Neha Patil (Editor)

Indonesian art

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Indonesian art

Indonesian art is various artistic expressions and artworks of the archipelagic nation of Indonesia. It is either work of arts produced by its people—created by Indonesian artist, or influenced by its culture and traditions. Indonesian arts includes both age-old artforms developed through centuries, and recently developed contemporary art. Despite often displaying local ingenuity, Indonesian arts also has experienced foreign exposures and influences—most notably from India, Arabia, China and Europe, as the result of centuries of contacts and interactions facilitated, and often motivated, by trade.


It is quite difficult to define Indonesian art, since the country is immensely diverse. The sprawling archipelago nation consists of 13,466 islands. Around 922 of those permanently inhabited, by over 300 ethnic groups, which speaking more than 700 living languages.

Indonesia also has experienced a long history, with each period leaves a distinctive arts. From prehistoric cave paintings and megalithic ancestral statues of Central Sulawesi, tribal wooden carving traditions of Toraja and Asmat people, graceful Hindu-Buddhist art of classical Javanese civilization which produced Borobudur and Prambanan, vivid Balinese paintings and performing arts, Islamic arts of Aceh, to contemporary arts of modern Indonesian artists. Both Indonesian diversity and history add to complexity on defining and identifying what is Indonesian art.


Prehistoric cave paintings were discovered in numbers of sites in Indonesia. The notable ones are those in caves of Maros Regency in South Sulawesi, also in Sangkulirang-Mengkalihat karst formation in East Kutai and Berau Regency in East Kalimantan. The cave paintings was estimated dated from circa 10,000 BC.

The art of painting is quite well-developed in Bali, where its people are famed for their artistry. The Balinese art paintings tradition started as classical Kamasan or Wayang style visual narrative, derived from East Javanese visual art discovered on East Javanese candi bas reliefs. Balinese painting tradition are notable for its highly vigorous yet refined intricate art which resembles baroque folk art with tropical themes. Ubud and Butuan in Bali are well-known for their paintings. Numbers of painter artists has settled in Bali, which in turn developed the island into a world's artists enclave. Balinese painting is also a sought after collection or souvenir for visitors in Bali.

Modern Indonesian paintings were pioneered by Raden Saleh, an 19th century an Arab-Javanese painter renowned for his romantic-naturalistic work during Dutch East Indies period in Indonesia. A popular genre developed during colonial Dutch East Indies is called Mooi Indie (Dutch for "Beautiful Indies"), which mostly capture the romantic scenes of colonial Indies.

Prominent Indonesian painters in 20th century includes Basuki Abdullah, Lee Man Fong, Ida Bagus Made, Dullah and Affandi.


Megalithic sculpture has been discovered in several sites in Indonesia. Subsequently tribal art has flourished within the culture of Nias, Batak, Asmat, Dayak and Toraja. Wood and stone are common materials used as the media for sculpting among these tribes.

Between 8th to 15th century, Javanese civilization has developed a refined stone sculpting art and architecture which was influenced by Hindu-Buddhist Dharmic civilization. The celebrated example is the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. The Shailendra reign of Medang Mataram has produced multiple temples also with its refined sculpture of Hindu and Buddhist deities. Fine example includes the Buddhas image of Borobudur with its serene expression, Vairocana flanked by Padmapani and Vajrapani in Mendut temple, also Hindu pantheon of Shiva Mahadewa, Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesha, Durga, Agastya and Nandi in Prambanan temple compound. The Prajnaparamita of Java is a masterpiece of Javanese classical Hindu-Buddhist art, created in 13th century Singhasari, East Java.

The art of wood carving is quite well-developed in Indonesia. Other than tribal art woodcarvings of Asmat, Dayak, Nias, and Toraja—certain area is well-known for its refined wood carving culture; they are Jepara in Central Java, and Bali. Mas village near Ubud in Bali is renowned for their wood carving art. Balinese woodcarving today has become a popular art collection as a souvenir for visitors in Bali.


Cinema production in Indonesia was pioneered in 1926 Dutch East Indies film Loetoeng Kasaroeng, a silent film which was an adaptation of the Sundanese legend. Indonesian film industry reached its peak in 1980s, before suffered significant decline in both quality and quantity in the 1990s. In 2000s Indonesian film began to revived and in 2010s it became a growing industry; in 2005 Indonesian film production numbered only 33 and in 2014 it increased to 99 films a year. In recent years Indonesian films, especially silat fighting action genre, has gained worldwide attention. Particularly after the popularity of The Raid series.

Functional art

Functional art refer to work of arts that mainly serves a practical purposes. Human's essential needs and necessities, such as clothing, dwelling, tools and other useful objects, are often developed into a work of arts. The main example of daily functional objects that developed into work of arts are weavings, either various textiles art, to wickers made from plants fibers, tools and containers, such as bamboo and rattan weaving. One of the most elaborate functional art is the creation of distinctive traditional dwellings in Indonesian vernacular architecture.


The need for functional tools and useful things led to creations of various wicker handycrafts; such as containers, bags, hats, to cooking and eating utensils. Wooden materials , coconut shell and plants fibers; such as reed, bamboo and rattan has long being used in traditional weavings in Indonesian traditional society to create tools or containers. Examples includes woven noken bag created by native Papuans, Sundanese weaved bamboo containers and cooking utensils, to Dayak and Torajan wicker woven hats.

As the world's main producer of rattan, Indonesia has quite a well-developed rattan wicker industry and local artistry has been encouraged, producing numbers of wicker rattan furniture. Indonesia is also a leading exporter of rattan wicker furniture products.


