Basuki Resobowo at the Wandering Salon 2023

October 7, I shared my project and research about Basuki Resobowo in Sinema Transtopia, Berlin, Germany. This workshop is part of The Wandering Salon, the first film festival from and about Southeast Asian diaspora organized by unthaitled and kaum. I would like to thank to the six curators of Wandering Salon: Sarnt Utamachote, Rosalia Namsai Engchuan, Gugi Gumilang, Lisabona Rahman, Hai Nam Nguyen and Phuong Phan; as well as to the Sinema Transtopia’s team. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share the research that I start in 2019. This presentation is based on my academic article published by Southeast of Now Journal[1], “B. Resobowo” exhibition that I curated in 2021[2], and follow-up research that I conducted in Amsterdam-Leiden in 2022. This is the link to the 2021 exhibition and the catalogue.

Basuki Resobowo

Today, I’ll tell a story of an old man who was forced to live as a political exile in China and Western Europe. His name is Basuki Resobowo. This picture was taken during Pak Bas solo exhibition in Amsterdam. He was posing in front of a portrait containing a poem dedicated to Indonesian modern poet, W.S. Rendra. In the next slide, we see Pak Bas in a photo owned by Fridus Steijlen, a professor of Moluccan Migration and Culture in a comparative perspective‘ at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the VU University, Amsterdam. Pas Bas attended Fridus graduation party in 1985. Meanwhile in the right one, this is a picture when Pak Bas exhibited his paintings in a piazza. He exhibited his works during the demonstration in Amsterdam. According to Welmoed Koekebakker, Pak Bas always actively joins the students and people rally in the Netherlands. He follows demonstrations against settler colonization in Timor-Leste. He supported the human rights issue, especially if it is related to the Indonesian political exile in Western Europe. During the demonstration, he always brings paper and pen, documenting what he sees.

In the next picture owned by Pak G in Amsterdam, this is Pak Bas with two Indonesian students. They discussed the democratic movement prior to the 1998 Reformation in Indonesia. Behind them, these are Pak Bas paintings. According to Pak Hersri and Ibu Ita, Pak Bas gave his paintings to support democratic movement in Indonesia in the 1990s. 

His view against the military regime can be seen through posters like this. The left was about an event supporting the Moluccas collective. The second was about supporting Timor Leste independence. The third one was against Suharto. And the last one against the Dutch government that supports selling weapons to Indonesia. Next one, we can see a caricature in Tapol Bulletin, a media that focuses on the human rights violation done by Suharto’s regime toward people in Eastern Indonesia. He also created a mural consisting of 9 wood panels in Lombok Street, Utrecht in 1983. The figures of “Mural the Colonisation” also can be found in the painting owned by Pak Fridus, and in his self-published autobiographies. 

Subject matters in Pak Bas paintings were mostly about Indonesian little people, the impact of the Dutch colonization, and more spesifically, his response to what was happening in Indonesia. For example, these are the paintings owned by OHD museum that show the impact of colonization in Indonesia and the environment issue in modern Indonesia. This is “Peristiwa Tanjung Priok ” in response to the Tanjung Priok massacre in 1984. And the next one, is a painting that criticizes the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Indonesian Independence Day. Alot of his paintings were kept by his colleagues in the Netherlands. For example, “power & politics” who was owned by Arnold Magelink. 

Who was Basuki Resobowo before 1965? Was he also productive making paintings, sketches, zine, and active in a movement as well? Why he was forced to be a political exile? 

Basuki Resobowo was known as a figure in the renowned S. Sudjojono painting “Kawan-kawan Revolusi” (Comrades of Revolution) painted in 1947. Indonesian first president, Sukarno, really loves this painting. Sudjojono or the father of Indonesian modern art painted his friends, especially those who was forced to accompany Sukarno during the Revolutionary War, moving from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in 1945 – 1949. Sudjojono painted important figures in Indonesian art scene including Basuki Resobowo. 

