HOT on the heels of the Indonesian Embassy’s celebrations yesterday of the country’s 69th birthday, comes a major cultural event that confirms the respect which our populous neighbour to the north is held in Australian artistic circles.
No fewer than 11 formidable Indonesian cultural leaders, including exhibition manager Zamrud Setya Negara and curator Asikin Hasan, descended on the National Portrait Gallery this morning to help unveil the exhibition, “Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture.”
Consisting of 35 Indonesian art works, the show gives an insight into the rich portrait practice of colonial and modern Indonesia, showcasing key modernist works drawn from the National Gallery of Indonesia’s collection and a selection of contemporary works by leading contemporary Indonesian artists.
The project is a significant coup for the Portrait Gallery, which has developed the show in collaboration with the National Gallery in Jakarta, the first formal project in what both institutions expect to be an ongoing relationship. As well, the ANU’s Australian Consortium of Asian Art held an associated seminar yesterday, Tuesday that saw prominent academics from both Indonesia and Australia in attendance.
On the weekend, “CityNews” took a walk through the exhibition. Arranged more or less chronologically, it first pays tribute to a pioneer in the country’s art scene, notably the princely 19th century romantic painter Raden Saleh Sjarif Boestaman, going on to provide a rare opportunity for Australian audiences to view the work of eminent artists from Indonesia, including masters S. Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan and Affandi.
Given the unfamiliarity of the subject matter, the signage in this exhibition is first rate.
Some of the earliest paintings illustrate the 1930s art movement that saw the formation of the union of Indonesian artists, and demonstrate the contrast between the “Mooi Indie” (sweet Indies) exoticism of artists like Basuki Abdullah, contrasted with painter Sudjojono’s concept of the “visible soul”.
Hendra Gunawan’s 1950s portraits belong to a developing school depicting the lives of common people, whereas others like “Senja” (Twilight) by Sudjana Kerton are as much about setting and atmosphere as the human face. Indeed, some viewers may question whether several of the paintings are indeed portraits.
Turning to the 1980s and 90s, we see the advent of the Yogyakarta (Indonesia’s great centre of art training and practice) surrealism and hyper-realism.
Subjects like death and alienation reflect Suharto’s New Order era from 1969 to 1998, with portraits like ivan sagita’s Self touch 1988, in which the sky peeps through the blanked-out faces of three women.
The post-1990 section, brings us up to the present day focuses on experiments with technology, style and social media as part of an increasingly globalised art scene.
Portraits by Kokok P Sancoko and Muhammad Reggie Aquara use elaborate layers of paint to built facial imagery, while the cost the idea of man’s face as mask is used by Balinese artist I Wayan Suja in “Me and snobbery times”.
Inevitably, given the bloody recent history of the archipelago, there are some images of violence, including a striking sombre work by Budi Kustarto featuring a ceremonial sword and a severed head.
Additional to the dominant paintings is a photographic and diary installation by Herde called “Travelling West,” a kind of personal journey from traditional to modern Indonesia.
And yes, of course, there are plenty formal portraits to please the average viewer, including a section of traditional pastel portraits painted by Zaini from 1949 to 1950, Sudarso’s 1978 portrait of a woman with a basket, and two works by the influential master, Affandi, who died as recently as 1990, illustrating how he worked the paint on canvas with his fingers.
“Masters of Modern Indonesian Portraiture,” at the National Portrait Gallery until October 15 only.