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"The training to be an artist is always about training all the senses, visually, aurally, kinaesthetically, and also narratively about the complexity of life," says Sardono.

Dancing to a masterpiece

12/08/2016 - 05:50

WHEN being an artist is your very core, there's a lack of self-consciousness but only the urge to express yourself through different media.

At least that is the case for master performing artist Sardono W Kusumo, one of Indonesia's foremost artists who's traversed from dance to film and the visual arts in the past 50 years.

Against the backdrop of a retrospective of his experimental films and a dance he's choreographed as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), the artist himself will perform in a solo "live" painting where he uses his whole body besides hands and fingers to splatter, drip and draw with paint.

"I never use brushes. Maybe because I am a dancer, so it's easy to react or respond to movement phenomenon related to parts of my body," says the 71-year-old. It's "movement of colour", he adds. "Sometimes, I throw my body to the canvas or run and jump to make shapes and lines. I don't feel there's any difference doing dance on the stage and painting on canvas."

Sardono, who first learnt traditional Indonesian martial arts Pencak Silat from the time he was eight, started painting in the 1980s.

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Then he focused more on it when he started serving as a rector at the Jakarta Arts Institute in 2004, where the interaction with the students pushed him to seek a more solitary activity. All the debates, discussions and conflicts he had with students tired him and he needed the "alone time", he says.

So he started painting more, besides dancing, and often combined both of them. The theme for his paintings continued to revolve around the environment and nature.

He doesn't start with any fixed image in mind, he says, but whichever moves his rasa or feelings. When the Aceh tsunami happened in 2004, he made a documentary about the disaster and he also created a dance film. Since then, he spends three to four hours a day painting - standing, running, spreading the colour on the canvas. "That's why I never think that I am a painter, I feel like I am dancing with colour on canvas."

"During the Fukushima tsunami in 2013, I saw images of the tsunami every night on the television. Then one morning, I opened a 20m-long canvas and then I just threw my emotion and let the colour move through the canvas, using bottles of oil," he recalls.

This painting is hanging at the Sampoerna Museum of Art, a private museum in Surabaya.

"Just recently, at the International Airport in Jakarta, they just opened the new terminal called 'Ultimate 3'. I'm so fascinated with the 20m long ceiling so when they commissioned me, I made an 8x8m long vertical painting, touching the roof. The idea is about a colour soaring up in the sky.

"The training to be an artist is always about training all the senses, visually, aurally, kinaesthetically, and also narratively about the complexity of life. So, there is no separation in training between muscular body, visual insight, and also understanding about mythology and storytelling. Training is not only about making the person to become a specialist, but it is also training about a total sensibility of the nerve system."

  • The Sardono Retrospective: Expanded Cinema shows at the Malay Heritage Centre from 10am-9pm, Tue-Sun. Solo Live Painting is held on Aug 20 and 21, from 5-7pm at the Malay Heritage Centre, 85 Sultan Gate. Black Sun, Aug 26 and 27, 8pm, at 72-13, Mohd Sultan Road; S$30 (includes free admission to Solo Live Painting). For more, check