The textiles of Indonesia is diverse; from bark-cloth of Eastern Indonesia to intricately woven tenun fabrics from Sumba. Examples of Indonesian textiles includes batik from Java, to songket and ikat developed in many parts of the archipelago.

Batik, which is an art of wax-resist dyeing which creates intricate motifs, was elevated as a national artform—a national costume of Indonesia, which transcends Indonesian ethnic groups. Numbers of patterns and motifs has been developed, especially in Java, which contains symbolic meanings and significance. Batik cloth and shirts has been worn as a formal attire, also often proudly worn as uniforms. On October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


Pottery was developed in Indonesia as early as 400 BCE in Buni culture in coastal West Java, which produced peculiar pottery with incised, geometrical decorations. It was the first Indian rouletted wares recorded from Southeast Asia. Clay potteries were later developed with evidence found in Anyer to Cirebon. Artifacts such as food and drink containers, dated from 400 BC to AD 100 have been found, mostly as burial gifts.

Circa 13th to 15th century, the Majapahit kingdom developed its terracotta art. Numerous clay and terracotta artifacts has been discovered, especially from Trowulan, Majapahit's former royal capital. Artifacts includes figurines, heads figures including male head figure which speculated was the portrayal of Gajah Mada, animal figures, among others are the famous Majapahit piggy bank, various containers, kendi water containers with peculiar breast-like spout, bas reliefs, floor and roof tiles, to pipe and architectural ornaments. So far no kiln has been found, which suggests that most of the objects are relatively low fired.

The Majapahit terracotta art probably influenced and was preserved in the Kasongan terracotta art, found in Bantul Regency near Yogyakarta and the one in Bali. Kasongan terracotta are well known for its earthen wares, vases and jars, earthen cooking wares, tea pot and cups set, human and animal figurines, such as horses and elephants, also rooster piggy bank. Similar earthenware terracotta art also developed in Plered area, near Purwakarta in West Java.


The vernacular architecture of Indonesia is diverse and developed according to the traditions, history and influences exposure experienced by each culture or society. They are ranged from simple reeds structure of native Papuan, stilted wooden structure with prominent roof of Tongkonan and Rumah Gadang, to elaborately carved palace of Java and temple compound of Bali.

Performing art

Performing arts in Indonesia has its root in rituals and also serves as folks' entertainment. Notable Indonesian performing arts includes ritual dances, dance drama that retelling the ancient epics, legends and stories; also wayang, traditional shadow puppet show.


Indonesian dances is tremendously diverse, as each ethnic group has their own dances. This makes total dances in Indonesia are more than 3,000 Indonesian original dances. The old traditions of dance and drama are being preserved in the many dance schools which flourish not only in the courts but also in the modern, government-run or supervised art academies.

For classification purpose, the dances of Indonesia can be divided according to several aspects. In historical aspect it can be divided into three eras; the prehistoric-tribal era, the Hindu-Buddhist era and the era of Islam. According to its patrons, it can be divided into two genres; court dance and folk dance. In its tradition, Indonesian dances can be divided into two types; traditional dance and contemporary dance. Notable Indonesian dances includes Aceh saman; Balinese pendet, legong, barong and kecak; Javanese kuda lumping, ronggeng and reog; also Sundanese jaipongan.


Dance, drama and traditional music in Indonesia are usually merged together as a whole complete of performing artform. The traditional Indonesian dance drama artforms includes; Malay bangsawan; Balinese gambuh and topeng, Javanese wayang wong, ketoprak and ludruk; Betawi lenong; Sundanese sandiwara; also colonial toneel.


Wayang refer to a theatrical performance with puppets or human dancers. When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theatre, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang. Performances of shadow puppet theatre is known as wayang kulit, are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra in Java, and by gender wayang in Bali. It has been developed into a complete and refined artform, especially in Java and Bali. In 7 November 2003, UNESCO designated Indonesian wayang kulit as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Other wayang artform includes wayang golek and wayang klitik.

Musical art

Indonesian music is also diverse which uses different musical instruments. A well-developed, refined, mainly metalophones traditional orchestra can be discovered in Java and Bali as elaborate gamelan orchestra. Other distinsctive musics includes Sundanese angklung and kacapi suling, Minahasan kolintang, Papuan tifa drum, to East Nusa Tenggara sasando. Indonesian musical genre includes dangdut, campursari, Tembang Sunda, gambus, to Indonesian rock and pop

Martial art

Indonesian martial arts includes the variety of fighting systems native to or developed in the Indonesian archipelago, both the age-old traditional arts, and the more recently developed hybrid combatives. Other than physical training, they often include spiritual aspects to cultivate inner strength, inner peace and higher psychological ends. Indonesian martial arts are synonymous with pencak silat. Nevertheless, a number of fighting arts in Indonesia are not included within the category of silat. Many of Indonesian natives have developed unique martial arts of their own.

Culinary art

Indonesian cuisine is often described as vibrant, full of intense flavour. Indonesian cuisine varies greatly by region and has many different influences. Sumatran cuisine, for example, often has Middle Eastern and Indian influences, featuring curried meat and vegetables such as gulai and kari, while Javanese cuisine is mostly indigenous, with some hint of Chinese influence. The cuisines of Eastern Indonesia are similar to Polynesian and Melanesian cuisine. Elements of Chinese cuisine can be seen in Indonesian cuisine: foods such as bakmi (noodles), bakso (meat or fish balls), and lumpia (spring rolls) have been completely assimilated.

Some popular Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng, gado-gado, sate, and soto are ubiquitous in the country and considered as national dishes. The official national dish of Indonesia however, is tumpeng, chosen in 2014 by Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy as the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesia's various culinary traditions.


  • Indonesian art
  • References

    Indonesian art Wikipedia

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