The Remarks of the Rector of ISI Yogyakarta
Modern Art`s Debt to Primitive Artists
Indonesia Primitive Art

    Indonesian Primitive Art

Indonesia is an archipelago country whose territory occupies the area located between the 6th and the 10th degree of longitude and the 95th and the 141th degree of latitude. Indonesians say that it is demarcated by the cities of Sabang to the West and Merauke to the East. The Indonesian archipelago is separated by the Wallace Line that extends from the Philippines to the North to the straits of Macassar and Lombok to the South. This Wallace Line, called after the name of the British geographer Alfred Russel Wallace, separates two distinct zoogeographic areas the area comprising the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Bali to the West and that comprising the Celebes, the Moluccas, the Lesser Sunda island minus Bali and Papua to the East. The flora and fauna in the Western area is similar to that found in mainland Asia while in the East is similar to that found in Australia. It can therefore be inferred that the Western area is geographically part of Asia while the Eastern area is part of Australia

From the point of view of physical anthropology, numerous traces of hominids have been found in both areas: the Meganthropus Paleojavanicus, Pithecanthropus Mojokortensis, Pithecanthropus Erectus and Pithecanthropus Soloensis. Various types of proto-humans have also inhabited the archipelago, among them the Homo Soloensis, Homo Wajakensis and, more recently, the Homo Floresensis. None is related to the present population of Indonesia.
Linguistic and archaeological studies in particular the similarity of artifacts-point to Yunan, in China, as the area from which originate the modern population of Indonesia. The migratory movement took place in several waves, first to the Gulf of Tonkin and then to the archipelago proper. The first migration is deemed to have taken place around 2000BC. These so - called Proto-Malay as thought to be the ancestors of the Nias islanders, the Bataks and the Dayaks Their arrival pushed to he East or to the depth of the forest - the older inhabitants such as the Veddas and the Melanesians. Some theoreticians, basing their assertion on similarities of Mesolithic artifacts, say that these Melanesians to originate from the Gulf were part of an early migratory wave from Africa, via India.

Around 500BC a new migratory wave reached the archipelago from the Gulf of their Proto-Malay predecessors in much of the archipelago. They are deemed to be the ancestors of today's Minangkabau, Javanese, Sundanese and Buginese. They brought with them the bronze culture of Dongson, called after the name of the place of origin of this culture in today's Vietnam.

Even though signs of human civilization preceded the various migratory waves discussed above, it is thought that art first arrived with the migratory waves from Tonkin. Prehistoric people were animist. They believed nature to be inhabited by various "spirits", good as well as evil. Ancestors' souls were deemed to be part of the good ones, and were worshipped as such. This cult is at the origin of the art of sculpture, which mostly consisted of totemic representations of ancestors as lizards, gekkos etc. As for bulls, elephant, horses and outrigger boats, these were thought to be the vehicles used by the ancestors to reach the world of the dead. Other objects were also made, but hey too were characterized by their relation to animistic beliefs.

It is at this stage that was born the kind of art now called as "primitive art", an art adapted in its form and material to the level of technology possessed by the primitive art then evolved of itsown in the various areas in which the cult of ancestors remained prominent sometimes even after introduction of one of the great religions. Prehistoric art in fact contributed to the formation of the various art forms that appeared later, not only in Indonesia but throughout the world at large. It influenced Indonesian classical art as well as contemporary artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Leger, Max Ernst, Juan Gris, Henry Moore etc.

Putu Gde Djaya - Kurator