Longread — 7 Oct 2019 — Amir Sidharta
In the introduction of Art in Indonesia:Continuities and Change, Claire Holt writes: “my mission in 1955-7… was to discover the impact of World War II, the Indonesian revolution and independence had affected the visual arts in Indonesia.”1 While her book was certainly definitive in shaping the framework of Indonesian art history, whether or not she accomplished her initial mission remains debatable. It is clearly not an easy task by any means, and this study by no means attempts accomplish it any closer.
Coincidentally, the study on which I chose to embark attempts to explore art during the Revolutionary War (November[?] 1945 - December 1949), the “first wave” of the production and distribution of art of the newly established Republic of Indonesia. Many questions come to mind. How was life during this difficult period? What were the main themes of their art? How did the artists’ approaches and choice of subject matter change during this period? Could have Sudjojono’s2 1946 book, Seni Loekis, Kesenian, dan Seniman served as a kind of manifesto for Indonesian artists during this time? If not, did it inspire artists to express themselves freely, but keeping in mind a certain Indonesian-ness in their art? Was it possible to exhibit their artworks? Where? How were the painting received by the public? Was the art produced during this time seen as “dangerous” by authorities, or was art seen as having the potential for diplomacy? The list of questions can grow and grow.
In the case of the Art in Indonesia book, it seems that the broadness and broadening of the scope of her research in preparing it distracted Holt from accomplishing her initial mission. Keeping that in mind, this study is kept to be quite narrowly focused on only a handful of artists and ultimately observing the works of one artist. Certainly, how the war would affect artists and their artistic approaches would differ from one artist to another. Therefore, it might be more meaningful to see how the Revolutionary War of 1945-49 affected one artist, rather than to make generalizations on how the war affected Indonesian artists in general.
Sketches, drawings, and watercolors
Most of the artworks from the 1945-1949 period of time which survived until today are sketches, drawings, and watercolors. Works by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Sudjojono Dullah, S. Kerton, Trubus Soedarsono, Henk Ngantung, Srihadi Soedarsono and other painters can be found in various public and private collections. The images in the sketches. drawings, and watercolors, done rather spontaneously, are very telling of the preoccupations of the artists during that time. Henk Ngantung was known for his sketches documenting the talks leading to the signing of the Linggarjati Agreement in 1946. Hendra Gunawan seemed to prefer drawing with pencil, S. Kerton and Henk Ngantung liked to use pen and ink, while Affandi did watercolors. Sudjojono, working primarily with pen and ink at the time, focused his sketches on his personal life.
Dullah, also working with pen and ink, did many sketches of daily life. He painted watercolors of landscapes and townscapes. He also made reconnaissance and documentary sketches for the purposes of war. Using ink washes he also worked on more developed art pieces of scenes commemorating Sukarno’s leadership. Srihadi Soedarsono, who was assigned by the Information Office of the Army’s Fourth Division, worked using pastels and charcoals making sketches about the war. When VT-CLA, a Dakota airplane carrying medical supplies was shot down by the Dutch forces not far from Yogyakarta’s Maguwo airport on 19 July 1947, killing Commodore Agustinus Adisutjipto and dr. Abdulrachman Saleh, an important figure in the founding of Radio Republik Indonesia in 1945, Srihadi saw the wreckage of the plane and made a number of sketches of it.3 Later, he also made drawings of each and every delegation member of the Three State Commission negotiations at Kaliurang, January 1948, not forgetting them to autograph each drawing he made.4 Kerton documented the military handing over from the Dutch to the Indonesian authorities on the day of the Dutch recognition of Indonesian sovereignty on 27 December 1949.5 From these works on paper, we can infer that the main interests of artists active during the revolutionary war evolved around the daily life of the common people, their own personal life with friends, colleagues and family, life during war time, as well as reconnaissance and documentary sketches for purposes of warfare.
Of particular note, are the watercolor sketches in the collections of the Museum Dullah in Solo, Central Java6 and the Rijksmuseum7 in Amsterdam also depicting scenes of daily life as well as life during war times, done by Mohammad Toha Adimidjojo (Magelang, 23 July 1937 - 18 February 2006) an 11 year young boy who learnt to paint under the tutelage of Dullah. In one of his paintings, three soldiers of the Dutch Army rounding up hundreds of men. The men have been ordered to sit on the ground, while the three soldiers asked those they considered suspicious to stand up so that they could check on them more thoroughly. Among the men seated on the ground, dressed in white shirts, is a man wearing a light blue sorjan and brown batik sarong, typically how older men dressed in the traditional garb of the Yogyanese. Apparently, this man is the grandfather of the artist, who at the time was only.
As soon as Dullah heard news that the Dutch was about to launch a strike on Yogyakarta on the morning of 19 December 1948, Dullah gathered Toha and the other boys, including FX Soepono, Sri Suwarno, Sardjito and Muhammad Affandi, who were slightly older, and assigned them to paint scenes of war, including arrests and violence that happened, reminding them of the danger that the activity might pose, as they could be considered as spies. The Dutch capture of the city, which used P-40 Kittyhawk and P-51 Mustang fighters and B-25 Mitchell bombers to destroy much of the Indonesian strongholds, and Douglas DC-3s to drop hundreds of green berets to take control of the city, as well as the evacuation of the city were documented in Toha’s watercolors. He often hid when painting, and placed his artworks in his vending box, hidden among the goods he offered as a cigarette boy. Thanks to his brave effort and smart endeavor we are able to have a glimpse of what happened that day and the months that followed.
