"From the South, not the North!"
The Sculptures of Borobudur, Indonesia
Notes on a Conversation with Moechammar Djamhoer

In a recent conversation (in 2006), the renowned Indonesian sculptor, Mr. Moechammar Djamhoer, pointed out to me the cultural and aesthetic significance of Borobudur. The beauty of its sculptures, their harmony and perfection, he maintained, doubtlessly equalled that of ancient Greek statues, say those of the Parthenon, let alone modern European sculptural art. The specificity, or should I say, différence, of these witnesses of ancient Indonesian art, could not be overlooked, however, when compared with European art. Or even that of Cambodia, of India, Ceylon, and so on.

According to mainstream opinion, Buddhist art in Java and Bali has been introduced "from the North," in the context of the spread of Buddhism. Mr. Djamhoer contested this view. Based on close observation of the formal traits of the sculptures found in Borobudur, he argued that their richness of forms, their peculiar styles, arrived "from the South." They must be seen as results of indigenous creation.

Without doubt, Mr.Djamhoer would not deny that the themes chosen are Buddhist. Indian influence, spreading to South East Asia (including today's Indonesia) was strong. It certainly had an effect on artistic creation, regarding the themes considered relevant, but also regarding certain formal approaches, for instance the importance of the Mandala shape (observed by the ground plan of the Borobudur temple), the transition from squares to circles (witnessed in Borobudur reliefs), and so on.

To the extent, however, that the sculptures of Borobudur indeed show formal traits different from those of Bamyan, of Angkor Wat, or of Ceylonese statues, this may be seen as a strong indication that Mr. Djamhoer's hypothesis is relevant, indeed. His view would probably also be backed by authors like Prof. Magdi Youssef (Cairo) who has frequently maintained that cultural reception processes hardly ever can be seen as passively suffered processes. Their active side is of utmost importance. Taking into consideration the theoretical position of the afore-mentioned Egyptian thinker who has repeatedly contributed vital research on intercultural relations, it would be plausible to suspect that an indigenous creative input was hardly missing in Buddhist Javanese sculptural art created between the late seventh and early eighth century.

- Andreas Weiland


       Borobudur is situated near Pawon respectively Mendut, in the Jogjakarta area of Java, Indonesia.

                                                                                                         Art in Society, No. 6