International Council of Museums [ICOM] Australia awarded Indonesian institutions for their contributions in strengthening the international relations between countries. (JG Photo/Linda Martina)

Museum Award Paints Promising Picture for Indonesian Modern Art


AUGUST 30, 2015

Jakarta. The history of Indonesian fine arts starts long before the country's birth. Modern Indonesian paintings began with the brushstrokes of Raden Saleh (1811-80) and continued to develop in to the early 20th century as a means to portray the condition of Indonesia during the age of struggle and post independence.

The most well-known names of the era are S. Sudjojono, Affandi and Hendra Gunawan. Their works, together with 16 other artists from the era and another seven contemporary artists, were last September featured in an exhibition produced by the National Gallery of Indonesia at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Australia.

Curated by Asikin Hasan, the exhibition received favorable responses and received an award from Australia's International Council of Museums (ICOM). The ICOM Australia Award is given to institutions for their contributions to strengthening relations between countries.

The award was delivered by Paul Grigson, Australian ambassador to Indonesia, to the director general for culture at Indonesia's Ministry of Education and Culture, Kacung Marijan, at the Permanent Exhibition Space of the National Gallery of Indonesia on Aug 24. Tubagus Andre Sukmana, the head of the National Gallery of Indonesia, was also on hand to receive the award.

“These are the first collections from the National Gallery of Indonesia exhibited in Australia and it offers a rare chance for art lovers to observe the wealth of talents and portraiture of Indonesia,” said Ambassador Grigson.

The award is a token of appreciation for the beginning of continued collaborative projects between the National Gallery of Indonesia and the National Portrait Gallery. One of them comes in the form of a capacity building workshop set to be held in 2016.

The exhibition itself was considered as a valuable experience by the curator: “Probably the most important thing from the exhibition [in Australia] is how we can learn of how to cooperate with overseas institutions in creating an exhibition with Indonesia as its contents,” Hasan said.

The exhibition took on the ambitious, but accurate, theme of "Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture" exploring the representations of self-image through facial expressions and depiction. Conceptually, the works tied together to provide direction in the vast, deep process of self-understanding and exploration.

The images painted on canvases, either self-portrait or of a chosen model, are the artists’ ways of showing the condition and situation of the era in which they were produced. For the curator, the things seen and understood through this subjective perspective of understanding will eventually illustrate the whole portrayal of Indonesian society and diverse cultures.

“Sudjojono is important because he is one of the most talked about in the history of Indonesian fine arts. He had a grandiloquent statement of rejecting the mooi indie,” said Hasan. Mooi Indie is the style of Indonesian artists which illustrates beautiful landscapes in natural styles. Basuki Abdullah is one of the most famous Indonesian artists to express his work in this style and has his work included in the exhibition in Australia.

“Sudjojono rejected such style because the paintings are supposed to illustrate or to take side on the social reality. Indonesia was in the midst of warfare with the colonial power. There was also poverty and suffering due the colonialism that should be drawn in his canvases,” explained Hasan.

“The art of painting for Sudjojono needs to take the side of humanity; to struggle against colonialism. Therefore, he called the paintings 'Jiwa Tampak' ['Visible Soul'].”

Close proximity between Australia and Indonesia has not resulted in many Australian art lovers familiarizing themselves with contemporary Indonesian artists and their works, particularly through in the period of the 1930s to the 1980s.

“[Australians] were usually surprised to see how our artists made their works in the early twentieth century. Before the exhibition, they did not know that Indonesian artists were already familiar with modern fine arts even before the nation’s independence.”

Organizers hope the success of the exhibition in Australia will be repeated, as the National Gallery of Indonesia eyes further international exhibitions.

“Later this year, we’ll be one of the hosts at the Frankfurt Bookfair. There will be a fine arts exhibition, an architecture exhibition and a photography exhibition,” Hasan said.