S. Sudjojono is respected for being the father of modern art in Indonesia, for his oeuvre challenged old paradigms, while introducing new modes of expression. The present piece entitled Pasukan Kita Yang Dipimpin Pangeran Diponegoro (Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro), demonstrates the magnitude of Sudjojono’s creative vision and political dogma. The artwork celebrates Prince Diponegoro and his military troops’ victory against the Dutch soldiers during the five-year Java War. As the artist once said, “[to understand] the single word ‘Indonesia’ implies the ideas of being together, waking up, working, falling, sacrificing oneself and struggling without end”2.
Created in 1979, the present work is a deliberate call to action for Indonesians to celebrate their fallen heroes. The Indonesia that Sudjojono knew was experiencing a breakdown of identity, for the country was locked in a struggle between foreign influences, and revolutionary ideals. By drawing parallels between the Dutch colonialists with the local Indonesian government, Sudjojono’s painting turns into a social commentary about the power of human faith amidst political and emotional tyranny.
The poem by Sudjojono that is inscribed onto the painting further emphasizes this ideology3:
Pasukan kita yang dipimpin Pangeran Diponegoro pribadi meludeskan tentara belanda.
Letnan Rödel tewas.
Major Bollewijn lari.
Semua senjata kita rebut.
Inilah kisah pertempuran di Kejiwan itu (Kalasan, Prambanan, 9 Agustus 1826)
Sedumuk bathuk, senyari bumi, yayi!
Our troops, led by Diponegoro himself had defeated the Dutch.
Lieutenant Rodel dead.
Mayor Bollewijn escaped.
We have victoriously gathered all weapons.
This is the story of the 'Kejiwan' (Kalasan, Prambanan, 9 August 1826)
We will never give up our possession. We will fight until we die!
Sudjojono’s oeuvre was largely influenced by his nationalistic ideals, and patriotic responsibilities. His paintings may be seen as a direct response to the Orientalist aesthetics populating Indonesia’s modern art during this period. Concerned by what he perceived as the “insincere idealization of reality”4, Sudjojono phrased the term Mooi Indië (Beautiful Indies) to describe this creative phenomenon.
He revered Realism above all other visual styles, and the 1930s was a period of self-exploration. A deliberate divorce from the Mooi Indië aesthetics, it was also a rebellion towards the artistic status quo of that era. Thirty-some years prior to the creation of Pasukan Kita Yang Dipimpin Pangeran Diponegoro (Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro), the artist exhibited his paintings to the Bataviasche Kunstkring (Batavian Art Circle). The judges made up largely of Dutch nationals, dismissed the works for their “poor” technique, and artistic style. This critique reflected the foreign standards of portraying Indonesia as an exotic locale, rather than the realist depiction of rural life that the artist sought to celebrate within his paintings.
As a member of the Persegi (Association of Indonesian Artists Movement), the artist’s political essays allowed him to record the thoughts of his generation, as well as communicate these hopes and fears within the paintings. With the term Mooi Indië (Beautiful Indies), Sudjojono found a way to define that generation’s art movement, while subsequently attack it for falsifying the country’s identity within an artistic paradigm, and misleading the local population to believe that it was true.
Painted with energy, passion and hope, Pasukan Kita Yang Dipimpin Pangeran Diponegoro (Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro), expresses the artist’s pride and commitment to his homeland. Similar to other works such as The Battle between Sultan Agung and Jan Pieterzoon Coen (Fig. 1), Sudjojono applied “the rule of thirds” in the composition of the present painting. A term that refers to an artwork’s compositional layout, his use of this technique serves to intensify the drama of the battle. By depicting the event within this stylized framework, Sudjojono’s allegorical painting reads as a visual story where history is played out upon the canvas.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Batavia was the trading empire for the Dutch in Indonesia. They had monopolized the Indonesian spice trade, where coffee and sugar were grown for export. Commercial dealings were replaced by a modern colonial administration, which consequently reduced the power of the local ruler 5. As the lives of the ordinary Indonesians became harder the people were inspired by the Ottoman Empire, specifically the stories about their political intelligence, and religious ideology influenced by Islamic teachings. The Indonesians desired to recreate this glory within their own country. Therefore this was the beginning of the struggle against the Netherlands, also known historically as the five-year Java War (1825-30).
The main protagonist of this conflict was Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855), the eldest son of the third sultan of the Central Javanese Kingdom of Yogyakarta. Born with a name destined to inspire a nation (literally meaning “The Light of the Country”), the Prince played a significant role in the history of the Java War (Fig. 2 and Fig 3). It was ultimately his triumph and pursuit for justice that was cherished by the people of Indonesia, and established him as a legend and role model for future generations.
The present piece demonstrates the artist’s understanding of appropriating historical events within an artistic framework, thereby finding connections between the past and present to critique modern society. Sudjojono witnessed the national awakening of Indonesia, and this experience has become immortalized in the present painting. Pasukan Kita Yang Dipimpin Pangeran Diponoegoro (Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro) is a striking parable of both the artist’s, and Prince Diponegoro’s philosophy and journey into life.
1 Theodore Roosevelt. Retrieved on 20 February, 2014, from http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/44567.Theodore_Roosevelt
2 Astri Wright, Modern Indonesian Art: The Generations of Traditional Change 1945-1990, Berkeley, California, 1990, p. 111
3 refer to 2, p. 114
4 Peter Carey, The Javanese Messiah: Prince Diponegoro and the Making of Modern Indonesia, Oxford, 2007.http://muslimvoicesfestival.org/events/javanese-messiah-prince-diponegoro-and-making-modern-indonesia
5 Refer to 4
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