In the beginning women were merely objects of fine arts. Today, however, things have changed. Look at Indonesia’s fine arts social environment, they have become its subjects.
Since the pre-independence day until a quarter century after Indonesia became independent, male domination over Indonesia’s fine arts has been so overwhelming. If there were no such domination, emancipation heroine R.A.Kartini, who in her time did not only teach, write but also paint and made a number of Jepara wood-carving designs, would have also been recognized as Indonesia’s pioneer of modern women fine arts.
Due to such domination, the recognition of Kartini, even just as a mere female painter, was unheard of. In the fifties, Emiria Sunasa (has already) started to paint, but even then, it was hardly noticed.
Hardiman and Luh Suartini of the Fine Arts Education Department, FBS, Undhiksa, Singaraja, Bali, not a long time ago, have carried out a research and raised this issue. “For a long time, women who have been working in fine arts are often labeled as being ‘Sunday painters’ which, undoubtedly, smacks of just as a hobby, killing time, or ‘just for the heck of it’,” he said.
On the other hand, women in the male model ‘hegemony era’ are given the role as models. Their bodies (mostly fully dressed or naked) are copied on the canvas or paper, based on their respective interpretations, positions and fashions. Let us just mention painters such as Affandi, S. Soedjojono, Basoeki Abdullah, and many more, who have painted women as models.
However, don’t get me wrong, what Indonesia’s master painters have done has not been the outcome of their own unique discoveries, but it was just “continuing” the old Western tradition which was usually pursued by painters and sculptors alike. Let’s just mention Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Henry Moore and Leonardo da Vinci (with his most celebrated painting ‘Mona Lisa’).
Even until today, the habit of using models in studios is still being practiced. In fact, in China, catalogues of such models for painters (complete with names and addresses) are sold in public. Nowadays, there is quiet a number of women in Jakarta acting as models for painters and sculptors.
In short, since the late fifties, and continued until the sixties and seventies, a new dawn has emerged for Indonesia’s women fine artists. Women painters, both self-taught and graduates of fine arts higher learning in Bandung and Yogyakarta, have started to actively participate in exhibitions in a number of major cities in Java, such as Rulijati, Kustijah, Sriyani and Kartika Affandi.
In fact, the painter mentioned last on that list, took part for the first time in an exhibition in 1957 together with women painters at the Alun-Alun Art Gallery Yogyakarta. Kartika, who has been personally educated by his father, maestro Affandi, as well as arts education in India and a number of other countries, started to tour Europe in 1962 with her solo exhibitions. In addition to painters, there have been several sculptors graduated from formal education institutions, such as Rita Widagdo, Dolorosa Sinaga, Edith Ratna and Iriantine Karnaya. (WI/Yusuf Susilo Hartono)