This work is accompanied with a certificate of authenticity, issued by Museum S. Sudjojono No. O/MS/SS/65/VII/97
Known as the father of modern Indonesian art, the painter S. Sudjojono spent his entire life in the turmoil and upheaval of Indonesian modernity: he was born in the Dutch East Indies and spent much of his early years in Batavia, after which whispers of independence were quashed by a brutal Japanese occupation before he finally passed away in what we know today as the nation of Indonesia. For Sudjojono, painting was not merely an aesthetic endeavor, but rather also a way of considering his self and society through the brush. His truth could be found in his art.
The piece at hand is a particularly compelling piece by Sudjojono: the foreground is painted in great realistic detail, with three figures in the center left of the composition working in a rice paddy field as a diffuse glow of light reflects the surrounding landscape on shallow water in the fields. Each branch is painstakingly drawn, as are the contours and topographies in the hill mound in the foreground. However, as Sudjojono paints the farther parts of the composition, the background slowly takes on a more abstracted form, with the mountain in the background painted in a surrealistic greenish-blue, with colors painted in broader fields. His signature clouds permeate the background, with its cotton-candy edges rimmed with earthy browns, its peaks made brighter with luminescent whites.
The tradition of Indonesian landscape art had long been dominated by colonial Mooi Indie (Beautiful Indies) paintings by European artists, often depicting the resplendent tropics through the gaze of the Other, romanticizing landscape and people alike in soft strokes and drawing women in mid-dance. Sudjojono scorned this approach to landscape that put a wedge between the viewer and the viewed, and instead believed that viewers should observe the countryside to learn from villagers. For Sudjojono, fine art is created as a result of the internalization of others’ daily lives into the life of the artist himself. This landscape is therefore an image of Sudjojono himself as much as it is a reflection of rural Indonesia. His landscape paintings did not merely return agency to the peoples and natural scenes depicted; he usurped the traditional hierarchy between viewer and viewed by relinquishing his individuality as an artist and allowing himself to act as mediator, allowing paintings to become a didactic work in and of itself.
This landscape was created at a time when Sudjojono was enraptured with Realism as pioneered by Gustave Courbet in France, seeking to revolutionize art by depict the working and rural classes in equal measure as aristocrats. Sudjojono was not seeking photographic representation, but a deeper truth that would reveal a transcendent sense of honesty. He would come to define his paintings in his native Javanese tongue as “jiwa ketok,” visible soul, a wish to see beyond objectified corporeal bodies to restore dignity, subjectivity and authority, to peer into the soul not only of himself, of a people, but also of a nation.
1Amir Siharta, Visible Soul: S. Sudjojono, Museum S. Sudjojono and Canna Gallery, Jakarta, p.37.
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