As both an artist and academic, Ahmad Sadali (1924 – 1987) was a central figure in the development of modern Islamic art in Indonesia. Understanding painting as a means to “clarify the relationship between self and world,” he used bold impasto layers, gold accents and calligraphy to express his instinctive connection with nature. Taught by Dutch painter Ries Mulder in his early years, he developed a distinct manner of abstract painting which he used to depict the divine.
Sadali was amongst the first generation of Indonesian students at the Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB, Bandung Institute of Technology). Immediately upon graduation in 1953, he became one of the academy’s first Indonesian lecturers. Subsequently, he received a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation to study art in the United States of America from 1956 to 1957. Alongside his artistic achievements, Sadali also established the Islamic University of Bandung and served as chairman of the ITB Salman Mosque Development.
Seeing painting as a spiritual act, the Bandung-trained artist meditated on the balance between opposing forces. With soft colour fields, his works mediate the tension between matte and glistening hues, rough and smooth surfaces, as well as angular and organic forms. The complexity of his experimental compositions is reminiscent of both batik textiles and landscapes, both of which were ever-present in his childhood. By uniting elements of nature and religion, Sadali pushed the boundaries of what constituted as Indonesian Islamic art.