now enriched by
lithography, etching and screen printing. Sculpturers tried to find the possibilities of
using new materials such as iron and steel slabs, paraglass, fiberglass, polyester and
The works of the Neo Art Movement-group in the second half of the 1970s and in the
1980s shows environmental art and installations, influenced by the elements of popular
art, from the commercial world and mass media, as well as the involvement of art in the
social and environmental affairs.
The issues about the environment, frequently launched by the intellectuals in the
period of economic development starting in the 1970s, echoed among the artists, and they
were widened in the social, art and cultural circles. While in the past we found interest
in old or traditional art, which made some painters produce works in a decorative style,
we now see that the decorative style inspired by traditional art becomes a big trend in
the Indonesian painting. The assimilation of traditional elements can also be seen in what
is called "calligraphic painting". This kind of painting can be considered as a
combination of non-figurative abstract painting and the Arabic calligraphy which exists in
a number of traditions in Indonesia. It is not a coincidence that one of the pioneers and
most important artists in this trend is A.D. Pirous, a painter and graphic artists from
Aceh, one of the centers of Islam and the center of tradition for the Arabic calligraphy
The Indonesian economic development following the important change in the 1970s has
caused a change in the life of the middle and upperclass society, as has the change in
various aspects of a big city, particularly Jakarta.
An obvious impact in art is the recruitment of educated staff in interior design, due
to the development of luxurious dwelling places, offices, hotels, banks and others. The
educated staff in graphic design were recruited because of the development in industry,
trade and in publishing and printing. Since the second half of the 1980s we have also
witnessed the boom of modern art.
At the moment we can see the development of modern art exhibitions, the increased
number of collectors and galleries, and the existence of painting auctions and painting
traders. Some museums were established, although they are not developed in concepts,
facilities and organisation. Modern art bussiness flourishes particularly in Jakarta,
Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Bali, particularly in Ubud, the center of big galleries
and modern painters on this island.
Modern art in Indonesia is entering the third stage of its development, i.e. the stage
of the establishment of institutions for distribution and collection. In terms of works of
the painters, as seen in exhibitions, observers tend to judge that there is no significant
change, there are even indications of impoverishment.
We see a limited use of materials and techniques, topics and themes as well as forms
and shapes. Compared to the situation in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, before
the boom, there has been a decrease. This decrease includes the constriction of concept,
the operational concept, which is reflected in practice. It seems that the diversity of
materials, techniques, topics and themes and the organisation of shapes offered by the
development of the world's art is not known in Indonesia, whereas in fact the works of
painters in the past showed otherwise.
What worries some observers in Indonesia is the fact that impoverishment and the
constriction of cencepts occur at the time when the painting business, which can support
the painters, grows. Moreover, the business itself shows its weaknesses. A lot of people
refer to the confusion of prices and this relates to the confusion of judgement of the
painters and their works.
More than ever, among people dealing with painting, there is a need to look at the
outside world and study the art of painting in the neighbouring countries and the
international world. In terms of activities concerning art, the collaboration among
governments is getting limited. The art circles feel the need of developing the
relationship and collaboration with private groups, agencies or institutions related to
art. At the same time the artists now feel the need for an association of national scope
which so far has had difficulties in its foundation.
It is true this third stage involves only painting. However, there are indications that
in Indonesia printmaking will be part of the development and is likely to be followed by
ceramics, sculpture and fiber art.
Abbreviated from the "Exhibition Catalog of the 5th Asia International
Exhibition" - By Sanento Yuliman (1941-1991)