Art events related to Indonesian art
While Indonesia was at war, art events happening in Sumatra, Java, Bali and Makassar did not quite reflect the tension of war. Indeed, following the return of the Dutch to Indonesia in their efforts to reclaim their colony, the seat of the Indonesian government was moved to Yogyakarta. Therefore, in 1945 not much in terms of art events were happening in Jakarta, except for an Indonesian art exhibition at the Medical College in Jakarta, featuring the works of Affandi, Basoeki Abdullah, Sudjojono, Mochtar Apin, Soebanto, Barli, Kartono Yudhokusumo, Emiria Soenassa, Patty and Baharuddin. It was officiated by Minister of Information Amir Sjarifoedin and attended by Lieut. Gen. Alexander Frank Philip Christison, Allied Commander of forces in Indonesia, as well as President Sukarno, Vice President Hatta and Prime Minister Syahrir.8 There was also a public announcement on the front page of Merdeka, December 1945, calling on Soemanto, Djojokoesoemo, Sudjojono and Cornel Simanjuntak, “who once joined the Seniman Merdeka troop in Jakarta at the beginning of the founding of the Republic”, “for the necessity of an Information bureau in Yogya.”9 The person in charge is Usmar Ismail, based in Yogya. Hitherto we know that Sultan Hamengkubuwono only suggested that the Indonesian capital be moved to Yogyakarta on 2 January 1946. So, this “call to Yogya” at the end of 1945 seemed to foretell the move. On the other hand, during that time in Holland there seemed to be quite an interest in the art of the young new republic. As early as September 1945, an exhibition entitled Art in Freedom which opened at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam featured Indonesian artists.10 The inclusion of Indonesian artists seems to hint at the point of view of the organizing institution that Indonesia was already a liberated country.
An exhibition featuring the works of Lee Man Fong was held at Hotel des Indes in June11 and an exhibition of works by Indonesian painters exhibition, including works by Affandi, Hendra, Henk Ngantung, Baharudin and Mochtar Apin was held at the Kunstkring in August 194612. Sometime this year, Sudjojono’s writings are published in a book, Seni Loekis, Seniman dan Kesenian, by a Yogyakarta based publisher called Indonesia Sekarang13. In the thirteen articles in the book, Sudjojono presented not only his thoughts on art and nationalists expression but also some biographical notes on Vincent van Gogh, Raden Saleh and Herbert Hutagalung, as well as a review of a recent exhibition of work by his colleagues. Although he asserted that young artists should realize that they lived in a time different from the time of Raden Saleh, he supported the notion suggested by the Japanese to rename the Zoo (which was located on the grounds of Raden Saleh’s house), as Taman Raden Saleh.
Basoeki Abdullah showed his paintings at the chambers of Arti et Amicitiae, Rokin. Amsterdam from June to July 194614, and later in Amersfoort, November15 and at the Panorama Mesdag in The Hague in December. In July, the Art Gallery of South Australia obtained four paintings by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and Barli on loan for future “National Gallery”16. An exhibition of 75 paintings by Indonesian artists was to be held in Prague, on the occasion of the International Student Congress, which starts on 18 August 2016.17An exhibition of Indonesian posters and magazines was held at the Gildehuys in Amsterdam in October18. This show featured linocut prints by Baharudin and Mochtar Apin, which was later presented in a portfolio to the Stedelijk Museum.
In Indonesia, a lottery of painting by Lee Man Fong raised funds for charity aiding victims of a disaster organized by the Tionghoa Chung Hua Chung Hui in February 194719. In May, Lee Man Fong’s works along with other Chinese-Indonesian painters are shown to raise funds for the I Juen Chinese Hospital in Bandung20. An exhibition of young republican painters and “some less young avant-gardists in Indonesian painting”, such as Affandi, Sedijono, Sudarso, Sudjojono and Zaini is held in Yogyakarta in June. with the support of the Ministry of Perdjoangan21. Around August and October, Soeloeh Tentara Edisi Angkatan Perang, a booklet commemorating the second anniversary of the Armed Forces in published22. It includes a number of drawings by Sudjojono and Burhanudin.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, in February 1947, Basoeki Abdullah’s exhibition continues at the H. W. Bartels in Apeldoorn23. An exhibition featuring the artworks of Agus and Otto Djaya opens in October at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam24 and continues in November at the Gemeente Museum, The Hague25. The Stedelijk Museum catalog of the exhibition show the title of the exhibition in white, contrasted against a bright red background, while the Gemeente catalog is designed with the colors in reverse. The combination of colors for the catalog is almost certainly deliberately chosen to evoke the colors of the flag of the Republic of Indonesia. An exhibition of the works of Indonesian Painters, including Affandi, Basuki Resobowo, Dullah, Derachman, Sudarso, Sudjojono, Zaini, Kartono Yudhokusumo, Soeharto, Noerjehan, Mochtar Apin, as well as Agus and Otto Djaya is held at the Indisch Museum, Amsterdam in December26. Indonesian art seemed to be deliberately promoted in Dutch museums in “retaliation” of the Dutch First Military Aggression earlier in the year.
