PERSAGI (Persatuan Ahli-Ahli Gambar Indonesia) By Sambrani, Chaitanya
PERSAGI is the acronym for Persatuan Ahli-Ahli Gambar Indonesia (Union of Indonesian Painters, or to be more precise, Union of Indonesian Drawers). Founded by S. Sudjojono (1913–1986) and Agus Djaja (1913–1994) in October 1938, PERSAGI is widely understood to have played a major role in the development of modernism in Indonesian art. While there was no binding style linking the individual artists, they were all in search of a new art that was both distinctively national and intensely individual. Sudjojono’s influence as critic and artist was profound, and served to define a modernist—as well as nationalist—tenor in the Indonesian art of the 1940s and beyond. In terms of its importance to Indonesian modernism, it is significant that PERSAGI was formed a decade after Bahasa Indonesia was declared the national language. It was in 1928 that young nationalists in the then-Dutch East Indies led by Sukarno issued the Youth Declaration, proclaiming a unified nation with one motherland, one people, and one language. The artists of PERSAGI saw themselves as cultural workers within this nascent nation-state, making them part of a broad socialist-nationalist front aimed at the creation of a new national consciousness out of the inheritance of a colonial past. They also sought divergence from the deeper histories that divided this archipelagic country with its vast geography and a variety of ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences.