Srihadi's sketches of 'struggle' from history
By Chandra Johan
JAKARTA (JP): After being buried for about 50 years, the sketches of "struggle" by Srihadi Sudarsono are now on display at the Utan Kayu Lontar Gallery in East Jakarta until Sept. 27.
Srihadi is a master Indonesian painter who is no longer a stranger to art lovers, connoisseurs as well as collectors. His works in the form of sketches, which were made spontaneously and fast, reveal several moments of history from the beginning of this republic.
For a painter, sketches are like notes. As notes, they stand autonomously as a work of art and can also be continued on the canvas. Only by using a pencil or ink can a painter quickly and spontaneously record each moment and event considered attractive and significant. Through his sketches, Srihadi has recorded moments of historical events neglected in the research of history, or because they were too trifling to be attended to.
A work of art is not a description of historical science, the more narrative history. Scientific narrative history wants to make a description of the past by reconstructing what happened through a story, or in other words, selecting and organizing important events according to a time axis so that it is arranged as a story. With such an approach, historical research only focuses and arranges big events while neglecting smaller ones and the role of the ordinary man involved in it. In the neoscientific approach of contemporary history, they cannot be neglected anymore like that because there are many things that cannot be shortened in scientific arrangement. Therefore, other instruments are needed in order to see another corner of each event. Herewith Srihadi has contributed something meaningful.
Srihadi's sketches truly don't record big, noble and dramatic events in the milestones of Indonesia's history. Srihadi didn't build an iconography with those sketches. Nothing is exalted, and it is as if every event that happened was ordinary. Sketches of ruined airplanes, which at that moment perhaps didn't mean anything in the turbulence, are presented in serenity. Actually, we are presented with fragments like that, and in each fragment we are also faced with temporariness and contiguity, where we are shown a period of full insecurity.
However, as notes which catch fragments in history, his work must be seen in a series of turbulent events in the period of Indonesian struggle between l946 to 1949. Historian Taufik Abdullah explains in his introduction to this exhibition that the whole background of Srihadi's sketches was depicted in this turbulent atmosphere. Taufik described the tension at that time as a consequence of a conflict of interest from the Indonesian and Dutch sides and also colonial political practices, including the use of violence, which nowadays is considered a black page in history by world society. Dutch aggression, which happened in two incidents, showed political turbulence between l946 and l949 was limited to the political setting at the conference table, which involved only politicians. The involvement of society in the social revolution was reflected in Srihadi's and a number of other artists' involvement.
At that time, Srihadi as a painter changed to the role of photographer as he noted important events visually. He was also involved in the armed struggle against the Dutch military oppression.
These sketches could also show the relation of an Indonesian artist with the political and social conditions around him. In the beginning of Indonesian modern art history, the political and social conditions always invited reactions for artists to reflect them in their works. Some of the artists were involved in collective struggles, while others joined groups for political aims.
Srihadi used to be a member of the Young Indonesian Artists of Surakarta branch in 1948. It was founded by Sudjojono, a figure from Indonesian modern art who from the beginning showed a resistant attitude toward colonialism. Although the content and theme of social politics in his sketches looked dominant enough, such as in Berunding (Discussion) and Rapat Umum di Alon-alon Yogyakarta (Public Meeting in Yogyakarta Square), Srihadi didn't neglect the aesthetic aspect. Sketches like Pemandangan Kaliurang (Kaliurang Panorama), Jeep Willys, Stasiun Kereta Api Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta Train Station) and Seorang Pejuang di Dalam Kereta Api (A Hero on a Train) record daily events and views which sufficiently considered aesthetic aspects.
In light of them, Srihadi's sketches can be categorized in three groups. First, sketches which record events. These sketches made in the l940s were related with his job as reporter-painter, when he documented several interesting events, like the serenity sketch Reruntuhan Pesawat Dakota (The Ruin of the Dakota Airplane), Bung Tomo Membalas Larangan Berbicara (Bung Tomo Counters the Ban to Speak), Kongres Taman Siswa Yogya (Taman Siswa Yogyakarta Congress) and Gedung Perundingan (Discussion Hall). The question is: Did he record without interpretation? In sketches like these, interpretation doesn't have to change. In this case, interpretation will be seen in the lines he drew, which show the role of emotion there, like in Bung Tomo Membalas Larangan Berbicara. It seems Srihadi knew when to record as precisely as possible; when he was freer with emotion. In the Dakota ruins sketch, he seemed to want to be more precise, drawing each part of the completely destroyed plane.
The second group is the sketches of faces, especially faces of important figures at that time. Among those are Sukarno, Sudjojono, Mrs. Rahmi Hatta and faces of confreres from Australia, Belgium and U.S. In these sketches, Srihadi showed his interpretation of the character of the figures he drew. He didn't try to chase the resemblance of the characteristics and features of a nation.
The third group is free sketches, in the sense that it has no relation with the theme of social political struggle at that time. Srihadi recorded several artistic objects which attracted him, like a model, a jeep or a two-wheeled cart, a dancer, a group of gamelan players, landscape and city views. In these sketches, Srihadi surely made a sufficient and free enough interpretation as if he wanted to note something important or meaningful about every simple object.
Jim Supangkat, one of two currators of the exhibition (the other currator is Asikin Hasan), said the sketches in the last group also reflect idealism. Even the view of nature, the dancer and the flower were not merely presenting beauty for Srihadi, he said. After he has been painting for 50 years, this tendency shows the main thread of his art.