Besides that, Resobowo also became an important figure who spreaded the news about Indonesian Independence. Before Sukarno-Hatta proclaimed Indonesia’s Independence in 17 August 1945, Resobowo went to the street and made murals and taggings in trem and wall to tell people in Jakarta about new directions as Indonesian. His works were documented by Berita Film Indonesia in “Gelora Indonesia”, a newsreel that was used by the Indonesian government to spread the information about Indonesia’s Independence toward the world. 

Even though Pak Bas was productive in creating paintings before 1965, his works can barely be found. These two paintings, for example, are two paintings that represent Pak Bas’ aesthetic. Like the paintings in the 70s and 80s period, Pak Bas could create a realistic figure. However he chose to create figures with unfinished lines and strong brush strokes. Tracing Pak Bas’ works before 1965 is so hard. The paintings that exist are Gadis, a collection of Galeri Nasional Indonesia, and Keluarga, a collection of The State Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow. 

Pak Bas also made sketches for Indonesian magazines. Besides that, he made illustrations for a book Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang that consist of letters from Kartini, and became a book designer for the translated Maxim Gorki’s work, Ibunda. When he was active in Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (Lekra, People Culture Institute), he wrote ideas in defining realism in art. Lekra was the cultural organization that spoke about the impact of colonization and the cold war toward marginalized people. As you can see in this picture, Resobowo was accompanying Sukarno in Lekra events, exhibition of Lekra’s artist and the first Lekra’s congress in Solo. 

As you can see in this timeline, Pak Bas was actually involved in anti-colonial movement, joining anti-facism theater troupe during Japanese colonization, and was part of Youth organization. In 1955, he was more active in Lekra and became a curator member in the art exhibition part of Bandung Conference. In 1965, he went to China to accompany the editing process of reels “Jayalah Partai dan Negeri”, documentation of a celebration of 50th Years Anniversary of Indonesian Communist Party. After 30 September happened, he couldn’t go back to Indonesia. 

Basuki Resobowo in Film

When I started the research in 2019, people knew Pak Bas as a painter, leftist artist, and thinker. His contribution in Indonesian cinema was merely a footnote in Indonesian film history. As for that, in the next presentation, I will share his involvement in the film industry. I traced his contribution through Bercermin di Muka Kaca, where he tried to validate his works and tell the process when he produced Perfini’s films. 

Pak Bas started his film career as an actor in Kedok Ketawa. The film tells about bandits versus local superheroes. Kedok Ketawa tries to represent the youth and the intellectuals on the screen. At that time, Pak Bas was known as the leader of the youth organization in the 1930s, Indonesia Moeda, Bandung Branch. Pak Bas acted as a painter as you can see in this image. A painter and his muse, as Pak Bas and R.A. Siti Fatimah portrayed in the film, became a popular pose among Indonesian painters later. Kedok Ketawa is now considered a lost film because the material is not yet to be found. 

In 1950, Pak Bas was one among other Perfini’s founders. Pak Bas made an investment to create a film corporation along with his friends in Seniman Merdeka such as Usmar Ismail, Rosihan Anwar, Djadoeg Djajakusuma, Max Tera, and other men. 

First, he created Perfini’s logo, probably inspired by the logo of Mosfilm, where the camera shot the statues and used the shots as the opening of the film. Pefini faced hardship when this company was started. One of them came from a Dutch crew at Perusahaan Film Indonesia (PFN, State Film Company) who mocked Pak Bas’ logo. “Well.. it looks like a mouse, not a buffalo,” said the PFN crew. This comment made Perfini’s members angry. 

During his time in Perfini, 1950 – 1955, Pak Pas was involved in the production of 7 films as an art director, the writer, the figurant, and the scriptwriter. 

