The Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat is indeed an art form in and of itself. The movements are often performed as a kind of dance that combines physical sports and self-defence movements, breathing techniques, spiritual consciousness, as well as art. Realizing that the art form was not appreciated enough in Indonesia, the place of its origin, the late O’ong Maryono, who was himself a Pencak Silat practitioner and national champion, became very concerned and then active in popularizing the martial art. Unfortunately, in 2013, he passed away, after struggling with cancer.
In his memory, exactly a year after his death, his wife Rosalia Sciortino decided to create the O’ong Maryono Pencak Silat Award, a grant to support research and documentation of Pencak Silat, which was his in line with his mission, which was to preserve and develop pencak Silat.
“For the ceremony for the first awardee I got the idea to ask Dolorosa Sinaga to do a small sculpture as icon for the Award based on photos of my husband’s Pencak Silat stands. Talking with her the question came up why sculptors and other visual artists, contrary to theatre and dance, have not given attention to Pencak Silat,” Lia recalled.
“Until now, Pencak Silat has never been seriously considered as a having a creative potential as a source of inspiration for art works, although within the art form there are elements of movement, form, feeling and emotion that can be expressed,” the sculptor asserted. From that conversation they got the idea to have an exhibition of sculpture inspired by Pencak Silat.
They invited recognized artists to create works, and also announced an open call to others artists.
To ensure that the pieces were substantiated with knowledge about Pencak Silat, they provided all the artists with some web links for reference and indications to observe Pencak Silat events.
Some of them had, at some point, done some Pencak Silat. Ilham Rohadi, for example, is actually a Pencak Silat guru of Elang Putih from Bondowoso. He was a friend of O’ong who was actually born in Bondowoso and initially joined Elang Putih as his first perguruan.
“The variety of the works surprised me as there were many different styles and ideas,” mentioned Lia. She was particularly surprised by Terperangkap (“Trapped”) by Taufan A.P, which shows a small pesilat in red held prisoner by iron bars, “to express the still unrealized potential of Pencak Silat due to a lack of societal and government appreciation”.
Unity, by Egi Sae, consists of a number of small pesilats showing the various aspects of Pencak Silat in a kuda-kuda stance, with spirituality on top, was also one piece that caught her attention. “Others were surprising in their rendering of movement, like flying kick of Dunadi and Dolorosa Sinaga’s series of Tarian Silat (“Silat Dance”),” she added.
The ceremonies surrounding the exhibition were as important as the showcase itself. The Palang Pintu movement sequence was performed with a pantun musical poem on the pameran. It included guru Ilham Rohadi who was senior practitioner who was also a sculptor and friend of O’ong Maryono, and also Nuh, a junior 9 year old pesilat from Tapak Suci.
This was to symbolise the transmission of knowledge across generations as key to cultural preservation. O’ong Maryono once wrote: “paradoxically, the unity of the principles of Pencak Silat actually consists of a centre that is has a lot of variations, depending on which movements and base techniques are put forth by the movement”.
According to him, “the richness of this diversity, which takes form in the various schools, styles, series of movements, (and actually should be considered as an integral part and reflection of the Indonesian culture), needs to be taken care of, preserved and developed so that Pencak Silat can cross time and always continue to be up-to-date.”
Twenty seven visual artists have taken their inspiration from the art of Pencak Silat. The forms that they have created hopefully will ensure the appreciation, preservation and development of their source of inspiration.