In arts, Sidik Martowidjojo is inspired by the strength and grace of Peony flowers

According to the legend, during the reign of China’s first and only empress, Wu Zetian, all flowers in the royal palace garden were ordered to bloom. It was during the winter, not in spring. So it was impossible for the flowers to bloom.

But because the order came from the Empress herself, who represented God on earth, this instruction had to be implemented. So all the flowers bloomed, except one – the peonies.

The peonies resisted against the will of Empress Wu Zetian, refused to bloom out of their season and chose to stick to their decision. As a result, the angry Empress threw the flowers to the remote area, out of the comfort of the royal palace garden. Yet the beauty, grace and character of the Peonies remained true.

These flowers were the sources of the inspiration of Sidik Martowijojo. Capturing their bright and dark colors, Sidik tries to grasp the peonies’ strength and beauty with a rather difficult painting technique.

“Peonies are the symbol of strong characters. All men and even the state should have this character. We must have strong self-identity and strong ideology. On the outside, we may be gentle and soft, but our strength should remain intact even in the face of the powerful empress,” explained Sidik

Sidik just finished his solo exhibition in National Archive Building on Jl Gajahmada Jakarta on 23-29 March 2013. There were 76 works of art with Chinese painting style (Guo Hua) exhibited in this event titled ‘Jembatan Emas Seni Rupa Indonesia-Cina’ or the Golden Gate of Indonesia-China Fine Art. But due to limited space, only 40 paintings were on display.

“Most of the collections on display were created since 2008,” explained the painter who was born in Malang, East Java, 24 September 1937. Around a dozen of them were painted this year. “The preparation for this exhibition was rather quick, only two to three months.”

Sidik explained that this exhibition was part of the partnership between the Government of Indonesia and China to attract Chinese tourists to come to Indonesia. Before, Sidik also had a number of solo exhibitions in China. He even got an award from Chinese government, including Bunga Phoenix or Phoenix Flower (black and white media) as Best Quality Chinese Painting in the global Chinese painting and calligraphy competitions in Beijing (2001) and Nanjing (2002).

At least there are two reasons behind this exhibition. First, China and Indonesia have a number of similarities. Both occupy a huge territory and have huge population. “If both join hands, a lot of things can happen,” he says. Second, “at this moment, China is a country with a lot of money. Meanwhile Indonesia is rich with minerals. Imagine if both resources are synergized.”

One way to have both Asian’s superpowers together, according to Sidik, is through art and culture. “Art and culture has no boundaries, no territorial border, because they are universal. This is a good opportunity,” he said.

This time, Sidik divides his exhibition into three themes of Landscape, Flower and Animals. This resonates with the common themes Sidik explores in his work of arts.  Sidik, whose birth name is Ma Yong Qiang, often explored natural sceneries as objects for his paintings.

According to Sidik, two painting themes, landscape and flower, remain prima donna in his exhibition. Landscape paintings with ‘Sidik-style’ attract the interest of Indonesian collectors. Meanwhile, Chinese collectors are more into his flower paintings.

“This landscape painting is Sidik’s signature. It is the one and the only in the world, they cannot be copied. This is definitely Sidik’s,” he said.

One of Sidik’s prima donna from his collection of animal-themed paintings is a horse riding through the clouds. “This horse painting is so special. He has no mouth. His body goes through the clouds, making it seems as if it flies through the sky,” said Sidik.

Sidik always has something to say through his paintings. He explains that the horse he painted symbolizes success. “Through this painting, I want to say that human beings as well as the State should have vision, mission and goals that go up to the sky and through the cloud,” he said.

Sidik thought himself painting since he was a kid. At that time, he fell in love with Guo Hua style that used rice paper and watercolor paints. When he was nine years old, he learned calligraphy from Nie Phing Chong and the late Xiau Pai Xin, a head master of Chinese school in Malang.

Sidik also learnt literature from his father, Phe Hwie Kwan, who introduced him to books written by Chinese maestro such as Qi Baishi. As time went by, he got to know and admire the works of art by Handrio, H. Widayat, S. Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan.

In Indonesia, Sidik’s Guo Hua painting style is uncommon. According to him, Indonesia painters tend to follow the market trend. “Many asked why I did not use canvas and oil paints, just like most painters in Indonesia nowadays. I said, “I might lose my identity”,” he said.

He also admits that painting on rice paper and watercolor paint is much more satisfying compared to canvas and oil paint. This feeling comes not only as he paints but also after he finishes his paintings.

According to him, rice paper absorbs the paint better and stronger compared to other media. As a result, the painting also lasts longer.

Until this year, Sidik produces 300 to 400 works of art. Most of his rice paper comes straight from China. “Those produced in Indonesia have poor quality. Those from Singapore are too pricey,” he said.

Since 1998, Sidik has had more than 20 solo and group exhibitions, such as in National Gallery Jakarta, Langgeng Gallery Magelang and Nadi Gallery Jakarta. In a number of occasions, he also had exhibitions in China such as in The China Millennium Monument – Beijing, National Art Museum of China (NAMoC) – Beijing, Liu Haisu Art Museum – Shanghai, Fuzhou National Gallery – Fuzhou, and Huafu Tiandi – Shanghai.

He has been given honorary awards as the top ten Art and Culture figures in scientific discussion forum of “Small Affluent Communities in Beijing” in 2006 in China’s Youth Party Center for pushing for innovation in Chinese art and culture. Sidik was the only non-Chinese recipient.

Because of his works, Sidik was appointed as a researcher in People’s Republic of China Art Research Center in Beijing and a guest lecturer in Eastern International Art College of Zhengzhou University of Light Industry in 2007.

“I am quite proud, as they highly appreciate my collection. They like my paintings because I am different to Chinese artists – who may seem as if they were spoiled because they requested payment before making any work of arts,” he explained.

Unfortunately, supports and appreciation from Chinese government do not resonate in Indonesia. Indonesia’s painters or any type of artists have to fight by themselves to create arts. “The role of arts and culture in the development of nation is quite important. Arts and culture are part of the national identity, the future of the nation,” Sidik argues.


Indonesian version