As an art director, Pak Bas manages the film continuity. When Perfini was founded, Usmar Ismail only had an outdoor camera. They rent a studio owned by PFN. Pak Bas created a space and room where the actors are able to give their dialogues. He painted the wall with the same scenery from the outdoor sequence. For example in the first film nasional, The Long March (Darah dan Doa). Besides that, Pak Bas also contributes in creating the contrast through the light used. He used chiaroscuro to emphasize the character traits and inner conflict. And as a painter who knows the history of Western Art, he also enacted The Last Supper inspired scene in Darah dan Doa. 

Basuki Resobowo
Perfini’s logo.
Basuki Resobowo and Festival Film Indonesia
Festival Film Indonesia 1955.

Pak Bas also brought his experience when he made anti-colonial posters and murals in Enam Djam di Djogja. In this film, there is a scene where a girl put an anti-colonial poster and the soldiers made the posters. Then, he intellectualizes the poor character through the use of set and property like in Terimalah Laguku. He puts newspapers on the bamboo wall. This set is rarely seen in other films made in the early 1950s. If you are familiar with Lewat Djam Malam, you can see that Pak Bas also used the same placement of the newspaper and magazine, or even the image of Sukarno in a bamboo wall, in the house of the characters. As you can see in the previous paintings, Pak Bas always makes poor people in a full frame. This is his way to represent the poor people like tukang tambal ban and mbok jamu. In Terimalah Laguku, you can see he also intellectualizes the poor one in the film, Sobari, through the set. 

Besides becoming art director, Pak Bas also became a supporting actor in Kafedo. He became a shaman in a western film created by Usmar Ismail after the director came from the US. After that, his last project with Perfini was Tamu Agung. He was uncredited in the credit title of the film. However, he validated his contribution in Bercermin di Muka Kaca. 

After leaving Perfini, Pak Bas was very active in Lekra and became a member of konstituante before Sukarno chose Demokrasi Terpimpin (Guided Democration). In 1955, Pak Bas become a juror member along with other leftist figures like Sitor Situmorang and Kay Mander in the first Festival Film Indonesia. As jurors, they selected Tarmina and Lewat Djam Malam as the best films. Tarmina is now considered a lost film, meanwhile Lewat Djam Malam is celebrated as the canon film now. 

Pak Bas influence in designing the set in film can be seen in Lewat Djam Malam. You can see there were similarities in the way the Lewat Djam Malam’s art director, Chalid Arifin, created the cafe and Laila’s room by putting posters or objects from the magazine in the bamboo wall like Pak Bas did in the previous films. 

Pak Bas contribution in film, can be seen also from his involvement in Afro-Asian Film Festival in 1964. He became a juror member along with Bachtiar Siagian, FFI 1960 Best Director. 

To sum up, working with the archives both in fine arts and films, made me realize how Indonesian cinema is not only shaped by the narrative regime, but also by how Basuki Resobowo brought the sense of modern art in the films’ mise-en-scene. This process also led me to the new film history approach in seeing the development of cinema through the agency of a figure, especially non film directors. By mentioning Pak Bas’ role and contribution in Indonesian cinema, this became a step to validate the process of a person who was eliminated in the old Indonesian film history that was based on the bias on gender, identity, and political view. 

Thank you. 

Umi Lestari curated “B. Resobowo” exhibition at Galeri Nasional Indonesia in October 2021. The exhibition in 2021 as well as the travel to the Wandering Salon 2023 were supported by Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology.

[1] Umi Lestari, “Basuki Resobowo as a Jack of All Trades: The Intersectionality of Arts and Film in Perfini Films and Resobowo’s Legacy in Indonesian Cinema,” Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia 4, no. 2 (2020): 313–45,

[2] Umi Lestari, “Esai Kuratorial: B. Resobowo,” in Pameran Hasil Lokakarya Kurasi Kurator Muda 2021: B. Resobowo, ed. Yudha Mahardika (Jakarta: Galeri Nasional Indonesia, 2021), 14–29.

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