In Memory of A.D. Pirous and His Impact on Indonesian Graphic Design

Indonesia’s art and design landscape is in mourning with the passing of Abdul Djalil Pirous, better known as Professor A.D. Pirous, on April 16, 2024. He was a renowned artist and professor who mastered graphic design techniques and has, throughout his lifetime, birthed numerous works that have influenced the development of visual art in Indonesia. A.D. Pirous also pioneered the Graphic Design Program at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)—further broadening the accessible design knowledge and pushing each practitioner to continue to grow to this day. The notions presented by A.D. Pirous in the world of graphic design form a path for Indonesian designers to find the meaning behind visual art and the very idea of an Indonesian identity. Thus, his passing has left a deep well of grief and, simultaneously, a sense of hope born from what he has left behind for the future of Indonesian graphic design.

In remembrance of A.D. Pirous, Grafis Masa Kini sat down with Ismiaji Cahyono, Bureau Chief of Desain Grafis Indonesia (DGI), who shared many moments with the professor himself. In Ismiaji’s eyes, A.D. Pirous was a professor whose knowledge and wisdom is an example for practitioners and academics of graphic design in Indonesia. “To fellow designers that have been taught or guided [by A.D. Pirous], there is always a sense of reverential hesitance and respect [toward him] due to his vast experience and knowledge that he bestows upon them,” Ismiaji recalled. Although he was revered as a great professor, fellow Indonesian graphic designers also saw A.D. Pirous as a friend, a colleague who freely shares his knowledge, and as a figure who tirelessly helped and pushed fellow creatives. “He was really aware of regeneration and kept pushing breakthroughs in and the search for an Indonesian graphic design identity.” In the essay “Pendekar Pirous: Refleksi Obituari Profesor A.D. Pirous” (English: Warrior Pirous: A Reflective Obituary of Professor A.D. Pirous), published on the official DGI website, Indonesian designer Henricus Kusbiantoro described A.D. Pirous as a champion of graphic design who compromised nothing. He was also depicted as someone who was happy to chat or bestow candid advice. “In short: honesty and transparency,” Henricus Kusbianto writes.

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Abdul Djalil Pirous’s career in the world of visual art encompasses the colonial period, the Old Order, the New Order, and well into the Reformation Era. The historical records on the official Ministry of Education and Culture website notes that throughout his life, A.D. Pirous has actively held and organized solo and group exhibitions both in the country and abroad since 1960 including Pameran Lukisan Kaligrafi Islam (Jakarta, 1970), Pameran Retrospeksi (Jakarta, 1985), One-person Show of Prints di St. Martin’s School of Art (London, 1986), Pameran Seni Grafis Internasional di Galerija, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (1977), Pameran Besar Seni Lukis Indonesia at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta (1978), as well as Pameran The Third World Biennale of Graphic Art at the Iraqi Cultural Center (London, 1980). His paintings are in itself a breakthrough in the art of modern paintings with evident Islamic influences. According to Ismiaji, to the general public and fine artists, A.D. Pirous’s works are known as Arabic calligraphy works. However, for design practitioners, the professor’s works have a firm connection with typography. “Mr.Pirous was skilled in playing with the boundaries between art and design, creating new tenets in visual communication wherever he took part,” Ismiaji expressed.

Aside from his visual works, the initiatives he conceived also had an impact on Indonesia’s graphic design landscape—creating a more progressive ecosystem for fellow graphic designers. “Many are unaware that [A.D. Pirous] was also a pioneer of the working ecosystem of design studios that practitioners engage in today,” Ismiaji said. In 1973, A.D. Pirous established DECENTA (Design Center Association) with Adriaan Palar, T. Susanto, and G. Sidharta. Ismiaji explained, “Through DECENTA, he worked on government projects with an interdisciplinary work system, a new way of working that opened opportunities for experimentation while pushing exploration into a unique Indonesian-ness when engaging in art or design.” Over the years, DECENTA developed into a vessel of expression, research, and exploration of all things art and design in Indonesia. “Screen prints by artists at DECENTA are visual works unique to Indonesia that remain current in the digital era, possibly even more imaginative, risque, critical, and free,” Ismiaji reiterated.

A.D. Pirous’s concern regarding the development of graphic design in Indonesia was not limited to work systems and the craft itself, but it also included concern regarding graphic design education. For Ismiaji himself, A.D. Pirous's biggest breakthrough is his contribution to Visual Communication Design (DKV) education in Indonesia which he put together with his colleagues at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). The graphic design knowledge he brought home from studying abroad in the United States was applied in the form of an education system that could be followed and studied by future generations of graphic designers. "After comparative studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he developed the ITB graphic studio into graphic design in 1973," explained Ismiaji. With his great contribution to graphic design education in Indonesia, A.D. Pirous has handed down knowledge now applied by practitioners who have received DKV education on campuses in Indonesia. Still in the same essay, Henricus Kusbiantoro wrote that for him, A.D. Pirous is not only a teacher but also a warrior. "The warriors who fought for Graphic Education were not focused on designers with the ability to adapt to certain design styles or trends, but directly to the essence of the problem... The ability to tell stories visually according to what you want to convey!" he wrote.

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According to Ismiaji, digging into Indonesia’s identity in the field of graphic design is an inheritance from A.D. Pirous that will need to be developed by fellow graphic designers today and well into the future. The professor has sent a message to fellow designers never slack in exploring Indonesian values to further discover new creations, not simply copying the wealth of creations in the past. “Today’s design practitioners are reluctant to dig into this uniquely Indonesian [visual] identity, they’re prioritizing refinement, grid implementation, typographic diction knowledge. However, identity, as a designer, through cultural and national values, is still seen as a detour,” Ismiaji revealed. Furthermore, A.D. Pirous also handed down his spirit and encouragement for graphic designers to actualize communication design innovations through various new media. “But, the most important thing is the notion of problem-solving.” Other lessons bestowed by A.D. Pirous that continues to be remembered by Ismiaji is that instead of getting swept up by “style”, graphic designers must continue to dig into the value of the meaning being communicated through their work.

Abdul Djalil Pirous is a figure that has actualized advancement for graphic design in Indonesia. With his passing, the world of graphic design has lost a great role model whose footsteps has taken the new generation to broader possibilities to explore this industry. While he is no longer with us, the notions of A.D. Pirous will live on and his spirit everlasting—breathing life into the development of graphic design, as well as visual art as a whole, in Indonesia for generations to come.

Photos courtesy of the Desain Grafis Indonesia archive.

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About the Author

Alessandra Langit

Alessandra Langit is a writer with seven years of diverse media experience. She loves exploring the quirks of girlhood through her visual art and reposting Kafka’s diary entries at night.