A Visible Soul of Painting Art: Panari Baris or Baris Dancer by S. Sudjojono

A Visible Soul of Painting Art: Panari Baris or Baris Dancer by S. Sudjojono

Research & Essay

Artists have different life in different places, where they create their works. They also have the way to put themselves into their works, either literally or figuratively that can be a metaphor to their lives and what they went through. For certain artists, art is integral to socio-culture far and wide because it can represent not just the artists’ own expressions encapsulated within their works but the people of that socio-culture. like on the present work, the artist, S. Sudjojono, allowed us to see what is there in his work and also what is not seen beyond his work, what commonly Sudjojono said “Jiwo Ketok” or Visible Soul. The present work is one of S. Sudjojono’s oeuvres expressing his will and the way he puts himself as a revolutionary artist in his contemporaries. Now, the present work is collected by a renowned collector from Jakarta.

A Visible Soul of Painting Art: Panari Baris or Baris Dancer by S. Sudjojono
A Visible Soul of Painting Art: Panari Baris or Baris Dancer by S. Sudjojono

Sudjojono was born in Kisaran, North Sumatra on 14th of December 1913 and died in Jakarta on 25th of March, 1985. As one of the renowned artists in Southeast Asia, Sindudarsono Sudjojono or S. Sudjojono was one of the most important personages in the history of modern Indonesian art. His family was a Javanese immigrant in Sumatera from Java Island. Sinduarmo, his father, was an orderly official working for a rubber plantation in Kisaran, North Sumatra, and married to one of his workers. His foster father Yudhokusumo, a mentor in Hollandsch-Inlandsche School (HIS) of a school for Indonesian natives, brought Sudjojono to HIS (Hollandsch-Inlandsche School in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in 1925. Sudjojono graduated from HIS in Jakarta, and continued a high school in Bandung and then completed his senior high school at Perguruan Taman Siswa in Yogyakarta. In Yogjakarta, he had the opportunity to study painting from R.M. Pirngadie, a naturalism painter in Mooi Indie style for several months. In 1940s when migrating to Jakarta, S. Sudjojono studied painting from a renowned Japanese painter, Chioji Yazaki.

Entitled “Penari Baris”, the present work was painted in 1976 that is executed with vibration of brushstrokes rendering an expressionistic style. The artist completed it with layers of textures of earthy colors of blue, green, yellow, orange, white and beige paillettes to create a realistic dance performance character. By loosely spontaneous brushstrokes and dense impasto paintwork, the artist reinforces his inventive energy and intense emotion in all the endeavors at vigorously focusing on the Balinese ‘Penari Baris’ portrait as a focal point on the current painting. The artist provides his audience a narrative visual of Balinese epic grandeur through the aesthetic development and his achievement on this work. Bali is one of the idyllic and cultural monuments inspiring Sudjojono to commemorate its distinctive attractive relics and exotic indigenous art performance “Penari Baris” that infuse its soul to his canvas to imbue his dramatic works with endless value.

Historically, the subject on the present work derived from a ritualistic Balinese warrior dance of “Penari Baris” drama that have been performed in Hindu religious ceremonies since 1550 AD in Bali regions. The figure of dancer on the present painting is performed by a man wearing a white mask, and a crown upon his head embellished with seashells and trinkets ornaments along with a shield behind his waist. Fastened with a belt around his belly and covered with a beaded necklace around his neck, the figure is dressed with colorful traditional double garbs loosely hanging down. The dancer is depicted in gesticulating his arm, leg and head movement repeatedly as if flowing in harmony with its traditional gamelan music to glorify the courage of the triumphant. As an expressionism genre, the artist evokes an emotional effect on the present painting illustrating that the subject articulates fierceness, disdain, pride, alertness, compassion, and regret expression that are characteristics of a pugnacious Balinese noble. To gain an honorable reputation as the Father of Indonesian Modernism Painter, S. Sudjojono bestows his insight into his rich artistry inspired by Balinese culture performance impacting the standard of socio-politics realism and aesthetics of modern Indonesian art movement in the 20th century.

Penari Baris subject on the present painting, literally, refers to a dance elucidating a courage and heroism of youth. The uniqueness of “Penari Baris” performer on the present painting the performer is depicted in wearing a white mask “Sidakarya Mask”, which it essentially should be used by another dance performance character notably in “Tari Jauk Manis” or “Jauk Manis Dance” performance. Tari Jauk Manis is a dance performed to recount a story of a valor, ferocious and tenacious king in Bali, but behind his viciousness, the king is a graceful and philanthropic personage to the poor and humble creatures in the jungle. While a white mask with a black moustache ‘Topeng Sidakarya’ covering his face is intended to a king in enlightening his level of spiritual achievement. For Sudjojono, all of his painting subjects should be linked to an authentic and sincere approach depicting the ‘Jiwo Ketok” or “Visible Soul’” of Indonesia. Like on the present painting, the artist portrayed what was ‘real’ or the ‘visible soul’ of his country’s socio-political relations in 1970s. Probably, the subject on the present painting metaphorically illuminates the political deterioration when the artist lived under new order regime.

