From colonization to globalization
Indonesia is rich in cultural diversity and traditional expressions that have evolved since prehistoric times. Its newer codes of artistic activity, though, remain largely unrecognized. Foreigners began arriving in Indonesia starting from the fourth century and the Hindu-Buddhist, Chinese, Islamic and European cultures all have had major influences upon the archipelago. Our story, however, begins with a Javanese aristocrat, Raden Saleh (1809-1880). Hailed as the pioneer of Indonesian modern art, Saleh spent more than 20 years training in Europe, becoming the first Indonesian to master western painting styles. He documented contemporary narratives, while his most famous work painted in 1857,
Penangkapan Pangeran Dipanegara (The Capture of Prince Diponegoro) depicts the capture of a National Hero, Diponegoro, by the Dutch colonial forces. “Saleh came straight out of the center of the international art world during a revolutionary period of art making and marked the beginning of new art in Indonesia,” said Werner Kraus, German art historian and curator of the landmark 2012 exhibition at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Raden Saleh and the Beginning of Modern Indonesia Painting. One of the most successful exhibitions in the nation’s history, it brought together 40 paintings and drawings from abroad, allowing local audiences to rediscover Saleh. Early in the twentieth century, the Mooi Indie naturalistic style marked signs of development in Indonesian modern art. Nationalist artists however, reacted against the mainstream created during this period of the colonization, arguing that “pretty pictures” painted by foreign artists had no connection with the social and political sentiments of the indigenous people. The new art movement PERSAGI and the ideals championed by S. Sudjojono (19131986) in the 1930s then gained momentum. They stipulated that contemporary art should reflect an artist’s views to express the social thoughts that characterized the nation. The search for a new identity and a nationalistic painting style began, and artists associations played a defining role. Following the Proclamation of Independence on Aug. 17, 1945, the art world became more dynamic. The nation’s first president, Sukarno, an avid art lover, helped model Jakarta as a center for the arts, commissioning sculptures and reliefs for public spaces. It was the beginning of Indonesian public art. Sukarno adorned the state palaces with thousands of works by Indonesian and foreign artists, 28 of which were recently exhibited, at the National Gallery in 17/ 71, Goresan Juang Kemerdekaan (The Brushstrokes of the Independence Struggle). Opened on Aug. 17, 2016 by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the exhibition featured scenes of the Independence War by maestros such as Affandi, Sudjojono and Saleh, alongside pictures of iconic Indonesia by Srihadi Sudarsono, Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies. Art academies were instrumental in the development of art in the two major centers of art production. The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) was founded by the colonial government in 1947. Its western inclination was strengthened by its first generation of teachers who had studied overseas. Born during the Revolution in 1950 in Yogyakarta, the Indonesian Fine Arts Academy (ASRI), later the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI), endorsed art derived from traditional culture that promoted nationalistic ideals. The academies were responsible for many of the country’s most important artists. The Balinese painter Nyoman Masriadi, a 36-year-old dropout from ISI Yogyakarta in 2008, achieved the prestige of being the first living Southeast Asian artist whose works topped US$1 million at auction–a feat that immediately propelled him into the international spotlight. Yet it was Affandi (1907-1990), arguably the country’s most important modernist, famed for his distinctive bold, and fluid lines, who initially achieved international acclaim. In 1954, he became the first Indonesian to exhibit at one of art’s most preeminent platforms, the Venice Biennale. During the Soeharto era (1965–1998), artists rebelled against the repressive regime creating satirical and ironic works. The formation in 1975 of the Indonesia New Art Movement by young artists that opposed the establishment was the foundation of contemporary art practices. In 1988, the Cemeti Gallery in Yogyakarta, an avant-garde artist-driven initiative, established the first alternative space, and went on to shape the international face of Indonesian contemporary art. Major sociopolitical transformations and Indonesia’s strive towards democracy during the late 1990s gave birth to the post-Reform generation of artists.
The contemporary era has been defined by art with a commercial emphasis, artists. However, it has been hindered by the deficiency of an established art infrastructure, institutions, museums, galleries without international business models and a lack of government support. A lack of clear criteria and boundaries, along with gaps in the documentation of art history compounded this as well. The Yogyakarta Open Studio (YOS), a program of studio visits with a platform for dialogue and collaboration addressed this issue in October. “We wish to jump-start the conversation about qualification and highlight how aspiring Indonesian art historians go about gaining the education they need in a country that still doesn’t offer a degree in art history,” said YOS Director Christine Cocca. The national art scene is supported by a strong culture of collecting with major collectors opening private museums, and some promoting Indonesian art overseas. Auction houses thrived during the 2008 contemporary art boom, while art fairs now play a defining market role. Upcoming in May ArtJog celebrates its tenth edition, while Bazaar Art Jakarta 2017 presents its ninth installment in July. Art Stage Jakarta, the new inclusion and offshoot of the region’s leading fair Art Stage Singapore, presents its second edition this August. Its move to Indonesia is a clear signal of the strength and potential of the market, and the quality of Indonesian art. The most anticipated event of 2017 will fall in October with the opening in Jakarta of the Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art Nusaantara (MACAN). According to director Aaron Seeto, “MACAN aims to develop awareness and appreciation of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia, host intercultural exchanges and to nurture the professional environment and human resources for Indonesian art.”
Yogyakarta artist Galam Zulkifi’s “Seri Illusi” paintings honor key figures in the development of the Indonesia, while involving research into media experimentation to create compositions where the imagery changes according to levels and angles of light.
Goresan Juang Kemerdekaan Curator Mikke Susanto explaining the significance of the painting Penangkapan Pangeran Diponegoro 1857, by Raden Saleh during the curators exhibition tour at the National Gallery of Indonesia.
Arguably Indonesia’s most important modernist, Affandi was the first Indonesian to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, Italy in 1953.
Handiwirman Saputra is renowned for his contemporary works that challenge the observer.