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Sudjojono's sketchbook unveiled in Singapore

Stevie Emilia

The Jakarta Post

Singapore  /  Thu, May 17, 2018  /  09:22 am
Sudjojono's sketchbook unveiled in Singapore

Masterpiece: A visitor checks out drawings from S. Sudjojono’s sketchbook displayed at the National Gallery Singapore in a newly opened exhibition running until Aug. 19. (National Gallery Singapore/File)

Eighteen drawings from a sketchbook by S. Sudjojono, the renowned maestro of modern Indonesian art, are on display for the first time as a full set at the National Gallery Singapore.

The sketchbook, titled Draw & Paint ( 1969 ), captures little known details of the personal life of the artist and his surroundings. The drawings are shown as part of the gallery’s newly opened exhibition “(Re)collect: The Making of our Art Collection” which runs until Aug. 19.

In these drawings, the artist shrewdly captures the essence of every subject and scene through his fluid line work, nuanced tonal gradations of inks as well as his use of soft colors, occasionally, to imbue the drawings with a vivid sense of life.

Each piece bears Sudjojono’s handwritten comments, which in a way, immortalize his thoughts, something rarely done by artists today.

“Actually, it’s not the kind of sketchbook he usually made to prepare for his painting. These are just his drawings. Most are like journals that he kept of his life,” explained the gallery’s senior curator Seng Yu Jin, who has previously co-curated and organized exhibitions by renowned Indonesian artists from Affandi and FX Harsono to Sudjojono.

Journal: One of Sudjojono’s drawings shows his wife, renowned classical mezzo-soprano singer Rose Pandanwangi, practicing. Journal: One of Sudjojono’s drawings shows his wife, renowned classical mezzo-soprano singer Rose Pandanwangi, practicing. (JP/Stevie Emilia)

In these drawings, while the subjects in a way bear a sense of pathos and dignity, some convey a sense of humor, such as showing the artist’s second wife, renowned classical mezzo-soprano singer Rose Pandanwangi, singing while doing chores.

“And there’s one of him sitting in his car, waiting for her. He used to fetch her at radio stations [where] he waited [in the car] and in the meantime he drew,” Yu Jin said.

There is no official record available of the artist’s exact birth date, as he wrote in his autobiography Cerita tentang Saya dan Orang-orang Sekitar Saya (The Story about Myself and the People around Me) published last year, other than that he was born in Kisaran, North Sumatra, a day before his father’s payday sometime in 1913. Sudjojono, or Pak Djon, as he was called by many, died on April 25, 1986.

Through the exhibited drawings, Sudjojono, who gained respect for his nationalism by finding an Indonesian style of painting and his efforts to deliver nationalist messages through his work, also reveals his thought process and observations following a defining period in his life.

The year the sketchbook was made, 1969, also marked Sudjojono’s 10th wedding anniversary with Rose and his subsequent withdrawal from political activity — the time when he quietly coped with immense changes in his personal and social situation amid the turbulent political upheavals in Indonesia in the mid-1960s.

Up close: In this drawing, Sudjojono writes “his workroom is also his bedroom”. Up close: In this drawing, Sudjojono writes “his workroom is also his bedroom”. (JP/Stevie Emilia)

“This sketchbook has an interesting acquisition story. Sudjojono had gifted it to a Japanese friend of his in Jakarta and this Japanese friend brought the sketchbook back to Japan and people had forgotten about its existence until it resurfaced in an auction,” said exhibition curator Lisa Horikawa.

The sketchbook was later donated by Singaporean John Koh, who acquired it at an auction.

Yu Jin said that while Sudjojono was renowned for his paintings, the sketchbook was special as it was rare for a collection of his drawings to be exhibited in their entirety.

“Usually, his drawings were separated and sold individually, so you could no longer see them as a portfolio,” said Yu Jin.

Several drawings have been displayed before but it is the first time all of them have been on display as a complete set — with each page in the correct sequence, a factor made possible as the donor is involved in the book business.

“And because he’s involved in the book business, he’s very particular about keeping it as a whole, as a book. He never sold it individually. And eventually donated it to us,” Yu Jin said.

The donation came as a pleasant surprise for the gallery, which was working together with the donor on a digitization project at its resource center.

The gallery is currently conducting an extensive digitization project across Southeast Asia. Compiling the works of Sudjojono is one of its major projects, with the gallery working closely with the S. Sudjojono Center and the artist’s family to digitize all of his letters and other works in their collection.

Detailed: Sudjojono draws Detailed: Sudjojono draws "food stall by the highway" in the sketchbook. (National Gallery Singapore/File)

“As part of this digitization project, we got to know this collector and he knew what we’re doing and he was very impressed. [When] he got the book, we digitized the entire book and after we finished it, he donated it to the gallery,” Yu Jin said.

He said the project was undertaken not with the intention of getting something in return but because it was important to preserve the artworks.

“We’re doing this because it’s important to digitize all these materials before they’re destroyed because they’re [mostly] paper based materials,” said Yu Jin.

“That’s the beautiful thing about donation, it’s so personal because people appreciate what has been done for them and then they give the donation.”