Art / History / Culture & Curious Habits / Indonesia

The Neglected Landscapes, or an attempt to remove blemish off landscape paintings in the post-colonial/post-98 Indonesian archipelago.

*All images used in the post are from Wikimedia Commons.

Three weeks ago, I started drawing again after almost a decade. I chose to start with landscape drawing. I drew based on existing paintings, or sketches as process of study. And to my surprise, it was really relaxing and the fact that I could just spend a day just drawing and I would consider it a good day makes me wonder why I haven’t done this for the longest of time.

My drawing studies aside, in retrospect, I have a bit of a strange relationship with landscape paintings. My first lesson about landscape paintings were through the “Mooi Indie” and the twin mountain plus sun rising template. This was taught as early as I was in the kindergarten, if I remembered correctly. Then, during my college years, I learned that “Mooi Indie” and the template was incredibly demonised by the avant-garde of Indonesian modern art painters and academics. They would say things like “mooi indie” is a Western romanticised ideal of the Indies and a symbol of colonial oppression. They (the art academics in Indonesia) would also frown upon people who drew landscape paintings ( gambar pemandangan ), calling it unimaginative and un-nationalistic, sometimes even “lover of the colonizer”, no matter how great these artists are in making them.

Raden  Sjarif Bustaman Saleh, The Water Mill, 1835, Oil on Panel, 51.5 x 65.5 cm

Raden Sjarif Bustaman Saleh, The Dutch colonial troops patrolling Mt. Merapi & Merbabu, Central Java, 70 x 105 cm, Oil on Canvas

Lee Man Fong, Bali Life, 1974, Oil on Canvas, 82,5 x 184 cm

It was S. Sudjojono who first deprecate “Mooi Indie” style of some artists (i.e. Basoeki Abdullah, Wakidi)  in one of his writings in 1946. His thoughts on how dignified Indonesian artists should show true Indies/Indonesia which isn’t always ‘mooi’. This thought then stays within the academia even until today. Today, a lot of people also associate landscape paintings with touristic consumer items.

Two mountains with sun rising drawing template.

For some of you who grew up in Indonesia pre-2000 must remember this drawing template that was taught in art class. This template is so well remembered that knowing how extensive this drawing template known throughout Indonesia, it is hard not to think that the state would have something to do with it. I can’t tell for certain, but allow me to make a hypothesis here, that the drawing template was first introduced by the New Order regime through art books in schools in order to promote an agrarian vision of state for as long as the New Order reigns, 32 years!. The New Order regime did really well on it that generations still have memory of this particular template. Post 1998, the drawing template now became a symbol of oppression of creativity. A lot of Indonesians today condemn this template.

I hope it doesn’t just end in condemning, but evolving into a better art education. Because, ‘mooi indie’ is just a small part of the wide range of landscape paintings. And landscape paintings are not all just about pretty and beautiful, it is also knowledge of having a perspective, measuring distance and depth, nature observation, human observation and all kinds of scientific knowledge. Which is the reason for me to think that many would benefit from overcoming bitterness towards landscape paintings. Because, really, there are plenty of beautiful landscape paintings to savour in the world, or to make for that matter.

Ivan Shiskhin, Rain in Oak Forest, 1891, 124 x 204 cm, Oil on Canvas


Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Landscape of La Ferté-Milon, between 1855 and 1865, Oil on canvas, 23.7 × 39.3 cm

“Pine Trees”, Hasegawa Tōhaku, 16th C, Pair of six folded screens, ink on paper, 156,8 x 356 cm

Zhao Yuan, 元 趙原 (元) 倣燕文貴范寬山水圖 卷 Landscape in the Style of Yan Wengui and Fan Kuan, 1350-1375, ink on paper,9 13/16 x 30 1/2 in. (24.9 x 77.5 cm) Overall with mounting: 10 1/8 x 347 5/16 in. (25.7 x 882.2 cm)


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