IO – Indonesian women are as talented as men in art yet there are far fewer Indonesian women artists let alone well-known women artists. Why is that? It is in fact a global phenomenon and the Australian feminist intellectual and author Germaine Greer wrote a book regarding the subject in 1979 entitled, ‘The Obstacle Race’. She cites amongst other factors, that in the past women were very much distracted by childbirth because of the high mother and infant mortality rate and because population numbers were constantly threatened by wars and famines. So, it was very important for women to get married, bear children and focus their time, thought and energy on children. The very few that did manage to become artists often studied under their fathers or under a master artist who frequently became a love object. Men apprentices did not have such relationships with their art masters and after learning what they could, would leave and strike out on their own thereby growing into artists in their own right. Due to the love relationship they had with the master artists, women tended not to strike out on their own and consequently curtailed their artistic growth. Added to this, history has tended to suppress the role of women artists.
In Indonesia as elsewhere, an important reason for the lack of well-known women artists is that many women do not receive the education and training in art that men do. Recently, as part of its series on the History of Modern Indonesian Art, the National Gallery of Indonesia or Galeri Nasional Indonesia, held a discussion “Women Artists: Between the Image on the Painting and Reality”. Suwarno Wisetrotomo, who is curator at the Galeri Nasional Indonesia and a member of the Dewan Kebudayaan or Cultural Council of Jogjakarta commented that the three foremost colleges that train and educate artists in Indonesia namely, ISI Jogjakarta or Jogjakarta Institute of Art, ITB or Bandung Institute of Technology and IKJ or the Jakarta Institute of Art produce far more men than women artists. In Indonesia women artists tend to be autodidacts.
Another reason is that although child bearing is no longer so much needed by society, women in Indonesia still often have to focus on their families and cannot completely centre their attention on their professional life in the way that men do. The philosopher, feminist, art collector and gallery owner Toeti Heraty Noerhadi Roosseno once remarked, “Women have biological clocks and so often focus on producing and raising children first, rather than simply focusing on their art as men do.”
Apparently, quite a few women become really good artists only after the age of 40 when they are freer to dedicate themselves to their art. Wulandri Dirgantara, art curator and author wrote in her thesis, ‘Defining Experiences: Feminism and Contemporary Art in Indonesia” that another factor is that most key professions in the Indonesian art world such as curators, critics, lecturers, journalists, gallery owners and art collectors, are dominated by men. This further exacerbates the problem of gender imbalance despite recent increases of the number of women collectors, gallery owners and art managers as a consequence of the rise of market interest in the Indonesian contemporary art market.
In Jakarta there are over 50 art galleries and amongst these, one that has truly supported women as artists for the last 25 years is the Cemara 6 Galeri. Its founder, the late Toeti Heraty Noerhadi Roosseno was an ardent admirer of art and a feminist. She not only provided patronage for good women artists by buying their work but also by setting up the Cemara 6 Galeri she provided a place for their work to be exhibited and where they received moral support. Until 2003 the gallery’s main focus was on women artists. In using feminism in its curatorial framework the Cemara 6 Galeri held a number of influential contemporary art exhibitions including Menyikapi Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan or ‘Taking a Stand: Violence against Women’ in December 1998. The exhibition was organized together with Koalisi Perempuan or the Women’s Coalition as a reaction to the rape of Chinese-Indonesian women during the May riots in 1998. Another was Bayang-bayang Maha Kecil or “Shadows of the Tiniest Kind” which exhibited paintings by Indonesian feminist artist, Titarubi in 2001. Cemara 6 Galeri Museum continues to support women artists but after 2003 with a new male curator it has broadened its exhibition subjects.
The Cemara 6 Galeri is in fact an 85-year-old Menteng house, located on Jalan Cemara number 6 that Toeti Heraty converted into an art gallery. Menteng is an area that since its inception has always been occupied by the elite of Jakarta – in fact already since Dutch times. The house was owned by an Arab family when Toeti Heraty bought it in 1969 and began to live there with her family. On the 4th of December 1993 she opened an art gallery in part of the house and in 1996 it was extended to include the house on Jalan Cokroaminoto numbers 9-11 which backs on to Jalan Cemara number 6, and this then became her art gallery and museum. In 2018 President Joko Widodo officiated at its name change as it became the Cemara 6 Galeri Museum.
Toeti Heraty was a philosopher and Renaissance women who loved art and had an enormous collection of paintings that through the years she had bought from her artist friends to help support them – many of whom were women. Since 1994 the gallery has also become a meeting place for artists, activists, feminists and cultural savants for discussion, debate and the exchange of ideas. Beside her painting collection Toeti Heraty who lived there until her death in 2021, also housed her collection of 10,000 books there which have now become a library. The gallery and museum housed her collection of art work with a specific room for paintings of Indonesian women artists as well as an auditorium, an audio visual room and a music room. A part of the complex also provides a small homestay and cafe. After Toeti Heraty’s death last year, the Toeti Heraty Museum was established in the house on Jalan Cemara no 6. It houses her collection of art work and books whereas the house on Jalan Cokroaminoto no 9-11 is now the Cemara 6 Galeri.
The first artist that Toeti Heraty befriended in her life was the Sumatran artist Mochtar Apin (23rd December 1923-1st January 1994). In 1957 during the Dutch Indonesia conflict over what was then known as Dutch Papua Nieuw Guinea, the Indonesian government ordered all Indonesian students studying in the Netherlands to return home. Consequently, Toeti, her husband and their baby twins (one of whom was Inda Citraninda Noerhadi who now heads the Cemara 6 Galeri) were sailing back to Indonesia on the Willem Ruys, when Mochtar Apin came on board in Genoa and their friendship began from there. Later, he gave Toeti her first painting, aptly entitled “The Boat’. He was also, the first to urge her to open an art gallery but at the time Toeti could not yet imagine herself doing so.
The Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum itself, was first created because of another Sumatran artist namely, Salim (3 September 1908 – 13 Oktober 2008) who had by then however, long settled in France. Salim who was born in Riau, East Sumatra was brought to Germany at the age of 12 where he was raised by adoptive parents. He later studied art at the Académie de La Grande Chaumière and the Académie Fernand Leger in France. In 1929 he met Indonesian nationalist leaders, Sjahrir and Hatta and became very much involved in their party the Partai Pendidikan Nasional Indonesia or the Indonesian National Education Party and the struggle for Indonesian independence. After the two were arrested and exiled by the colonial government, Salim returned to France where he became an artist. He held various exhibitions in Europe and Indonesia and won many prizes and awards. The art critic Amir Sidharta describes Salim as having been influenced by the works of Raoul Dufy, the French painter, illustrator, ceramist and designer of gobelins and printed fabrics.
Toeti Heraty met Salim while on a visit to Paris and as a member of the Yayasan Pusat Kesenian Jakarta or Jakarta Art Centre Foundation, she offered to organize an exhibition of his paintings in Jakarta. After the exhibition, 54 of his paintings lay abandoned at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural centre. These had been brought in from France and would need to be re-exported after the exhibition or excise duty would have to be paid on them. However, the government had agreed that there would be no excise duties on them if they were purchased for the public good. The bank that originally was to have sponsored their purchase withdrew its offer and the Yayasan Seni Rupa or Fine Arts Foundation which was to have purchased the collection went into bankruptcy. In the end after two years, Toeti bought the collection for Rp 137 million and created the Cemara art gallery for it. The last exhibition that the Cemara 6 Galeri held for Salim together with the Galeri Nasional Indonesia was in 2008 and entitled Siapa Salim or ‘Who Is Salim’. Salim himself, died a month later in France.
As a mother raising children, a psychologist, a feminist and a woman interested in art Toeti Heraty supported a group of housewives who were artists and who became known as Group Sembilan or the Group of Nine. Its membership fluctuated at times the group consisted of 9 or 12 or even only 6 artists but they succeeded in making a name for themselves on the Indonesian art scene. Their last exhibition was ‘A Homage to Yanuar Ernawati’ in 2016, held at the Cemara 6 Galeri Museum. At the time the group consisted of Ratmini Soedjatmoko, Timoer Bjerkness, Wiranti Zwijnenburg, Charlotte Panggabean, Iriante Karnaya, Astari Rasjid, Inda Citraninda Noerhadi, Diah Yulianti and the late Yanuar Ernawati. By then it had changed its name to Group Sembilan + 1 as they decided to also include in their ranks the sculptor, Yani Mariani Sastranegara.
The artists whom Toeti supported and whose works she bought included women sculptors. As a political activist herself passionately dedicated to human rights, Toeti very much appreciated the works of sculptors such as Dolorosa Sinaga who is known for her passionate portrayal of social conscience. She is now one of Indonesia’s foremost sculptors and a member of the prestigious Akademi Jakarta or Jakarta Academy of the Taman Ismail Marzuki. As a sculptor her talent is at its best when sculpting the figures of women expressing their emotions at the challenges they face. Dolorosa has exhibited several times at Cemara 6 Galeri and comments, “Toeti Heraty’s efforts to support and encourage women artists is indisputable and I sincerely hope that under Inda Noerhadi’s directorship the Cemara 6 Galeri will continue to promote Ibu Toeti’s vision and mission in continuing to be an art gallery to be reckoned with in increasing the number of women artists in Indonesia.”
However, it was not just women painters that fascinated Toeti Heraty but also women as the subject of artists. The first such painting that came into her possession was a portrait of her mother Raden Ayu Oentari Roosseno painted by Basuki Abdullah in 1938. Her mother died in 1988 and Toeti inherited the painting. Basuki Abdullah was a part of the Mooi Indies or Beautiful Indies tradition that was so much criticized by Sudjojono during the nationalist period when Indonesians were struggling for independence.
The Mooi Indies artists were followed by artists who were more influenced by the Modernist tradition. Modernist art was a movement of the 19th and 20th centuries that deliberately moved away from earlier more conservative traditions instead espousing innovation and experimenting with shape, colour and lines and emphasizing materials, technics and processes. It is often associated with a social conscience or political agenda such as espoused by artists like Sudjojono in their fervent nationalism. Modernist art was created between the 1860s and the 1950s or at the latest the 1960s. After that, Contemporary Art emerged which is often described as being conceptual, minimalist, post-modern and feminist.
What is interesting is that in portraying the female form Toeti Heraty’s first artist friend Mochtar Apin, experienced an interesting transformation in the direction of feminism. Towards the end of his life Mochtar Apin who for most of his artistic career was known as a Modernist, experienced an enormous change in his views whereby he drew close to Contemporary Art thinking. During this period from 1990 till 1993 he executed a series of nude paintings. Contemporary art holds that art cannot be separated from gender issues as gender issues are a part of daily life. Jim Supangkat the Indonesian sculptor, curator and art critic wrote about Apin’s transformation in his book ‘Provocative Bodies’. He writes that what bothered Apin was the reality behind nude paintings which in daily life can emerge as pornography. Apin acknowledged the domination of male perceptions on sexuality in such paintings and he tried to move away from this by “linking the portrayal of naked women with the women themselves and thereby making them the subjects rather than the objects of his paintings.”
As a feminist, undoubtedly Mochtar’s transformation and efforts at gender equality would have interested Toeti Heraty, and indeed an exhibition was held of 12 of Apin’s nude paintings at the Cemara 6 Galeri in 1993. It was his last exhibition before his death in January 1994. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)