Raden Saleh Exhibition: Yogyakarta, Central Java
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Raden Saleh (1807-1880), believed to be a pioneer of Indonesian painting, Jogja Gallery is hosting a painting exhibition titled The Illusions of Nationalism.
Curator Mikke Susanto says there are several reasons why the theme was selected. “First, it is being held in August, the sacred month for Indonesians. Second, we want to ask ourselves whether we still have nationalism inside each of us these days or if it is just an illusion,” Mikke said.
The next question is, why Raden Saleh? What is the relation between nationalism and Raden Saleh whose nationalism, and even birth year, are still a matter of debate among researchers?
“That is exactly why,” Mikke answered.
Born in Semarang, Central Java, as Sayid bin Hussin bin Yahya, says Mikke, Raden Saleh had a dual character in terms of nationalism.
Some even accused him of not being nationalist at all. Quoting research, Mikke said that Raden Saleh’s thoughts were dominated too much by his pride in Western culture that he seemed to look down on local thinking.
At other times, Mikke said, Raden Saleh also expressed pride in his origins and reflected nationalist feelings through his paintings, such that he was once titled Honorable Raden Saleh, Prince of Java.
One the paintings that many consider to be a good reflection of his nationalism is titled The Arrest of Prince Diponegoro (1857).
The use of the word “arrest” in the title instead of “submission”, as previously used by artist Nicolaas Pieneman for a painting of the same person at the same event, was considered an indication of this.
Yet, again, in a letter he sent to a German friend about a year before he died mysteriously in 1880 in Bogor, West Java, Raden Saleh wrote that although he was living in Java his heart and mind were still in Europe.
“So, even up to the present, his nationalism is still in question, just like that of many of us today in Indonesia,” said Mikke, adding the exhibition wanted to portray contemporary Indonesian nationalism through the paintings of the participating artists.
Although the gallery’s decided to select 1807 instead of 1811, 1813, 1814 or any other year believed to be the birth year of Raden Saleh, Mikke said, it did not mean that 1807 was definitive.
“We are not trying to establish once and for all the birth year of Raden Saleh,” Mikke said.
Instead, the exhibition was held more as a form of respect to the great artistry of Raden Saleh, which to date has yet to receive appropriate recognition from the government.
Running through Sept. 9, the exhibition will present some 55 works of 53 artists from across the country including 12 newcomers whose works have been carefully selected for the exhibition.
“Through the selection we want to find new talent as well as alternatives to what many have seen thus far,” Mikke explained.
Mikke added the gallery received more than 100 work proposals from 78 artists during the selection process. However, only 12 passed muster, although the gallery initially planned to select 20.
The remainder, according to Mikke, had failed to fulfill the curatorial concept as they relied on clich‚d symbols of nationalism, or there were shortcomings in the visual technique in the finishing, or artistry of the paintings.
Other participating artists, who are senior and well-known, include Astari Rasjid, Dyan Anggraini Hutomo, Eddi Hara, Hanafi, Haris Purnomo, Heri Dono, Ivan Sagito, Pius Sigit Kuncoro, S. Teddy D, Suroso (alias Isur) and Yuswantoro Adi.
The Illusions of Nationalism
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through Sept. 9