GM Sudarta: Master of the art of criticism

What Media Says


About GM Sudarta,
and was originally published in Jakarta Post,
Mar 09, 2012


The great cartoonist GM Sudarta knows well not only the art of drawing, but also the art of criticism.

“People here do not like being criticized. Therefore you have to do it in such a way to hit the target,” said the creator of Oom Pasikom, the character that appears in his cartoons in Kompas daily.

A combination of euphemism, a good sense of humor and knowledge about current issues has helped his cartoons survive for 40 years, including through the authoritarian regime of former president Soeharto.

“Instead of saying `thief’, you can say `a person who takes somebody else’s belongings without permission,’” said the 62-year-old artist, whose works are on display at Bentara Budaya, Jl. Palmerah Selatan 17, Central Jakarta, until July 12.

To criticize the Soeharto government’s policy to award a clove monopoly to the controversial Clove Marketing and Buffer Agency (BPPC), owned by Soeharto’s son Tommy, Sudarta drew a cartoon showing Oom Pasikom smoking a clove cigarette.

After just one puff, he coughs and coughs, almost vomiting. Yet, he grins and says: “Wow, the clove is so good.”

The fact that many Indonesians do not like being criticized has made Sudarta even more creative in conveying the message of his work, in what he calls the “Indonesian way of criticizing”.

Born in the small town of Klaten in Central Java, Sudarta is fully aware of the Javanese philosophies of ngono yo ngono ning ojo ngono (whatever you’re doing, do it, but don’t bother everyone else by doing it) and tepo seliro(don’t do something you would not want done to yourself).

The press was controlled when Soeharto was in power and Kompas received many warnings because of Sudarta’s cartoons. Today, even though the door of press freedom is wide open, the artist remains careful with his work.

When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cried last month at hearing of the suffering of people whose houses in Sidoarjo, East Java, were inundated by the mudflow, many criticized him. They said it was too late to cry, more than a year after the tragedy began.

In his cartoon, Sudarta drew the character of Oom Pasikom, who was crying because he did not want to hurt the President.

His editors at Kompas may also tell him to revise his cartoons, like one about the Tangerang administration’s bylaw on prostitution. In the original cartoon Sudarta drew a wolf-headed man, representing an official, who was ready to arrest a woman walking alone at night because she was regarded as a prostitute. The editor, however, told him to remove the wolf’s head.

Kompas refused to publish one cartoon about military brutality in Aceh, which then was a Military Operation Zone.

“That’s OK. I didn’t have any objections because I understand that it is the editor of the newspaper who is responsible for the publication of my cartoons,” he said.

Sudarta, who also launched his book 40 Years of Oom Pasikom at the opening of the cartoon exhibition, studied at the Institute of the Arts (ASRI) in Yogyakarta from 1965-1967.

He had to leave school before graduating because of financial problems, applying for a job as an illustrator atKompas.

He was interviewed by PK Oyong, the publisher of the daily, who, as a test, had Sudarta draw passengers panicking as their aircraft crashed.

There had been a recent airplane crash in Sulawesi.

“I had never been in an airplane. So the interior of the airplane in my drawing was like what was inside an economic train,” Sudarta said.

But never mind. He was accepted with a starting salary of Rp 1,250, a huge sum of money for him at that time.

“I spent Rp 600 to pay my room rent, gave Rp 200 to my mother, bought new clothes, books and food,” he recalled, adding that a nice shirt only cost Rp 13.

During his 40-year career, Sudarta has created many cartoons about various issues, from politics and law to economics and social issues. Many of the problems he presented decades ago in his cartoons, such as corruption, remain problems to this day.

“If everything was good now, cartoonists would not have a job,” he says with a laugh.

Sudarta, who has three children, also loves painting. He stopped painting about a year after starting at the paper, only picking it up again when he was ill for two months ion 1985.

The doctor diagnosed Sudarta’s problem as stress.

“I was stressed because I knew a lot but could not express it,” he said, adding that he started to paint again on the advice of fellow artists.

He realized that cartoons alone were not enough for him to express his feelings, his aesthetic experiences and his ideas. Besides painting, he writes poems and short stories.

“I also like playing classical guitar to find inspiration,” he said.

Sudarta has received many awards, including several Adinegoro Journalistic Awards from the Indonesian Journalists Association (in the 1980s), the Best Cartoon of Nippon (2000) and Gold Prize Tokyo No Kai (2004).

The artist, whose full name is Gerardus Mayela Sudarta, has now retired from Kompas and lives in Klaten. But he still works for the paper on a contract basis, contributing one cartoon a week. He also contributes to the New York-based Cartoonist & Writer Syndicate and several Japanese media publications.

Next year, he will teach drawing and cartoons at Seika University in Kyoto, Japan.

When asked why he did not teach here, he said: “Because no one has asked me.”

About his future plans, he says, “Let it just flow like a river.”

Read the full article here.