While the art community in the Netherlands seemed to actively promote Indonesian art as a kind of cultural diplomacy recognizing Indonesia as a newly established free nation, in Indonesia, the Dutch administration also seemed to encourage a cultural approach in governing the country. In September 1947, an exhibition of Balinese art was held in Denpasar, supported by the East Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs in cooperation with the Department of Social Affairs in Batavia (sic)27. An exhibition of contemporary East Indonesian art, held at the Governor's House of Port Rotterdam was opened by East Indonesia President Sukawati in October 194928.
In April 1948 an event entitled "Indonesian Fourteen Days" organized by the ASVA Indische Committee was held at Kunstkamer Van Lier, Rokin29. It featured paintings by Agus and Otto Djaya, who had been living in Holland. An exhibition of crafts and modern art, was held at the Houtrusthallen, featuring two Balinese silversmiths, Njoman Kadjar and Ketut Lubja, from Bratan, in July30. Later, an exhibition of Modern Balinese art and crafts, was held at the Indisch Instituut, Amsterdam, in September31. The following month, an exhibition of Indonesian art featuring artifacts on loan from the Indonesisch Instituut, Amsterdam, curated by dr. H. J. Gerlings, was held at the Asia Institute, New York32. Also in October the Asian Horizon vol. 2 was published33. It included works by Agus and Otto Djaya, with Agus’s work on the cover, as well as an article by Mrs. Soebandrio discussing Indonesian art, and essays by Sudjojono and Oesman Effendi. In November, an Indonesian painting exhibition organized by the Algemeen Studenten Comité voor de Overzeese Gebiedsdelen was held at Huize Sluiter34.
Back in Indonesia, sixty paintings of members of the Gelanggang art association, among others Sudjojono, Affandi, Hendra, Sudarso, Henk Ngantung, Baharudin and Mochtar Apin were shown at the Hotel des Indes in August 194835. In October a show of Indonesian painting and literature, including works by 40 artists, including Raden Saleh, Sudjojono, Affandi, Trubus, Sutiksna, Syahri, Nashar, Mochtar Apin, entitled “Lukisan-lukisan dan Sastra dari Dulu sampai Sekarang di Taman Siswa” was held in Kemayoran, Jakarta36. In December, an exhibition of Henk Ngantung’s paintings was held in Surabaya37, perhaps as a follow up of an exhibition of the artist’s works held at the Hotel Des Indes almost exactly a year before.
The year 1949 started with news about Queen Juliana posing for “Javanese” painter Basoeki Abdullah, in early January, which appeared in many newspapers38. In March an exhibition of Indonesian works of art, forms of Balinese culture, particularly woodcarving, weaving was held by the Nijmegen student committee for overseas territories with the support of the Stichting voor Culturele samenwerking tussen Nederland, Indonesië en de West39. An exhibition of Modern Indonesian painting and arts and crafts was held in Brussels, Belgium, in June, under the auspices of the Stichting voor de Culturele Samenwerking tussen Nederland, Indonesië, Suriname en de Nederlandse Antillen40. In September Basoeki Abdullah made portraits of: Dr. H. van Royen, Mohammad Hatta, Mohammed Rum and Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak, on the occasion of the Round Table Conference, which was held from 23 August to 2 November 194941. In October an exhibition of Salim’s artworks is held at the Kunsthandel M.L. de Boer, Amsterdam.42
In Indonesia, the Kunst Unie Surabaia plans an exhibition of works by Indonesian, Chinese, Arab and European artists to be held in September 194943. An exhibition of paintings featuring works by Indonesian youth from various schools (among others from Affandi, S. Sudjojono, Henk Ngantung) is held at the Grand Hotel Medan in October44. In November a Lee Man Fong painting exhibition was held at the Chung Hua Tsing Niën Hui45.
In December 1949, the Ministry of Information published Brochure Kesenian, which included reports on the developments of arts, particularly visual arts and theater46. It included photographs of Harijadi, Soedibio and Sudjojono working on some key paintings produced in 1949. It also featured an important interview with Sudjojono by Dr. Huyung (Hinatsu Eitaro née Hue Yong), providing insights of Sudjojono’s turn to Realism.
Key artworks completed from August 1945 to December 1949
Let us now take a look at a number of key Indonesian paintings created between 1945 and 1949. It is believed that Basoeki Abdullah’s Soekarno Wearing a Red Tie depicted Sukarno at the mass gathering at the IKADA Square, 19 September 1945. Although it is unlikely that he worked on the painting in situ during the event, he might have painted it not long thereafter. Soebanto Soerjosoebandrio’s Peasant Family is dated 20-9-’0547. It is curious that the painter still used the Japanese year considering the painting was painted after Independence.
In the collection of Indonesian Presidential Palace, there are a number of portraits of heroes many of which were painted between 1946 and 1948. This was the time when the seat of the government of the young Republic of Indonesia was moved to Yogyakarta. Dating from 1946 is Trubus Soedarsono’s portrait of R. A. Kartini, Soerono’s Dr. Tjipto Mangunkusumo, and Harijadi’s Prince Ontowirjo (young Diponegoro). Sudjono Abdullah painted Dr. Wahidin Sudirohusodo and Prince Diponegoro in 1947. Affandi’s H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto, Dullah’s Dr. Soetomo, and Sudarso’s M.H. Thamrin also dates 1947. Soerono’s Teuku Tjik Di Tiro was painted in 1948. Although not exactly the same, but most of the portraits are 105 x 85 cm in size. There are a few other portraits, and perhaps it would be quite revealing to make a more thorough study into them.
