Otto Djaya: Alive and Kicking
(an article from 1996, published in the Jakarta Post)
The most astonishing aspect of the exhibition of Otto Djaya's paintings currently held at the Taman Ismail Marzuki, I found, was that many of the exhibited works were dated 1995.
Of course, nothing is terribly peculiar about that. However, I had learnt from an article in Modern Indonesian Art: Three Generations of Tradition and Change 1945-1990, a book published for the Festival of Indonesia in the United States 1990/91, that Otto Djaya lived between 1916-1989. Another, more recent, exhibition catalog mentions the painter as having passed away "long before his elder brother Agus Djaya. This catalog listed Agus Djaya death in 1993 while the article in Modern Indonesian Art notes his life between 1913-1990.
With that information in mind, I even considered the possibility that what I was viewing were paintings by a different artist with the same name as the famous painter. However, looking at the works themselves, there was no doubt that they were indeed the creations of the one and only Otto Djaya.
Otto Djayasuntara was Born in Rangkasbitung, Banten, West Java, in 1916. Not much is known about his early life. While his brother Agus Djaya and Indonesian master Soedjojono co-founded the Persagi art association, Otto was associated with the group. During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) his brother headed the Art Division of the Keimin Bunka Shidoso cultural center, while Otto became his deputy. Later, as an officer of the Peta (Pembela Tanah Air - “Defender of The Country”), he was assigned to record his experiences during the military training through painting.
Sometime after the Proclamation of Independence, the two brothers spent a few years in Europe, where they earned considerable recognition. It was apparent from their work that the brothers influenced each other. However, in the mid-1950s, Agus sought inspiration in Bali, while Otto went to Semarang but was still in close contact with Jakarta. In the past six years, a number of monographs on Indonesian artists, publications about recent development of Indonesian Art, and Indonesian Art History in general, have appeared. However, still very little particularly about the early period of Indonesian Art is known. The few publications about Modern Indonesian Art published prior to 1968, such as Kusnadi’s Indonesian Art (1955) and Claire Holt’s Art in Indonesia (1967) are very hard to find, while the Soekarno Collection albums can be found in private libraries of many collectors and therefore only accessible to a limited few.
The theme of legends and myths, the compositions of which many have noted have been influenced by temple reliefs, have appeared at least since the 1950s. His work, has also been included in The Paintings and Statues of the Collection President Sukarno of the Republic of Indonesia album, published in the 1960s. Today, he continues to paint the same same themes in the same style as he did in the past.
Myths and legends have become so much part of his identity, that he jokes about his fascination or even obsession with heavenly nymphs his witty self portrait. Here, he portrays himself as a stereotypical artist, equipped with an artist's pallette, barrette, red shirt and pipe, from which emits smoke containing his imagination, a heavenly nymph dancing in the nude.
His typical cartoonish/caricatural painting, such as the self portrait, offer commentary on contemporary society. Silakan Pak, Santai Saja, shows a regional official wearing the typical kopiah cap, and dressed in the formal safari, visiting a local bordello. A man wearing the traditonal formal Javanese costume, including blangkon, sorjan, and sarung equipped with a keris behind, welcomes him (as in the title of the painting) to select any of the women kneeling on a divan that suits his taste.
In Berdandan (Dressing), a woman is depicted getting dressed in a room. Her kebaya is still unbuttoned while her date, much similar to the official in the previous painting can be seen just about to reach the front of her house.
The same or at least figures appear once again in Mohon Apa Saja Bebas (Free to Ask For Anything). Here the official is seen visiting a local soothsayer. The smoke from the soothsayer's incense burner emits simple symbols of fortune.
Otto Djaya's paintings of this genre are reminescent of Put On comics which appeared regularly in many Indonesian magazines of the past, actually since the 1930s. However, it is unclear how the comic strip actually influenced his art.
Frankly speaking, showing only his most recent works, the exhibition does little to tell the story of Otto Djaya and his artistic development. If anything what it does make us aware of is the fact that this painter was still alive and kicking. However, it also points out that documentation about art in Indonesia is still very poor and is in desperate need for support.
The exhibition about Otto Djaya’s work, and the fact that at least two publications have assumed that he had passed away six years ago, certainly calls for more and better research to be done. With a growing appreciation in Indonesian Art, it is time for the country to have a proper fine art documentation and study center.