Traditional visual arts of Indonesia

1. painting
Indonesia is not generally known for paintings, aside from the intricate and expressive Balinese paintings, which often express natural scenes and themes from the traditional dances.
Other exceptions include indigenous Kenyah paint designs based on, as commonly found among Austronesian cultures, endemic natural motifs such as ferns, trees, dogs, hornbills and human figures. These are still to be found decorating the walls of Kenyah Dayak longhouses in East Kalimantan's Apo Kayan region.

Calligraphy, mostly based on the Qur'an, is often used as decoration as Islam forbids naturalistic depictions. Some foreign painters have also settled in Indonesia. Modern Indonesian painters use a wide variety of styles and themes.

Indonesia has a long-he Bronze and Iron Ages, but the art-form particularly flourished in the eighth to tenth centuries, both as stand-alone works of art, and also incorporated into temples.

Most notable are the hundreds of meters of relief sculpture at the temple of Borobudur in central Java. Approximately two miles of exquisite relief sculpture tell the story of the life of Buddha and illustrate his teachings. The temple was originally home to 504 statues of the seated Buddha. This site, as with others in central Java, show a clear Indian influence.

For centuries, the most dominant influences on Indonesian architecture were Indian, although European influences have been particularly strong since the nineteenth century and modern architecture in Indonesia is international in scope.

As in much of South East Asia, traditional buildings in Indonesia are built on stilts, with the significant exceptions of Java and Bali. Notable stilt houses are those of the Dayak people in Borneo, the Rumah Gadang of the Minangkabau people in western Sumatra, the Batak people in northern Sumatra, and the Tongkonan of the Toraja people in Sulawesi. Oversized saddle roofs with large eaves, such as the homes of the Batak and the tongkonan of Toraja, are often bigger than the house they shelter. The fronts of Torajan houses are frequently decorated with buffalo horns, stacked one above another, as an indication of status. The outside walls also frequently feature decorative reliefs.
Minangkabau Rumah Gadang

The eighth-century Borobudur temple near Yogyakarta is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and is notable for incorporating about 160 relief panels into its structure, telling the story of the life of the Buddha. As the visitor ascends through the eight levels of the temple, the story unfolds, the final three levels simply containing stupas and statues of the Buddha. The building is said to incorporate a map of the Buddhist cosmos and is a masterful fusion of the didactic, the monumental and the serene.

The nearby ninth-century temple complex at Prambanan contains some of the best preserved examples of Hindu temple architecture in Java. The temple complex comprises eight main shrines, surrounded by 250 smaller shrines. The Indian influence on the site is clear, not only in the style of the monument, but also in the reliefs featuring scenes from the Ramayana which adorn the outer walls of the main temples, and in the votive statuary found within.


Several Indonesian islands are famous for their batik, ikat and songket cloth. Once on the brink of disappearing, batik and later ikat found a new lease of life when former President Suharto promoted wearing batik shirts on official occasions. In addition to the traditional patterns with their special meanings, used for particular occasions, batik designs have become creative and diverse over the last few years.

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