Behind Our Childhood Drawings: Mooi Indie
Fig.1 Abdullah Suriosubroto, Pemandangan di sekitar Gunung Merapi. 1900-1930, Koleksi Lukisan Istana Presiden Soekarno.
Fig. 2 Source: Google Images
Each and every one of us undoubtedly holds a familiarity with this remarkable drawing gambar pemandangan gunung (mountain scenery drawing) (fig.2), perhaps even had the entitlement of being the creator behind this profoundly nostalgic image. This drawing that we are all familiar with, portrays two grand mountains graced by the gaze of the sun nestled in between the peaks. Below, lies an expanse of rice fields, embellished with a path that leads the eyes towards the mountain-scape. Completing this picturesque landscape, elements of nature such as trees, a lake or river, and a simplistic silhouette of birds is added. Though, have you ever wondered how this singular drawing style shares collective imagination across the vast archipelago of Indonesia?
To begin with, from an artistic point of view, the drawing is accessible to all. It is relatively easy since it only requires a trace of line. Moreover, the landscape depicted in the drawing is also part of our everyday life. Thus, it is easier for us kids to forge a connection with the depicted elements, creating a bond and a collective artistic representation.
Through the lens of art history, the profound influence behind the widespread popularity of the ‘gambar pemandangan gunung’ can be traced back to an artistic movement named Mooi Indie (Hindia Molek in Indonesian).The Mooi Indie era emerged during the 19th century until the end of the 20th century, the emergence of Mooi Indie was a direct result of colonialism in the Indonesia. European painters were motivated by the colonial authorities to depict the lives in colonial Indonesia. The subjects in Mooi Indie paintings were mainly focusing on natural landscapes and everyday activities. This selection of subjects served the purpose of aiding colonial research, similar to contemporary anthropological studies.
Moreover, the implementation of liberal economic policies by the colonial powers also played a role in the popularity of "mooi indie." These policies aimed to replace the cuulturstelsel system, which was deemed unfavorable. Apart from that, the Mooi Indie painting was also regarded as a medium to promote tourism, attracting European investors and promoting the natural beauty of the Dutch East Indies. Besides its aesthetic value, the Mooi Indie paintings served as an advanced promotional medium. The realistic and naturalistic style of these paintings effectively conveyed exotic messages to the European audience. This allure prompted Europeans to visit the picturesque landscapes of the Dutch East Indies and collect Mooi Indie paintings as a memoir, or even as means for escapism.
F.J du Chattel, ca. 19th century
Aside from Western painters such as du Chattel, Isaac Israels, et al., Indonesian painters (East Indies) who had educational backgrounds in Dutch art schools were also taking part as prominent figures in the Mooi Indie movement. Notable examples include Wakidi, Raden Saleh, Abdullaah Suriosubroto (father of Basoeki Abdullah), and others. The work of Abdullah Soeriosubroto (fig.1) often showcased lush tropical landscapes, serene villages, traditional Indonesian architecture, and local people engaged in daily activities. He had a distinct style that combined realism with impressionistic elements, capturing the vibrant colors and atmospheric qualities of the Indonesian environment, and the aforementioned can be seen as the typology of the Mooi Indie art movement.
Soedjojono was an Indonesian artist who actively opposed exoticism and viewed it as a form of propaganda and romanticization of Indonesia. He believed that the true essence of Indonesian life was not depicted in the majority of "mooi indie" paintings. In his literary piece majalah Keboedajaan dan Masjarakat, Oktober 1939, Soedjojono aimed to challenge and critique the prevailing artistic narratives that perpetuated a superficial and idealized image of the country. Soedjojono sought to capture the authentic realities of Indonesian society, reflecting the struggles, aspirations, and complexities of its people. Soedjojono's approach stood in stark contrast to the often idealized and exoticized representations found in Mooi Indie paintings.
We are now familiarized with the antiquity behind our shared collective. Nowadays, representations from social institutions such as school and media played huge role in internalizing the ‘idea’ of gambar pemandangan; the captivating drawing style can be attributed to the participation of Tino Sidin, a distinguished Indonesian artist originated from Tebing Tinggi, North Sumatra, who served as the host of the program known as 'Gemar Menggambar' on TVRI during the 1980s. Among the various drawing techniques showcased, one method involved depicting a scenic landscape featuring two mountains juxtaposed with paddy fields below. This particular drawing typology also became a pedagogical reference point for educators in teaching children the art of drawing within the school setting, perpetuating through generations to the present day.
It is therefore to regard this image as an enduring cultural legacy cherished by the Indonesian youth. Though, can we be a tad critical and contemplate together; Do you feel like our creativity/pursuit of art within the academic setting in Indonesia is limited? Is this a form of restricted expression, like how we were taught that scenery drawing is mere two mountains and a bed of rice paddies? What would best represent our Mooi Indie nowadays? Is our Mooi Indie now a concrete jungle filled with folks climbing up the Indonesian social ladder?