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Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Before the colonialization era in the 17th century by the Dutch, Indonesia has a vibrant tradition of Hindu–Buddhist art and architecture, which India deeply influenced from the 1st century CE. From the 1st century onward, Indonesia's conversion of art and culture has been shaped by various interactions between indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. The acculturation of art and ideas back then was caused by Indonesia's strategic location in the ancient trading routes. These intersections of trading routes influenced the nation's art styles ranging from the multitude of religions and cultures.

Oil on Canvas, 140 cm x 120 cm
Insinuation by Mahdi Abdullah

Owing to Grimm Lauren's journal in "The Evolution of Indonesian Art," arts were often associated with religious or spiritual activities during the pre-colonialization era, mostly in sculptures and architecture. The painting process is only utilized to decorate "Wayang" puppets, masks, and batiks. However, the painting process began to receive new attention with the westernization movement during the Netherlands occupation in the Indonesia archipelago.

Until the 18th century, the westernization of art began to develop in Indonesia with a small group of artists that traveled to Europe to study European realism. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, these artists started integrating a variety of European art styles. One of the most renowned artists in that era is Raden Saleh. He was entitled as the first Indonesian artist who paints in western styles of painting. The European styles are deeply influenced Saleh in most of his oeuvre.

Ink, Acrylic on Canvas, 113 x 83 x 3 cm
Picnic on The War Zone by Angga Yuniar Santosa

After the previous period of emerging Saleh as a talented indigenous artist, began the time of nationalism during the 1920s to 1940s. The past movement and style were not seen as an Indonesian movement and started to left behind. During that time, nationalist-themed art emerged as one of the most profound transformations within Indonesian art due to these nationalistic views together with the establishment of PERSAGI (Persatuan Ahli Gambar Indonesia), a group of artists who determined to form a new movement in Indonesian art.. this new movement embraced the national spirit and concerned itself with a contemporary issue such as political freedom.

Dickie Zebregs says in his article “The Art of Indonesian History”, the period between Raden Saleh and the emerging of the nationalist painters of PERSAGI in the 1940s was filled with the paintings of the ‘Beautiful Indies’ or ‘Mooi Indie’ which is beautiful landscape paintings of Indonesia who painted by Dutch and Indonesian artists. These paintings are regarded as a souvenir for European markets which mostly depicted Indonesia as a tourist destination and objects by ignoring the bitter truth of colonialism there. One of the PERSAGI’s members, Sudjojono criticized the ‘mooi indie’ style in Indonesia Art. He stated that painters should focus on the struggles of the indigenous and stop romanticized the archipelago’s landscapes by portraying their paintings filled with mountains, rice fields, tropical trees, and picturesque villages and kampongs.

Ballpoint on Canvas , 100 x 100 cm
Yang Terlupakan by Ika Kurnia

Six Periods of the Establishment

Acrylic on Canvas, 176 x 132 x 4.5 cm
Anoman and Shinta by Dedi Setiyadi

Mikke Susanto, a lecturer from Indonesia Art Institute of Yogyakarta divided the era of Indonesian fine arts into several periods; Pioneer period which included Raden Saleh in it, the Mooi Indie, or the Dutch colonization period that filled by extravagant artists like Basoeki Abdullah, Lee Man Fong, Antonio Blanco, Soedjono Abdullah, etc. Following Mooi Indie, there is the PERSAGI period which emerged during the Japan invasion of the archipelago. In this period, artists like Affandi, S. Sudjojono, Otto, and Agus Djaja are present. After the Independency in 1945, Indonesian art entering its Revolution period in the early 1950s, and the Galleries and Academic period following shortly after that.

Enamel, Polyurethane, Vitrail and Oil on Canvas , 178 x 128 cm
HOL(Y)DAY : "The Moment Seemed To Separated" by Restu Taufik Akbar

The era of the contemporary period in Indonesia has emerged Back in the 1970s called "Indonesian New Art Movement". This movement was started by an emerging group of young artists who rejected the institution's stigma, which called fine arts only limited to sculptures, paintings, and graphic design. Nowadays, art is more diverse and not determined by the traditional approach anymore. You can find many Indonesian artists express their art in more experimental methods with various kinds of approaches and styles, which you may find some of those exquisite Indonesian arts in modern galleries or museums across the world.


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