Friday, January 27, 2012

A History of Christianity in Indonesia

One book that I would love to own is A History of Christianity in Indonesia, edited by Jan S. Aritonang and Karel A. Steenbrink.  However, at over $200 a copy, I won't soon be getting it,  but Google Books has an abbreviated copy online for reading.  This includes my specific area of interest: chapter twenty, "Christian Art in Indonesia" (at approximately 25 pages in length).  The first part of the chapter seems to focus on European-commissioned contextualized art produced in the 20th century prior to 1940.  The second part of the chapter focuses on individual Indonesian Christian artists of the last 30 years of the century.

I thought I would share a few examples.  The first is Drawing of the Trinity by Raden Mas Poerwodiwirjo, made sometime between 1920-1924.

Apparently, he was a recent convert to Christianity when he made this drawing at his own initiative.  Here's the description of the artwork's symbolism:

In the centre the Father is known from his beard, while the Son is known from the symbol of the cross in his right hand and a small beginning of a beard.  The small circle in the left hand is the human nature of the Son, while the larger circle represents the divine nature.  All three rest with a hand on this larger circle and are placed at the same height, strengthening their equal status and nature.  The lines of communication and generation are like stalks of a flower, also a life-giving connection.  The image owes much of its detail to the traditional imagery of the hermit Vyasa in the classical shadow play of the wayang.

It also looks like each figure arises out of a lotus blossom, which is a symbol of divine beauty and purity in both Hinduism and Buddhism.  For more on Indonesian Christian shadow puppets, or wayang wahyu, read my post here.

Here's an interesting sculpture of the same theme:

It was carved from jati wood in 1924 by a West Javanese named Iko, who based it in part on the Trinity drawing above.  The sculpture was commissioned by Joseph Schmutzer (a European) to be placed in a Catholic church on his sugar estate.  The Father sits on the left, the Holy Spirit in the middle, and Jesus on the right.  They all wear royal Javanese clothing.  The cloth slung over the shoulders is the sign for deities, hermits and teachers.  The Father holds a crown in his hands symbolizing supreme power.  Each rests their feet on an open lotus.  Surrounding the three figures (above the interlocking "stalks") is a circle of light, emblazoned with tongues of fire.

My impression of these two artworks is that I would prefer to see the Trinity depicted in a more singular way, rather than as three different figures.  Of the two, I find the drawing more successful in this regard.  It is also interesting that this image was not commissioned by a European.  Schmutzer did commission Iko to carve other sculptures, including a single figure of Jesus.  But I will save that for a future post!

Lastly, is a painting by contemporary Balinese artist Nyoman Darsane called Sermon at the Seaside.  

Here we see Jesus wearing a white traditional sarong, a symbol of his heavenly origin.  His right palm is extended skyward, while his left arm in bent with the palm pointing toward his upraised left foot.  In traditional Balinese dance, this position symbolizes redemption.  The surrounding Balinese people approach him in pairs and groups, joining in his dance, leaving no one alone.

My biggest complaint about the chapter (besides not being able to read all of it!) is that the artwork is reproduced in black and white instead of color (the color image above is from the cover).  Beyond that, and a need for more art images, it was an interesting but incomplete read.  Hopefully I'll be able to read the whole chapter one day.  Until then, maybe you can find a library copy in your local area to peruse. 

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