17 | 71: Goresan Juang Kemerdekaan

Wait, President Sukarno could paint?

That was the thought that crossed my mind while I was looking at the painting “Rini”at Galeri Nasional. The painting portrays a beautiful woman wearing a green kebaya paired with classic batik. The presidential palace painter, Dullah, made the sketch of the painting when he and the president went to Bali but he didn’t finish it. When Sukarno returned to Bali without him, he worked on the sketch and finished the painting.


It is one of the artworks displayed in the exhibition “17 | 71: Goresan Juang Kemerdekaan” (“17 | 71: The Strokes of Independence”) at the gallery. The 28 paintings displayed belong to presidential palaces of Republic of Indonesia (Istana Merdeka in Jakarta, Istana Bogor, Istana Cipanas and Istana Yogyakarta). Initiated by President Jokowi, the exhibition is held to commemorate the 71 years of Indonesia’s independence and for the first time the public can see these artworks with their own eyes.

Armed with my DSLR, I went there last Wednesday with the hope that I could take some decent pictures but turned out only the press is allowed to bring camera inside. But fortunately I could bring my phone and I guess it did a pretty good job.

The exhibition is free but you have to register before entering the gallery. The registration takes place inside a room situated at the left hand side of the gallery and all you need to do is to give your phone number and e-mail address. You could only take your phone and wallet inside, but don’t worry as there’s a bag drop in the same room as the registration desk.


After getting my left arm stamped (the ink bleeds quite badly so be careful not to get it onto your clothes), I made my way into the gallery. Despite the sunny day, it was quite chilly inside the gallery and you might want to bring your cardigan or jacket with you if you’re wearing sleeveless top like me.

I was mesmerized straightaway with the first painting displayed by Sudjono Abdullah, who is Basuki Abdullah‘s brother. I like the way he painted Diponegoro‘s eyes.

I’ve seen a couple of painters’ interpretations of Kartini but I found the one by Trubus Darsono to be the best. This artwork is the collection of Istana Yogyakarta which was painted during the short period of time when Yogyakarta was the capital city of Indonesia.


If you’ve seen the picture of the proclamation of Indonesia’s independence, you might recognize this painting by former governor of Jakarta, Henk Ngantung. It was displayed in the room where the declaration was made. Sukarno saw the painting when it was displayed at an exhibition in 1944. To him the painting symbolized how Indonesia should keep moving forward and wanted to buy it. Ngantung said that the painting was not finished yet as he wanted to perfect the arm part of it and needed a model for it. Sukarno offered himself to be the model and the painting was done within half an hour.


Besides paintings from Indonesian artists, there are also paintings from foreign artists such as Miguel Covarrubias who spent three years living in the island of Gods. I first encountered his work of art when I went to National Gallery Singapore for the exhibition “Reframing Modernism.” I really like to see his interpretation of Balinese women. Love the colors that he used too!


My most favorite artwork in this exhibition would be “Tara” by Srihadi Soedarsono. It portrayed his daughter Tara performing as a male character in a Balinese dance. I really love how he boldly used vibrant red color as the background.


Besides paintings, there are also photos of the activities of president and former presidents of the country, and the palaces’ collection of Chinese antiques.I really enjoyed my time inside the gallery but it would be great if there were more paintings displayed. The exhibition is held throughout this August so you’ve still got a couple of days until the month ends!

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