Lekra Woodcuts in the Early 1960s: Socialist Realism, National Culture, and Cosmopolitan Patriots
Using the lens of “Rooted Cosmopolitanism,” an outlook that is deeply committed to a home place or nation, but does not give that place exclusive allegiance, this article examines the woodcut production of artists affiliated with the Indonesian leftist organization Lekra (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakjat, People’s Cultural Institute), which was in turn affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In an era in which independence was still urgently felt as something that needed to be defended against old imperialist forces, and in which aspirations to construct a distinctive national culture came to the fore as a political imperative, Lekra’s woodcut artists also had to negotiate PKI’s insistence on particular types of artistic production. Within this intense national frame, these artists demonstrated their desire to be cosmopolitan citizens by taking inspiration from a number of sources, including Chinese socialist realism, Mexican and Cuban woodcuts and murals, and the woodcut art of European leftists from the early twentieth century. The resulting oeuvre—illustrated in this article by two dozen reproductions—shows a stylistic variety and dynamism that also incorporates early experiments in drawing on local Indonesian cultural motifs that suggested possibilities for creating a “national style.” Lekra’s existence as a dynamic, vocal, and aggressive leftist arts organization came to a sudden end after the failed leftist coup on October 1, 1965, and the subsequent violent, right-wing military counter-coup. Several of the woodcut artists featured in this article, who were committed to a social and cultural revolution, were imprisoned or went into exile.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 1-33
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program