In social context, subject on the present painting discloses Sudjojono’s idea passion on social issues in his country in 1971. The painting is a reflection of social life situation in 1966 – 1971 after the collapse of Soekarno regime. “Penari Baris” character might be used as a philosophical symbol to represent a leader who is proud of his courage and heroism succeeding the earlier regime through revolutionary turbulence. As a nationalist, for Sudjojono, an artist is inseverable part from social and revolutionary life. He claimed, “I take part in the revolution. I do not simply take part, but also help determine which direction the revolution goes1)

Painted in expressionism and realism style, “Tari Baris” on the present work is truly a communication tool to express about issues of reality on social life in his country, Indonesia. As Sudjojono once said in 1950 on Weekly Magazine, Mimbar Indonesia, realism is “just a medium used by a person to speak.” However, Sudjojono also realized that the issue was not as easy as he imagined, because the society where he lived and worked was “the kind of society that can only understand basic reality.” This is why he chose to use the concrete examples to create his works, with their examples, language, objects, and fantasies. Without these things, they won’t be able to understand even though I want them to.”2)

The stunning character of Tari Baris exquisitely painted in expressionism style on the present piece demonstrates a social realism in Indonesian art. Between title and theme on the present work reflect Indonesian soul and character respectively on a social message created by a humanist approach.  The artist successfully explained the historical records with his artwork’s soul compared to that of Moo-indie or ‘beautiful indies’ styles glorifying romanticism, beauty and peaceful life like on Basuki Abdullah’s works and other artist of his contemporaneous. Sudjojono observed that Basuki’s paintings were technically beautiful but failed to express the soul of the artist. As the artist stated about Basoeki Abdullah’s works, “Recently, his painting is empty and soulless. These paintings are just symbols of monetary interest. If he does more, it will be very dangerous because he only does what the market or the public demand. In addition, if he chooses to do this, he is no longer an artist; he has become a merchant.3).

In some of his works, Sudjojono used the dance performance themes as his idea to memorialize his critics on social issues. For example, the artist’s work painted in 1968 entitled “Penari Ketoprak” or “Ketoprak Dance” (61 x 91 cm in size), a Javanese dance performance. The “Ketoprak Dance” work, now in Museum of S. Sudjojono, is painted in similar style and dense brushstrokes to the present piece (see fig. 1).4). Exquisitely drawn rendering an expressionism genre, the present painting is a rare Sudjojono’s artwork in the market completed in 1976, a period marked by the artist’s visceral restiveness on socio-politics issues in his country. Compare with the similar scene entitled “Pahlawan Bali” or “Balinese Hero” painted in 1968 but in different brushstrokes and movement, sold at Masterpiece Fine Art Auction Singapore, 2nd March 2013, lot. 32, 95 x 62 in size, for SGD67,000 or equivalent to US$54,075, excluding buyer’s premium, initially estimated around SGD 55,000 – SGD 80,000 (see fig. 2). Sudjojono also frequently used the Javanese puppet or performer as his media to express his insight and vision of socio critics into his oeuvres. For an example, compare with the artist’s work entitled “Petruk Dadi Ratu” or “Petruk Becomes a King” completed in 1979 (90 x 70 cm in size), a well-known Javanese puppet or performer character, painted in similar style, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 3rd October 2011, lot. 672, for HK$4,220,000 or equivalent to US$541,848, initially estimated around HK$700,000 – HK$1,200,000 (see fig. 3). Further, compare with the artist’s similar work and execution, painted in 1979 (125 x 75 in size), but entitled by the auction house “The Dalem or Topeng Dance”.5) The work was then sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 26th May 2019, lot. 216, for HK$ 1,625,000 or equivalent to US$ 207,005, initially estimated between HK$ 800,000 – HK$ 1,000,000 or equivalent to US$ 101,910 – US$ 127,388 (see fig. 4).

Sudjojono is Sudjono, and he was the leading artist in the history of modern Indonesian art. His artistic oeuvre significantly reflects on the true spirit of Indonesia and people during the war and his struggle against independence and socio conditions in the post-war.


  1. Seabad Sudjojono 1913 – 1913, S. Sudjojono Center, PT AKR Corporindo Tbk, Jakarta, 2013, 121.

  2. Ibid, p. 71

  3. Sindutomo Sudjojono, Kesenian, Seniman dan Masyarakat, Yayasan Aksara Indonesia, Yogyakarta, 2000, 26.

  4. Sudjojono, Visible Soul, Amir Sidharta, Museum S. Sudjojono and Canna Gallery,Jakarta, Indonesia, 2006, documented in IVAA.

  5. Amir Sidharta, S. Sudjojono: Visible Soul, Museum S Sudjojono and Canna Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2006, illustrated, p. 184.

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