Also curious are the existence of more than one painting of some of the heroes, such as the portraits of Tuanku Imam Bonjol mentioned above. Sudarso also painted Dr. Tjipto Mangunkusumo. Basoeki Abdullah painted a large painting of Diponegoro riding a black horse, which he dated 27-12-1949. The dating on this painting, coinciding with the Dutch recognition of sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia, was certainly deliberate, as the painter very seldomly dates his paintings. He was living in Holland during that time and followed the Round Table Conference quite closely. By the conclusion of the conference on 2 November, it was already publicly known that the transfer of power would be done on 27 December 1949. The painting must have been presented to Sukarno when Basoeki Abdullah was invited by the President to exhibit in Indonesia in 1950.
Other than the portraits of heroes, in the collection of President Sukarno there are also portraits of freedom fighters. Barli Sasmitawinata’s portrait of Napitupulu dates from 1946. Trubus’s painting of a uniformed freedom fighter flaunting a keris in his front side is dated 8 September 1949. The badge and rank insignia indicates that he is most probably a Tenth Brigade officer of the rank of Major, perhaps an important figure during the General Attack on Yogyakarta on March 1st, 1949.
In the collection, there are also several paintings depicting the Revolution, such as Affandi’s Laskar Rakyat Mengatur Siasat, 1946, Sudjojono’s Kawan-kawan Revolusi, 1947, and Henk Ngantung’s War Refugees, 1947. A good number date from 1949: Dullah’s Preparing for Guerilla and Westerling’s Men, Harijadi Sumadidjaja’s Biografi II di Malioboro, Kartono Yudhokusumo’s Sightseeing in Dieng and Attack at Pengok, and S. Sudjojono’s Seko 1.
There are many anecdotes that paintings from the period of the Revolutionary War were confiscated and vandalised. One blog mentions that the Bureau Perdjoangan had collected sixty-two paintings documenting the Revolutionary War. However, as the artists sent the paintings for safekeeping at the Sultan’s Palace, they were stopped by Dutch troops, and the paintings were confiscated. Sudjojono’s Kawan-kawan Revolusi was trampled upon by Dutch forces, but “survived” confiscation.48
As mentioned earlier, at the end of 1945 Soemanto, Djojokoesoemo, Sudjojono and Cornel Simanjuntak, “who once joined the Seniman Merdeka troop in Jakarta at the beginning of the founding of the Republic” was called through an advertisement on on the front page of the Merdeka newspaper “for the necessity of a Information bureau in Yogya.”49 It is unclear what became of this call, but around June 1947, an exhibition of young republican painters including Affandi, Sedijono, Sudarso, Sudjojono and Zaini was held in Yogyakarta with the support of the Bureau Perdjoangan (“Bureau of Struggle”)50. The article mentions that about sixty-five canvases, many “done fervently, of fierce expression and sometimes almost wild dynamics, by subject and method of treatment, attesting to the strongly swaying emotions in the minds of these artists.”51 The article does mention clearly what the paintings depicted. However, the report mentions a visit to the artists studio the following day, saying that the works found there, which included portraits and self-portraits, landscape, still life, and genre work, were “not of the importance for “Perdjoangan” (“Struggle”), indicating that the paintings exhibited indeed depicted scenes of war. An introduction of a publication mentions that the publication cover and ten images reproduced in it show part of a painting exhibition meant for the purposes of documentation jointly organized by the Seniman Indonesia Muda and the Bureau Perdjoangan of the Ministry of Defense, held from 25 May to 3 June 1947.52 The article also notes that the sixty-five paintings, made by twenty-five artists have been acquisitioned by the state.
Compared to what is written in the blog mentioned above, the news reports certainly offers a very different impression of what happened to the over sixty paintings depiction the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately we have no record of the sixty-five paintings, but based on the dates, the list might include: Affandi’s Laskar Rakyat Mengatur Siasat (1946), Sudjojono’s Kawan-kawan Revolusi (1947), and Henk Ngantung’s War Refugees (1947). Barli Sasmitawinata’s portrait of a guerilla by the name of Napitupulu (1946) may also be one of them. Which ones are --or where-- the other sixty one paintings is still a mystery for now. Indeed many paintings may have been destroyed during the war or due to poor care and conservation thereafter. However, Sudjojono’s Kawan-kawan Revolusi appears to be in quite a good condition in the Presidential Palace art collection, with no apparent signs of having been trampled over by mighty and angry Dutch soldiers in their thick boots.
Yet, some paintings dating from the period of the Revolutionary War 1945-49 can be found in various private and public collections. In a private collection in Solo, a painting by Trubus dated 1947 depicts Affandi’s mother lying sick on her bed. The reverse of the canvas shows an unfinished painting of fighters in green, clearly a depiction of a scene during war times. In the Museum Affandi, Mata-mata Musuh (“The Enemy Spy”), 1947 and Mother in the Room, 1949 are two paintings by the master.
