Painting and drawing are two more accessible forms of art, and ones to which children are exposed from an early age. Often dismissed as resembling an explosion in a paint factory, children’s early experiments with color, shape and form can tell us a great deal about how their young minds view the world around them, but gets overlooked in an art world focused on established artists instead of developing budding talent.
The National Gallery in Central Jakarta has recognized this gap, putting together a program dedicated to children’s art. It is now launching its second children’s art exhibition.
Themed “Sana Sini Seni Budayaku” (“Here and There Are the Arts of My Culture”), the triennial event shows more than 200 works by children aged 5 to 15 from 23 Indonesian provinces.
“Their art shows Indonesia’s cultural diversity through the children’s various artistic points of view,” curator Kuss Indarto said. “The pictures are part of our efforts to give the children their individual and artistic identity, which is all too often eroded by pressure from art competitions that are often counterproductive because they are ‘industrialized’ through the sponsorship of major companies who grant ever-increasing prize money and parental pressure to win.”
Kuss’s fellow curator, artist Yuswantoro Adi, attributed the hindered development of children’s art in Indonesia to flawed teaching methods.
“Many of those who teach art in school aren’t even qualified to teach the subject. As a result, many drawings have repetitive patterns like trees or landscapes with hills, rice paddies and the sun,” he said. “They should also be allowed to play and express themselves instead of being taught symmetry or coloring within a certain boundary. Let their logic kick in and they will figure out those things in time.”
The role of play in creativity is reflected in the courtyard of the gallery where the youthful artists get to create traditional toys like gyroscopes or statues and unleash their creative energies in new ways.
While the works in the exhibition range from doodles and stick figures by younger children to the two-dimensional drawings or murals of their older peers, they have much in common due to their precocity. The former is typified by the works “Palindo” by 5-year-old Cantika Aisyah Fitri Mursalin and “Kepala-Kepala Tadulako” (“The Heads of Tadulako”) by her 8-year-old brother Muhammad Gading Mursalin, which feature their point of view about daily life in their Central Sulawesi home.
The works, which portray various scenes like Independence Day celebrations, pastimes such as kite flying, and family portraits, show a naive yet sharp eye for their surroundings. The looks of the subjects, from cheery and gruff adults to open faced children, show the artists to be keen observers of their surroundings.
On the other hand, Jihan Az-Azahra’s “Budayaku” (“My Culture”) shows more advanced development, as seen in the truer portrayal of form, vivid colors and more expressive eyes. The 8-year-old’s work reflects Yuswantoro’s premise about children’s ability to rationalize and use logic to portray the human form. While the subjects’ heads and eyes are still too big for their bodies, the pride the artist felt in her traditional Dayak culture is reflected by the use of bright colors in the foliage, traditional costumes, and even feathers.
The use of brilliant colors and foliage is just as vividly reflected in “Burung Kukoo” (“Cuckoo Bird”) by Jakarta-based artist Hubert Leo. The work is nothing less than a riot of colors, as the green ferns and red foliage vie for the viewers’ attention. On the other hand, the Cuckoo is relatively drab, reminiscent of the “Where’s Waldo” drawings that were in vogue in the 1990s. Whether that is Hubert’s intent, or he intends for the viewer to seek out the bird amid all that color, is not clear.
While individual artists may be highlights, they are not its only feature. Studio Sanggar Daun (Leaf Studios), based in Surabaya, East Java, celebrated its hometown with “Surabaya,” a panorama of the city. Painted in a naive, two-dimensional style, the work engages the viewer by juxtaposing contrasting colors, from the green of the tree leaves and parks, to the fiery red of the tree roots as well as the soil shows the children’s awareness of their urban surroundings.
The curators explained that they needed to bring out their teaching bag of tricks to stimulate the artists’ creative impulses.
“Motivating the children requires a mix of encouragement, cajoling and even mockery in a challenging way,” said Yuswantoro.
“For instance, we have to challenge them to show their potential. All the time we give them the space and initiative they need to create,” Kuss added.
“We introduce themes for the children to work with. It sounds like it limits their creativity, but it does wonders because it helps them focus. The children’s work still comes out with surprising results.”
Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on July 10, 2013