Contemporary Indonesian Christian Art

MARCH 10, 2014
Wisnu Sasongko S.Sn. M.Hum. (SERUNI)

SERUNI (Seni Rupa Kristiani- “Indonesia Christian Fine Arts of Indonesia”) held a painting exhibition last February 3-10, 2014 at the Gallery Pelita at the University Pelita Harapan (UPH) in Tangerang. An artist talk-discussion was held at a later date (February 6 and 13) with the help of the UPH Faculty of Design. The exhibit revolved around the theme of Interpreting Christian Art Iconography. Participating artists were: Setiyoko Hadi, Wisnu Sasongko, Tedianto Handojo, Gunawan W, Daniel, Doni I and Hadi

Traditional Christian art has become repetitive. There is an absence of new interpretation in Christian iconography. It is only concerned with representations of divine beings. Ecclesiastical art developed from symbolic representations (Early Christian Art), to decorative (found in Byzantine churches), then to the use of images anatomic perfection, that rose out of the Greco-Roman tradition. During the Medieval period Christian art was used to illustrate narratives from the Bible such as the Nativity, the Adoration of the Maggi and the Crucifixion. Renaissance artists Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo emphasized the spirit of humanism. The beginning of the modern era brought back the spirit of humanism- individualism, passion for science, industrialization and capitalism. These new ideologies produced a variety of art movements: Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, etc.

LEFT: "Christ", Mural Commodilla Catacombs, late-4th century MIDDLE:Late 13th century Christ Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul RIGHT:"Blessing Christ" Raphael Raffaello Cristo, 1505, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia.

Modern art shifted the focus from the spiritual to the passion for worldly things. The theme of the “body” and hedonism are popular subjects in modern art. It can be said that the modern period marked the end of Christian religious art. Ironically, the church, the institution that used to be the biggest patrons of art does not respond to these changes. They have resigned themselves to the thought that secular and religious art are two separate things.

Nowadays, Christian art are only viewed for their historical significance. They are nothing more than archeological relics. Even contemporary expressions of Christian art, are no longer able to elicit a feeling of enlightenment. They are souvenirs reproduced en masse. They are kitsch and cheap items that serve as markers or decorations for the interior of Christians homes. These artworks do not necessarily have spiritual themes nor do they integrate relevant questions.

This is the reason why the Christian community tends to disregard the role of art and aesthetics. Churches still rely on the oral dissemination of theological ideas. Some are afraid that the introduction of visual arts in the liturgy can be misinterpreted as the worship of images. How can the dry atmosphere caused by the lack of visual art, evoke the feeling of spiritual and devotional worship? Visual images can aid parishioners to reflect on theological ideas as they look at the artworks.

Christian art should be characterized by the artistic expressions that stem from the depths of the soul (which is the basis of the Christian faith). Spirituality in Christian art is a reflection of the experience of love, peace and joy. It is a represenation of the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven". What is necessary in this era is to generate the kinds of icons typical of the Christian faith today. There is a need to use the visual arts as the manifestation of the actualization of Christian values in the context of the local culture.

LEFT:Sclupture Jesus king in Hindu-Javanese version of the temple Ganjuran, Bantul, Yogyakarta RIGHT: Balinese decorative style of painting works Ketut Lasia "Last Supper", 2004, in the catalog "He's the love of fruit Expression of Faith", 2006.

I raised this theme as an invitation for us, especially to artists, art lovers, and Christian institutions to recognize and foster the aesthetic expression of faith in the church, especially the fine arts.

Christian art in Indonesia began sometime around the 18th-19th century. There are developments in ecclesiastical art in several areas in the archipelago as in Java. Balinese artists dared to raise the awareness for interpreting typical Indonesian Christian iconography.

The Christian art group- SERUNI aims to raise the aesthetic value of contemporary Indonesian Christian art. At the moment their artworks have limited circulation. This makes it difficult for them to expand the appreciation and discourse beyond the academic spheres. However, they work consistently to set this off. In the midst of the challenges of this era, SERUNI presents interpretations of Christian iconographies that are artistic, contemporary and original.

Setiyoko Hadi, “Golden Boy”, Acrylic on canvas, 150x300 cm.

Setiyoko Hadi’s masterpiece "Golden Boy" is an artistic contemplation on the irony and the injustice felt in the massive industrialization and capitalization of natural resources (particularly gold mining) in Papua. It shows an area that was subjected to open-pit mining with the portraits of miners-“golden boys” lined across the painting. Local communities have been sold in exchange for the valuable gold. The irony is that the miners are not enriched by their livelihood. They work for so long without getting proper compensation in exchange for the destruction of nature and humanity. Even more ironic is that golden boys, who inherited their livelihood from their fathers, favor the business agencies. “Golden Boy” was cynically pitched to knock a sense of justice at the loss of humanity in the midst of modern civilization.

Heru Susanto, “Why Animalism?”, grahite on paper, 150x 200 cm

The work of Heru Susanto entitled "Why Animalism?" laments the loss of the glory of man as made from the image of God. Humans live to hunt and to lust, modern people behave like animals. The progress of civilization is not always accompanied by the ability to control the formation of human character. "...They do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Humans have lost the glory of being “God-like” and reverted back to their animal nature.

Both of these works are relevant as they bear witness to the human capacity of administering nature and creating justice and truth. The spiritual man, through the work of the Holy Spirit, bears the fruit of repentance and love in the world. This type of work echoes Christian narrative art that is set against the back drop of contemporary issues.

Thanks be to God and congratulations to our artist friends from SERUNI on yet another successful event! Congratulations on cultivating the appreciation for spiritual beauty! Congratulations on interacting with art lovers and fostering an atmosphere of dialogue.

*Click on images to enlarge

Image links:
"Blessing Christ". Raphael Raffaello Cristo. 1505. Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia. Web. 11 March 2014

"Christ".4th century. Commodilla Catacombs,Rome. 11 March 2014

"Christ Pantocrator Deesis Mosaic". 13th-century. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Web. 11 March 2014