Capturing the Essence of Pencak Silat

Jakarta. The abstract figures engaged the viewer with their vigorous motions, outstretched arms and the upraised martial arts posture of their legs. Titled “Tarian Silat 1 — 4,” the fiberglass sculptures by eminent Indonesian sculptor Dolorosa Sinaga deftly caught the aesthetics of the age old Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, as the essence of their movement more than made up for their seemingly crude lack of finish.

The exhibition shows a fresh angle to the traditional aspects of pencak silat, an Indonesian form of martial arts. (The Peak Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

“I based the sculptures on the movements of pencak silat students that I saw firsthand at their training center at the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah cultural park,”  says the 62 year old. “I opted to portray them in a crude, ‘unfinished’ manner, as it captures their raw energy. This contrasts with some sculptures I saw in Yogyakarta that were more true to form, yet sacrificed something of the vigor and energy that defines pencak silat,”

Her take on other pencak silat sculptures, such as “Jurus Bangau” (“The Crane Position”) and “Jurus Latak Bumi” (“The Essence of the Earth”) portrayed something of pencak silat’s universal appeal, as epitomized by the highly acclaimed “The Raid” action movie franchise.

The former’s name and stance reflect its close relations with the kung fu stance of the same name, while the latter alludes to pencak silat’s origins on Indonesian soil.

Dolorosa’s art are among theworks featured in “Ekspresi Keindahan Rasa Dan Bentuk Dalam Gerak Silat” (“Expressing the Beauty of Feelings and Form in [Pencak] Silat Movements”). The exhibition at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center features the works of 27 Indonesian sculptors and their take on pencak silat, specifically as propagated by late pencak silat master O’ong Maryono.

Held at the Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center in Cikini, Central Jakarta, the exhibition is organized by the O’ong Maryono Award, an initiative created by his widow Rosalia Sciortino Sumaryono and the Indonesia For Humanity NGO to raise awareness of pencak silat.

Sciortino says the exhibition aims to highlight the martial art’s more aesthetic side.

“Pencak silat has long been known as a martial art, so its creative potential to inspire art has never been fully explored. The sculpture exhibition has similar aims, namely to highlight its aesthetic aspects,” she says.

“In pencak silat there are elements of motion, shape as well as feelings and emotions. Pencak silat has varied moves, as the whole body is a solid structure that is a harmonious combination of strength and movement,”

Yogyakarta based sculptor Dunadi dramatically captured this precept with his tin structure “Flying Kick.”  A staple of action movies from the late Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” to innumerable action vehicles starring the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan, the sculpture recaptured the moment when the figure in midair launched the move.

The grace and natural symmetry of the move and the interaction between the two figures reflects the 55 year old’s good understanding of pencak silat and motion. Fellow sculptor Johan Abe showed a similarly eye for motion with his work “Membela Diri” (“Defending Ourselves”), which is all the more remarkable due to his tender age of eight. Made of fiber glass, the sculpture prodigy’s forthright style reflects pencak silat’s direct, decisive and fluid moves and the a childlike guilelessness.

The sculptors recaptured the more ritualistic aspects of pencak silat with equal vigor, among them Martopo Waluyono through his work “Pencak.” The 58-year-old made the resin structure a juxtaposition of pencak styles. The open armed gesture of the figure in the defensive shows the flowing motions that pencak silat is renowned for, while the second figure’s fist shows the forceful offensive movements that can stop opponents in their tracks. In between the two, another figure is set to fall on his back, reflecting what happens to those unfortunate enough to feel the brunt of both moves.

National University of Jakarta student Galang Aldinur Masabi combines a similar eye for pencak silat’s stylized moves and a fad for action figures with his resin and mixed media figurine “Optimis” (“Optimist”). The movement and title reflects pencak silat’s assertive and upbeat side, which is an integral, if often overlooked part of the sport.

Budi Santoso’s “Pencak Silat Kids” shows the sport’s way of developing talent from a young age. It also shows its practitioners’ determination to keep the sport alive through the next generation, even as it vies for their attention, hearts and minds with the inroads of globalization.