OIL ON CANVAS
The Artist's collection
Dr Jacob Vredenbregt, Indonesia (acquired directly from the artist circa 1964)
Sotheby's, Singapore, April 29, 2007, Lot 138
Purchased by the present owner at the above sale
In Affandi's 2007 catalogue raisonné, the distinguished art historian Jim Supangkat related an anecdote from Affandi's family members about the artist not being allowed to enter an exhibition in Bandung in 1935. At the time, only members of the Dutch community and a few selected artists had the privilege and access to cultural events. He reacted by asking, "What's wrong with my look?" (Sardjana Sumichan, ed., Affandi, Volume 1, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Jakarta, Singapore, 2007, p. 61).
More than seven decades later, Affandi 's portrait has become emblematic of a certain kind of socio-cultural validation and national pride for Indonesia. Breaking boldly from the conventions of its time, and pursued with the same relentless productivity as Rembrandt, whom he admired, Affandi's iconic self-portraits, each varying in colour, intensity, strength, and mood, have become one of the ultimate icons of Indonesian Modern Art. For the Indonesian people, they carry a deeper meaning than mere artistic expression. Affandi's self-portraits can be seen as a documentation of not only his personal development but also that of the tumultuous world he lived in.
One of the earliest known Affandi self-portraits was executed in 1938. It was realistically rendered and it depicted a proud and determined Affandi in the act of painting. The exclusion and disregard of indigenous artists ignited the spirit of nationalism in the hearts of the people and propelled the establishment of artist collectives such as Persagi (by Sudjojono, in 1938) and Lima Bandung (by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Sudarso, Wahdi and Barli, circa 1938); pioneers who planted seeds of Modern Indonesian Art by rejecting the Mooi Indies movement and promoting 'realism': real people, real anguish, real joy.
The 1960s were Affandi's golden age, marked by a profusion of strong works that gained critical acclaim in his own country and overseas. He was around 56 years old when he completed the present work, entitled Muka Sendiri (Self Portrait), dated 1963. Fresh on the heels of his return from a tour and successful exhibition in the United States, the present work exemplifies the apex of the artist's creative vision. It also marks a dramatic juncture in Indonesia's modern history, as the country entered the last years of Sukarno's tottering regime and braced itself for the turbulence that would accomany the charismatic strongman's slow fall from power. By then, Affandi had become a cultural beacon for Indonesia in the international platform. He was a man in his prime - mature, confident, and successful - and this portrait conveys this with the exuberance of its colour and the vigorousness of the strokes.
Standing slightly apart from most of his other self-portraits, where the eyes were not depicted so perceptibly, the present work engages its viewer in a more compelling manner. Here, Affandi draws the observer in with a network of impasto that is striking against the rest of the palette; curled and intertwined, it merges around the contours of the eyes, drawing scarlet and black lines toward the focal point of Affandi's piercing gaze. Undoubtedly Muka Sendiri (Self Portrait) illustrates a man who was completely comfortable in his own skin. The young man who was barred from entering an art exhibition had become a man who had not only survived, but thrived; a man who may not be rich, but lives a rich life.
Next to his eyes, the artist has scribbled his special "life symbol" consisting of the sun, in the position of the head, as the source of life and inexhaustible energy; the hands, the artist's creative tool; and the feet, a symbol for moving forward constantly. This marks Affandi's personal satisfaction and approval of the work, which is further emphasised by the proud declaration inscribed above his signature, "Muka Sendiri" (the literal translation is 'My Face'). Affandi himself held this work in particularly high regard and was once in the artist's personal collection. In a letter recollecting the history of the painting, Dr. Jacob Vredenbregt wrote, "Affandi, always eager to sell his paintings, was so pleased with this self-portrait that he entitled 'Muka Sendiri', that he wanted to keep it for himself for some time. It was only one year later that he was willing to part with it."
The raw power seen in the exuberant and direct application of paint from the tube perhaps heralds the fact that Indonesian Modernism had finally caught up with developments in the west, when Jackson Pollock was actively creating works by dripping paint. Completed during Indonesia's germinal years, when the nation turned eighteen and was building its identity, it is interesting to note that Affandi's adulthood encompassed some of the most important periods in Indonesia's history: the birth of nationalism, the struggle for independence, the transition from colonialism, and finally, the dawn and development of a new nation. Placed in this greater context, Affandi's Muka Sendiri (Self Portrait) and ultimately, his life, can be regarded as a powerful and inspirational anthem, boldly empowering his viewers to push forward, to have courage, and to never stop believing.
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