Srihadi Soedarsono is one of Indonesia’s foremost modern painters and the only painter alive from the Bandung School. The history of his art can be seen as a thread through the history of the Indoneisan nation: in this sense, art and history are inextricably tied in his work. Familiar with the socio-politically aware works of the founder of modern Indonesian art, S. Sudjojono, Srihadi believed that the ability to cultivate an appreciation of art was critical to the development of the nation.
For Srihadi, art is a metaphysical act – the act of observation can be viewed as a “mental condition that can sense beauty and is the origin of artistic creation.”2 It is physically transcendent, yet grounded in our daily lives: perhaps why Srihadi toes the line between figurative works and expressive abstraction. This oscillation is not one of indecisiveness, but rather an expression of the radical potentials contained within both mediums.
This painting depicts a dancer, fully adorned with fan, accessories, headdress and costume, but not in the middle of her performance. She stands in front of a black background, with a streak of gold at the top of the canvas, as if her headdress is blurring into the very background of the painting itself. Unlike traditional depictions of dancers in the Mooi Indies (Beautiful Indies) school, she is not romanticized or sexualized. Rather, the focus of the painting is her eyes as the rest of her face is muted in a dark nude. Her expression is serene and calm as she stands straight in quiet dignity, further emphasized by the soft light that bathes her body in subtle shades.
This mood is emphasized by the artist’s use of the colour black. In the Javanese tradition from which Srihadi originates, there is a symbolic concept of colour known as bang bin tolu, of which black plays an extensive role. Srihadi uses black to symbolize the simultaneity of depth, stability and the mystery, a reflection of the spiritual world that permeates around us. This black colour field also plays off the dress of the dancer, who is adorned in black and orange, simultaneously acting as contrast and also as harmony.
Srihadi’s work featuring dancers is unparalleled in the art history of Indonesia and Southeast Asia. For him, dance’s beauty was not merely expressed in its physical acts, but its true beauty can be found in its capacity to bridge the gap between the increasingly alienated realms of the mortal-physical and the transcendent-spiritual.
1 Quoted in Abidin Kusno, The Appearances of Memory, Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2010, p. 1.
2 Jim Supangkat, Srihadi and Art in Indonesia, New Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2012, p. 68.
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