While Kartono Yudhokusumo’s paintings in the Presidential Palace collection shows a scene of daily life (Sightseeing in Dieng) and a war scene, Attack at Pengok, another painting from the same year, entitled Wonosari, 1949, exists in the collection of Museum Widayat. Just as Claire Holt commented on Attack at Pengok as being “too decorative for theme, I think”53, Wonosari is not too much different. It is interesting that for Kartono painting scenes of war does not make him find it necessary to change his artistic approach.
Soedibio also painted in 1949. At least two paintings are portraits; one is Portrait of Soemilah in the Presidential Palace collection, while the other is a self-portrait. The most interesting artwork from that year is a painting known as Kekau Penduduk Yogyakarta. Photographs of the production of the painting appeared in Brochure Kesenian of 1949, and the finished painting adorn the cover. It was initially thought that the title signified the painting as a presentation to the people of Yogya, but apparently another photograph in the brochure shows that Penduduk Yogyakarta is the title of a drama also produced that year54. The word “kekau” which is no longer used much in Indonesia, means “being startled from one’s sleep”, and most likely the painting depicted an important scene from the play. The title of the painting seemed to express the painter’s view that the play, startled its audience from their “sleep”. It might even have meant as a metaphor to awaken the silent residents of Yogyakarta to participate in the struggle for Independence.
The most significant known painting from 1945-49 in my opinion is Sudjojono’s Seko I of 1949, the production of which is also documented in the Brochure Kesenian of 1949. Dr. Huyung’s interview with the artist, featured in the publication, reveals Sudjojono’s turn to his “Realism”. Seko I depicted a scene of a guerilla vanguard patrolling through the ruins of the town of Prambanan which had been destroyed during the attack that killed his father. While heroic in gesture, marked attention was given to portraying the figure and its surroundings realistically. After viewing the painting and noticing the artist’s shift in style, Dr. Huyung commented, “I see that your painting of ‘guerillas’ is different from your previous works. If I am not mistaken, you and other contemporary Indonesian painters painted in an Expressionist style in the past.”55. Sudjojono responded that indeed in the past he favored the “spiritual” without paying much attention to technique, because he thought that an emphasis on technique would not be favorably received. Although he felt that Indonesian artists were not academically inclined, he supported the idea of establishing an art academy.56 However, Sudjojono stated that painters need both technique and character. “If an artist focuses on character, in two or three years he can perhaps gain a name for himself, but he will be confused thereafter, because he lacks technique. On the other hand, if there is technique without soul, then it becomes clinical, without nuance, mechanical…. I wonder if an artist can be great if his character is not great? Can he make great paintings if he doesn’t have a great character? In my opinion, a painting is the soul of a painter. Through his paintings, his soul will be visible,”57 answered Sudjojono. Once again he was referring to his idea of painting as jiwa kétok or “visible soul”.
He continued, “Why did I turn to Realism? For me, Realism is more real. If Yogya is captured, I want to capture the real Yogya. If I eat, I have to eat real rice. If I attain sovereignty, I want to attain real sovereignty. I am not interested in symbolical sovereignty: it does not satisfy me, it is not real.”58 Sudjojono later added that “the people also need to understand art, and if the people cannot comprehend it, artists have to alter their style and make paintings that the people can understand.”59 As an example, Sudjojono recalled an experience from the time of the Revolutionary Struggle. One day a man riding on a horse approached Sudjojono and asked him if he could render his portrait realistically. The artist answered confidently that he could. The man was quite surprised to hear the price quoted by the artist, but finally agreed on the terms if the horse was depicted as well. The man was very happy when he saw the finished artwork, because the artist had also succeeded in realistically rendering his gold Roskopf chain watch.
Sudjojono’s Realism was indeed a far departure from the depiction of Indonesian reality that he propagated during the times of Persagi. “Paint spoons like spoons, benches like benches!”60 he advised and produced Realist paintings such as Portrait of a Neighbor and In a Village, both painted in 1950 and now in the Sukarno Collection. The bamboo bench depicted in Portrait of a Neighbor might be the bench to which he refers in his call to Realism. Indeed this painting characterized his new artistic direction. He pays great attention to detail: the textures of the woven bamboo wall, the earthen floor of the house, the blotches of the bamboo used for the bench, the creases in the figure’s clothing, and even the veins on the man’s hand are all painted accurately, almost photographically.61
The artist’s shift to Realism attracted quite a bit of reaction from the mass media during that time. Journalists and critics understood the artist’s bitterness following his traumatic experiences at Prambanan. He had lost his father in hostile fire, and when he returned to his studio, he discovered that ten of his most recent paintings, including a portrait of his wife62, had been looted.
Seven months after writing an article praising Sudjojono’s achievements in the October 1949 issue of Mimbar Indonesia, Trisno Sumardjo published another article about the painter in the same periodical. However, this time he questioned and criticized Sudjojono’s shift to Realism.63 He noted that by propagating a focus on Realism, the artist neglected the notion of relativity in art and that any effort to authentically replicate reality would prove futile. Sumardjo also criticized Sudjojono’s narrow interpretation of Realism as an optical representation of reality, because the portrayal of the reality of the state of life in Indonesia, which Sudjojono himself encouraged, could be portrayed in many other ways. He regretted that Sudjojono seemed to have abandoned the significance of soul in his expression. Sumardjo went on to question the reason for Sudjojono’s shift in style. “If he is sure that his chosen path leads him towards truth, we will respect his exploration, as long at it is not tied to an interest for power that is intrinsically egotist-fascist,”64 the critic wrote.
