Dolorosa Sinaga: Laying Ground For Better Future Generations

Dolorosa Sinaga - JP/DON

Already in her 60s, artist Dolorosa Sinaga seems to never run out of energy; she is involved in many social activities and meetings, teaches classes at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) and works on various sculptural projects.

For top sculptor Dolorosa, art is her life, a way to express her emotions and ease her mind — but most importantly, it is also a medium for social advancement.

“I feel that I’m constantly challenged; if you care about what happens in society, you won’t think you can ever run out of energy,” she told The Jakarta Post recently.

Dolorosa is now actively organizing exhibitions that showcase the works of young sculptors which are based on research methodology.

Such a method, she said, had never been used before in the country’s sculptural scene but should be as younger artists have bigger opportunities to do research nowadays.

“Through our researched works, we give some kind of historical awareness to the public while participating to preserve our heritage,” she said.

Recently, Dolorosa organized two joint exhibitions, which presented works that were based on research of the country’s cultural heritage.

The first was the “Contemporary Eye of Indonesian Art and Culture Heritage” exhibition in May, followed by the “Ekspresi Keindahan Rasa dan Bentuk dalam Gerakan Pencak Silat” (The Expression of Feeling and Shape in the Pencak Silat Movement) exhibition in August.

Through the exhibitions, she said, she wanted to set examples for young artists that inspiration did not only come from personal experience, but also emerged from an awareness of something, such as poverty, culture, or even repression.

“Moreover, they can see themselves as part of a journey of a generation, looking at themselves as an agent of change to show their responsibility to the public,” Dolorosa said.

Such an initiative was also born from her concern about the lack of freedom among younger generations to think and be creative, which might further damage the country’s cultural value, Dolorosa said.

“My fellow artists from various institutions and I are working on a series of cultural projects to respond to the 1965 issue that became the starting point of much cultural damage in Indonesia,” she said.

She said the project would not only file a lawsuit against the government over the 1965 tragedy, but also invite younger generations to fully understand about that period of time through art.

“This will be some kind of reconstruction or cultural regeneration as we are aiming to lay better ground for better future generations,” Dolorosa said.

“Youth must understand about the importance of having freedom of creativity because great ideas can only come from those who are free.”

Born in Sibolga, North Sumatra, on Oct. 31, 1952, Dolorosa first became interested in drawing when her friend at elementary school introduced her to it. To pursue her passion, she later studied at the IKJ.

Her father did not approve of her plans, saying that the arts were not a suitable place for women at the time. But she defied him.

She graduated from the IKJ in 1977 and then flew to London for her postgraduate study at St. Martin’s School of Art.

Dolorosa also went to the US in 1984 to study at Berkeley’s school of arts, majoring in fine bronze, and took an apprenticeship at Sonoma State University’s department of fine arts. The list of her educational background goes on.

Her extensive exposure to Western art did not make her ambition to improve the local art scene go away. She used references from her overseas study to help the restoration project of a traditional bronze foundry in Trowulan, East Java, by the Ford Foundation in 1985.

Dolorosa has taught sculpture, the history of art, anatomy and figure drawing at the IKJ, and has been the dean of IKJ’s School of Arts, since 1983.

“I’ve always liked teaching; it’s a form of my responsibility to the public. By teaching, I can also be part of conversations across generations to share what I’ve got for future generations. That’s very important for me,” Dolorosa said.

Her works, mostly featuring female figures, have been collected and put on display at places including the International Monetary Fund Gallery in Washington, DC, the office of the Indonesian central bank, the office of the National Commission on Violence Against Women and the Sol Art Gallery in Chianti, Italy.

Dolorosa, who has held six solo exhibitions, was also the maker of the “Semangat Angkatan 66” (Spirit of the Class of 1966) monument that is placed on Jl. HR Rasuna Said in South Jakarta.

She built the Somalaing Art Studio in East Jakarta in 1987, offering classes led by several professional tutors and receiving orders for many sculptural projects. Somalaing has also made trophies for, among others, the Indonesia Film Festival Award 2014 and Vidia Award 2014, Abang None pageant, as well as the Yap Thiam Hien Award and Kridha Wanadya Tahama.

Located at the same place as the studio, her house, where she lives with her husband Arjuna Hutagalung, is open to anyone 24 hours and often becomes a place for discussions and debates on various topics, from human rights and politics, to culture and women’s issues, or just a place to have a chat.

“We’ve always liked having people at our home, having discussions about serious or trivial things,” she said.

Despite her activities here and there, Dolorosa tries to dedicate her weekends to going the studio and sculpting in order to relax.

“I would go crazy if I didn’t do any sculpting. So instead of sleeping, I usually spend my Saturday or Sunday sculpting, until dawn sometimes,” she said.