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Indonesian paintings, painters take the Parisian limelight

Pasar Malam dans la presse
Jakarta Post

(En anglais seulement)

Indonesian paintings, painters take the Parisian limelight
30/01/2005, Kunang Helmi-Picard, Contributor, Paris

The image of talented but impoverished painters in Paris wearing black berets, eking out a living in ateliers or congregating in cafes with their models around Montparnasse, may well belong to the last century.

However, many fine art connoisseurs still consider Paris to be vital for art activities. A plethora of exhibitions tempt visitors here each month, while proceeds from art fairs and sales are always significant.

Meanwhile, an interest in Indonesian artists is awakening, not only for our more renowned painters like Batak painter Salim, established here since the late 1920s, but also lesser known artists.

In the light of the devastating tragedy in Aceh, medieval art expert Francoise Lasisz and Indonesian national Rita Aloyol of the newly born API -- Association pour le rayonnement de la Peinture Indonesienne -- decided to raise funds for the relief effort in northern Sumatra with their first show, concerned about the promotion of Indonesian art in France.

The week-long show, which was opened on Jan. 18 by chargé d'affaires Lucia Rustam in the Sasana Budaya Room of the Indonesian Embassy in Paris, focused on watercolors and gouaches by Jean-Marie Cuzin and the Cat Air ""Widuri"" group. The paintings were for sale for 150 and 350 euros.

Jean-Marie Cuzin is not Indonesian, but the professional book illustrator based in Toulon, southern France, travels frequently to Indonesia. His pictorial diaries of Bali and Sumba are intimate visions of daily life and their natural environment. Cuzin spontaneously offered to donate some of his work toward the fund-raiser exhibit, and six were sold on opening night.

Paintings by watercolor group Cat Air "Widuri" from Bogor, West Java, have already been exhibited at the Nancy Fair in summer 2002. In Paris, Sandy Leonardo, Ellen Krisanti, Jeanne Wibisono, Pwan Cho and Sri Kuswinda bought pieces depicting Indonesian flowers, plants and fruits at the fund-raiser, while Leonardo also purchased work showing Balinese dancers and temples.

At the exhibition opening, nine dancers under the direction of Arie Drian from the Khattulistiwa group performed the energetic Saman dance from Aceh, the women in the group clad in trousers, as is customary in the province.

"Even though it opens to the chant of Islamic prayers, it is an universal dance, symbolizing gotong royong," dancer Yita Dharma said, referring to the age-old Javanese custom of give and take, of helping each other.

Rita expressed a hope that the traditional dance would continue to be performed after the tragedy and not die out.

During the same week, the Franco-Indonesian association Pasar Malam organized a 10-day painting exhibition featuring Salim, the Indonesian national who has stayed longest in Paris. The exhibition was hosted by the Salle de Souvenirs of the fifth district town hall, and was inaugurated on Jan. 21 by the mayor, Jean Tiberi. Lucia Rustam again attended the opening, while political scientist Francois Raillon spoke on the highlights of Salim's work and life in Paris with great brio. The Indonesian Embassy, Restaurant Indonesia and Pasar Malam provided a tasty buffet to usher in the new year.

About 20 paintings by Salim are on display at the town hall for visitors to admire. Most of them are geometrical compositions in vivid color themes. The majority of his work is abstract, but he has also executed a series of portraits of Indonesian women and landscapes in a more realistic fashion. A painting titled Aceh has a dark background with a blood-red center, which Salim said represented the human suffering there.

The 96-year-old outspoken political intellectual was born in 1908 in Medan, and left the then Dutch East Indies in 1920 to attend a gymnasium in the Netherlands. With hardly any change in his pocket, he then departed for Paris, where he intended to study painting.

Cubist painter Fernand Leger accepted him as an apprentice, and while taking up all sorts of odd jobs to pay his way, Salim also studied under Amedee Ozenfant, who shared Leger's atelier. Both Leger and Ozenfant had worked as draftsmen with architects such as Le Corbusier, and this clearly influenced the way they taught and painted.

Salim, who has a striking face, later joined the ranks of black-beret artists and intellectuals who filled Cafe Le Dôme in Montparnasse with their animated discussions.

Ideas flowed, painting and sculpture styles succeeded each other in a cosmopolitan atmosphere where people from all over Europe and America exchanged their experiences. Probably the only artist at the time in Paris from the Dutch colony that was later to become Indonesia, Salim would experiment with various painting techniques and venture into graphic illustrations.

Returning Batavia (now Jakarta) at the beginning of the 1930s to work as a graphic artist, Salim attended nationalist meetings at Gang Kenari. He made no secret of his nationalist and progressive convictions, but soon returned to Europe where the political situation worsened and war followed.

Salim lived in the Netherlands for a while earning his living as a book illustrator before returning to Paris. The painter later spent long periods in the seaside town of Sete in southern France.

Today, the painter still prefers a Bohemian lifestyle, and lives in a tiny flat perched high above the rooftops of Neuilly, the chic suburb of Paris. In the flat, he is surrounded by twittering small birds that are at liberty to fly about. Despite his advanced age and arthritic knees, his mind is still sharp and retains a keen interest in world events, especially those concerning Indonesia.

"At my age, I am ambitious in the sense that I always want to do better and continue working. After this show, there will be another in February at the Egyptian Cultural Centre."

In early March, Emmanuele Bethery, who founded Pelukis Dari Balik Tirai (Hidden talents of Indonesia) along with Javanese painter Nita Nursita, will exhibit the work of nine Javanese artists in Paris. These works will also be for sale at modest prices, with the proceeds going directly to the artists.

Bethery, who lived in Indonesia for five years, explained: "I realized how important it is to help these artists who quite often do not have enough means to buy paint and canvas, mainly because they live far from the beaten track of tourist and commercial networks."

source : Le Jakarta Post