Sumardjo seemed to have already suspected then that Sudjojono had political ambitions and had linked himself with the Indonesian Communist Party. Later it seemed more obvious that Sudjojono’s turn to Realism was related to the style of Social Realism endorsed by the Communist Party. According to Sanento Yuliman, Sudjojono had joined the party in 1950, and when Lekra (acronym for Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat / League of People’s Culture) was established on Independence Day of 1950, he was named its Director.65 Initially meant to challenge organizations that promoted Western culture, Lekra organized art activities at the grassroots level, and endorsed “art for the people” as opposed to “art for art’s sake”. However, as a subsidiary of the Indonesian Communist Party, it supported the party’s “politics as the commander” scheme as its artistic vision.
Postwar historical paintings of the Revolutionary War
While not many painting from the War period survived and perhaps only a limited number survived, the Revolutionary War became the source of inspiration for many important artworks. Hendra Gunawan’s Pengantin Revolusi, painted in 1955, clearly depicted a scene from that time. Sudjana Kerton, Dullah, Rustamadji, and even Soedibio all painted historical paintings from this important period in Indonesian history. For them, as painters who actually experienced the War, painting it allowed to reflect upon their experience. The process seemed to give a more profound meaning of Independence.
For Sudjojono, the Revolutionary War became a very important source of inspiration. He painted at least sixteen paintings of this period, starting from the 1950s with Mengungsi, dated 1952, which depicted a scene of residents taking refuge after one of the military aggressions. In the 196os, after receiving commissions from Adam Malik, A.M Hanafi and Sukarno, he painted many scenes some based on sketches he made around the time of the War and also later, in the mid-1950s.
Some were even done after the fall of Sukarno. Seko II, for example, completed in 1968, was a revision of Seko I. While Seko I showed a guerilla vanguard boldly and heroically crossing the street, in the latter painting, the artist seemed to rethink his 1950s concept of Realism. Instead of depicting the militiaman as a heroic figure standing intrepidly in front of war-torn ruins as he did in the earlier painting, here the figure cautiously crouches, deliberating whether or not it is safe for him to proceed in crossing the street. Apologetically, he inscribed on the canvas: “We had no choice but to burn down the Chinese shophouses. What else could we do, for the sake of victory.” He further notes that it was modelled on his original July 1949 depiction. Sudjojono seemed to be an artist who enjoyed proposing reinterpretations and revisions. In 1972, he painted a portrait of M.H. Thamrin, most likely meant as a revision of Sudarso’s portrait of the figure dated 1947. His motives for the revisionist portraits is unclear, but in the case of Seko II it seems that he was trying to depict the situation more realistically than the idealistic version of almost twenty years earlier. Was he also trying to convey another message here?
There is no question that the Revolutionary War of 1945-49 affected the development of Indonesian art. It most likely affected in each artist is very different ways. For Sudjojono, the Revolutionary War was not only a theme that became a metaphor for freedom of expression. It also caused him to develop a technical approach, but not merely for the sake of it. Through the Revolutionary War scenes he painted, he continued to rethink his viewpoints and thoughts, which allowed him to remain critical in his artistic approaches and political perspectives.
Stedelijk Museum, 21 June 2018
Paper revised 18 July 2018
1. Holt, Claire. Art in Indonesia:Continuities and Change (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1967), p. . During the course of this study I came across an unpublished paper by Anissa Rahadi citing Holt’s mission, which is directly related to this study.
2. A note on spelling of names: on 17 March 1947, the Soewandi spelling system was introduced, changing the spelling of ‘oe’ to ‘u’. Although they did not do it immediately, many Indonesians eventually adopted this new spelling system to write their names, among others Sukarno, Sudjojono, Sudarso and Trubus. Meanwhile there also others such as Soeharto and Srihadi Soedarsono who chose to keep their original spelling of their names. For purposes of consistency, in this paper the most recent name which the artist preferred to use or the accepted current form or transliteration of the name will be used. In spelling written titles of works, inscriptions and publications, the original form will be used.
3. Supangkat, Jim. Srihadi dan Seni Rupa Indonesia (Jakarta: PT Mondekorindo Seni Internasional, 2012), p. 86
4. Ibid, p. 90
5. M. Dwi Marianto "The Revolution And Evolution of Sudjana Kerton - The Wolf Who Walked Alone". in Astri Wright, M. Dwi Marianto, HIlda Soemantri. The Revolution & Evolution of Sudjana Kerton, (Bandung: Sanggar Luhur, 1999), p. 82.
6. Dullah, Karya Dalam Peperangan Dan Revolusi/Paintings in War and Revolution, 1948-1949, (Jakarta: Djaya Pisura, 1982),
7. Pieter Eckhardt & Peter Sigmond, Kind In De Oorlog: Mohammed Toha Schildert Yogyakarta 1948-1949, (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2009)
8. “Pembukaan Steleng Seni Loekis Indonesia,” unknown publication, 28 December 1945; “Indonesian Exhibition in Batavia”, unknown publication; “Indonesian Art Exhibition”, unknown publication.
9. “Panggilan kepada Tenaga Kesenian”, Merdeka, 30 December 1945, p. 1 (this reference still needs to be checked).
10. “Kunst in vrijheid”, De Tĳd godsdienstig-staatkundig dagblad 22 September 1945 p. 3; „Kunst in vrijheid” Amigoe di Curacao 1 October 1945 p. 2.
11. “Schilderijententoonstelling”, Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 15 June 1946 p. 1; “Tentoonstelling Lee Man Fong” Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 19 June 1946 p. 2.
12. “Kunst Tentoonstellingindonesische Schilders”, Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 9 August 1946, p. 4.
13. Soedjojono,S., Seni Loekis, Kesenian dan Seniman, (Yogyakarta: Indonesia Sekarang, 1946)
14. Advertentie, Algemeen Handelsblad 3 July 1946; Advertentie, Het Parool 4 July 1946; Advertentie, De waarheid 8 July 1946; ‘Menschen en landschappen uit Bali en Java Expositie in „Arti”’, De Tĳd; godsdienstig-staatkundig dagblad 13 July 1946; Advertentie, Het Parool 18 July 1946; “Beeldende Kunst In De Hoofdstad”, Algemeen Handelsblad 20 July 1946;
15. “Indonesische Kunst”, Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 18 November 1946 p. 1
16. “Indonesian Artists in World Class”, The Telegraph (Brisbane), Fri 25 Jan 1946, p. 3, “Indonesian Paintings For Art Gallery”, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Sat 13 Jul 1946, p. 11, National Gallery of South Australia Board Agenda, 10 July 1946, p. 3.
17. “Kort kunstnieuws”, Het Parool 10 July 1946
18. “Het Gildehuys: Tentoonstelling Indonesische affiches en tijdschriften”, De waarheid 19 October 1946 p. 2
19. “Trekking Schilderijenloterij”, Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 8 February 1947 p. 2
20. Advertentie, Algemeen Indisch dagblad 6 May 1947; “Stad: Schilderijen-expositie”, Algemeen Indisch dagblad 12 May 1947 p. 2
21. “Raaklijnen aan de sfeer van Djokja”, Nieuwe courant 3 June 1947 p. 3; “Schilders in de Republiek”, De waarheid 19-06-1947, p. 3.
22. Soeloeh Tentara: Nomer Angkatan Perang, 5 October 1947 - 5 October 1947.
23. Advertisement, Nieuwe Apeldoornsche courant 30 January 1947; advertisement, Trouw 30 January 1947; “Raden F. Basoeki Abdullah Exposeert”, Nieuwe Apeldoornsche courant 3 February 1947. “Indonesian Artists in World Class”, The Telegraph (Brisbane), Fri 25 Jan 1946, p. 3, “Indonesian Paintings For Art Gallery”, The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Sat 13 Jul 1946, p. 11, National Gallery of South Australia Board Agenda, 10 July 1946, p. 3.
24. Wat het Sted. Museum ons laat zien”, Het Parool 27 September 1947 p. 3; “Dagelijks: Stedelijk Museum”, Het Parool 1 November 1947 p. 7
25. “Programma Gem. Museum”, De tĳd dagblad voor Nederland 6 December 1947 p. 7
26. “Tentoonstellingen: Indisch Museum”, Het Parool 6 December 1947 p. 7, “Indonesische Schilderkunst”, De locomotief; Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad 17 December 1947; “Expositie Indonesische Schilderkunst”, Nieuwe courant 17 December 1947 p. 1; “Schilderkunst Uit Indonesie”, Het dagblad; uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia 18 December 1947
27. “Balinese Tentoonstelling Uitgesteld”, De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad 16 September 1947 p. 4.
28. “Korte Berichten”, De locomotief: Samarangsch handels- en advertentie-blad 5 October 1949 p 2.
29. “Amsterdams Dagboek”, Het Parool 30 April 1948 p. 2.
30. “Balische Zilversmeden Op Houtrust”, Trouw, 7 July 1948, p. 2.
31. “Korte berichten” De Gooi- en Eemlander: nieuws- en advertentieblad, 27 August 1948, p.3., “Tentoonstellingen” Trouw, 4 September 1948, p. 4, “Tentoonstellingen”, Het Parool, 4 September 1948, p. 9.
32. “Reeds gedeeltelijk geplaatst Conservator Indonesisch Instituut onderscheiden“, De Tĳd: godsdienstig-staatkundig dagblad, 9 December 1948, p. 4; “Buitenlandse onderscheiding”, Nieuwe courant, 17 December 1948. P. III , “Nieuwe bespreking op komst van Benelux-ministers,“ Het Parool, 22 December 1948, p. 2.
33. “Indonesische schilders en Europa”, De nieuwsgier, 15 October 1948, p. 4.
34. “Agenda, Zaterdag 20 November,” Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 20 November 1948, p. 2.
35. “Indonesische schilders exposeren”, De nieuwsgier, 9 August 1948, p. 4.
36. Lukisan2an dan sastra dari dulu sampai sekarang di Taman Siswa exhibition catalog, (Jakarta: Panitia Pertundiukan Seni Sastera dan Seni Lukis Indonesia, 1948)
37. “Henk Ngantoeng exposeert”, Nieuwe courant, 16 December 1948, p. II
38. “ Koningin poseert voor Javaanse kunstschilder”, Nieuwsblad van het Noorden, 3 January 1949. p. 5; “Koningin Poseert Voor Javaanse Kunstschilder”, Nieuwe Apeldoornsche courant 3 January 1949, p. 5; “Kort Nieuws. Binnenland” Twentsch dagblad Tubantia en Enschedesche courant en Vrije Twentsche courant, 3 January 1949, p. 1; “Portret van de Koningin”, Het nieuwsblad voor Sumatra, 4 January 1949, p. 3; “Javaan schildert Koningin”, Het dagblad: uitgave van de Nederlandsche Dagbladpers te Batavia, 4 January 1949, p. 1; “Vererende opdracht”, De vrije pers: ochtendbulletin, 4 January 1949, p. 1; “Koningin Poseert Voor Javaansen Schilder”, Trouw, 4 January 1949, p. 1;“Basoeki Abdullah”, Limburgsch dagblad, 5 January 1949, p. 2; “Kunst in kort bestek”, Het Parool, 6 January 1949, p. 2; “Koningin possert voor Javaanse schilder”, De West: nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, 14 January 1949, p. 3.
39. “Tentoonstelling Indonesische kunst”. Nieuwe courant 16 March 1949 p. Iii.
40. “Indonesische Kunst In Brussel”, Het nieuwsblad voor Sumatra 16 June 1949 p. 2; “Kunst-Kroniek: Tentoonstelling Van Indonesische”, De Volkskrant 18 June 1949 p. 5.
41. [photo caption] Leeuwarder courant: hoofdblad van Friesland 3 September 1949, p. 7.
42. “Kunst Schilderkunst De Indonesiër Salim Tentoonstelling van werken in de Kunsthandel M.L. de Boer, Keizersgracht 542, Amsterdam”, De Gooi- en Eemlander nieuws- en advertentieblad 21 October 1949 p. 3.
43. “Naar culturele samenwerking”, De vrije pers: ochtendbulletin. 11 March 1949, p. 2; “Een Schilderijen Tentoonstelling”, De vrije pers: ochtendbulletin 21 July 1949, p. 2; “Kunst Unie Soerabaja”, Nieuwe courant 29 July 1949 p. 2.
44. “Schilderijen Expositie”, Het nieuwsblad voor Sumatra 22 October 1949, p. 4; “Schilderijen Expositie”, Het nieuwsblad voor Sumatra, 25 October 1949. p. 4.
45. “Schilderijen-expositie Lee Man Fong”, Java-bode: nieuws, handels- en advertentieblad voor Nederlandsch-Indie, 3 November 1949, p. 4.
46. Brochure Kesenian, Kementerian Penerangan Republik Indonesia, 1949. Ministry of Information’s Secretary-General Roeslan Abdulgani’s Introduction in the publication mentions the place and date: “Capital of the Republic of Indonesia, end of 1949” (p. 3). There is also mention of certain musical events, including one held during the reception of the Ministry of Information’s Service Conference, held at the Kepatihan 30 November 1949, leading to the inference that the brochure was published in December 1949.
47. During the time of the Japanese occupation the Japanese Year was used in Indonesia. Following the reign of Emperor Jimmu [神 武天皇] (711 BC - 585 BC), the Japanese Year is calculated based on the year of his ascension to the throne in 660 BC. The Japanese Year 2605 is equivalent to 1945.
48. Fandy Hutari, Di Balik "Kawan-kawan Revolusi", JurnalRuang, https://goo.gl/9Hhhc3
49. “Panggilan kepada Tenaga Kesenian”, Merdeka, 30 December 1945, p. 1 (this reference still needs to be checked).
50. “Raaklijnen aan de sfeer van Djokja”, Nieuwe courant 3 June 1947 p. 3; “Schilders in de Republiek”, De waarheid 19-06-1947, p. 3.
52. “Pendjelasan pada gambar-gambar”, (newsclipping, unknown publication).
53. Holt, Claire, Audience with President Sukarno, Istana Merdeka, notes. 5-9 February 1957, p.4 (2.9.57 - 9 February 1957).
54. Seni Drama in Brochure Kesenian, Kementerian Penerangan Republik Indonesia, 1949. p. 48.
55. Transcript of a conversation between Dr. Huyung, S. Sudjojono and Sudarso Wirokusumo “Informatie dalam Kesenian”, Kesenian, 1950 (?) p. 17. Dr. Huyung, a.k.a Hinatsu Eitaro née Hue Yong, was a Japanese soldier of Korean descent who in 1950 directed the film Between Sky and Earth portraying the Indonesian Independence.
56. Ibid, p. 18.
57. Ibid, p. 18-9.
59. Sudjojono, quoted in “Antara Seni dan Masjarakat, Para Pelukis Anak Zamannja” in Majalah Merdeka, no. 20 th. III, 20 Mei 1950. p. 17.
60. Sumardjo, T. “Realisme Sudjojono,” in Mimbar Indonesia no. 20, 20 May 1949, p. 21-23.
61. Holt, Claire, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, (Ithaca: New York, 1961), p. 197.
62. Sumardjo, T. “Sudjojono Bapak Senilukis Indonesia Baru,” in Mimbar Indonesia no. 42, 15 October 1949, p. 11
63. Sumardjo, T. “Realisme Sudjojono,” in Mimbar Indonesia no. 20, 20 May 1949, p. 21-23.
65. Sanento Yuliman Hadiwardoyo, "Genese de La Peinture Indonesienne Contemporaine: Le Role de S. Sudjojono", (Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1981), p. 134.