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HENDRA GUNAWAN (Indonesian, 1918-1983)
HENDRA GUNAWAN (Indonesian, 1918-1983)

Conversation

Details
HENDRA GUNAWAN (Indonesian, 1918-1983)
Conversation
signed, inscribed, and dated 'Hendra bandung 60' (lower left)
oil on canvas
194 x 83 cm. (76 3/8 x 32 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1960
Provenance
Anon. sale; Christie's Hong Kong, 28 November 2010, Lot 1610
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Brought to you by

Eric Chang
Eric Chang

Lot Essay

Born into a working class family in 1918, Hendra Gunawan's interest in painting began from a young age. Deeply involved in the theatre scene, it is no wonder that the scenes of local environs and a theatrical colour palette frequently emerged in his oeuvre. During a chance meeting with fellow artist Affandi in 1939, Hendra became determined to take painting as his vocation and later participated in the Sanggar Pelukis Rakyat (People's Artists' Studio) in Yogyakarta, Central Java with other first generation Indonesian pioneer artists, Sudjana Kerto and S. Sudjojono. They were to live through one of the most tumultuous periods in Indonesian history, beginning with World War II and concluding with the resistance against the Dutch and struggle for national independence. They also became involved with the communist-sponsored Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (known as LEKRA, or the People's Cultural Association) and Hendra Gunawan was imprisoned in the aftermath of the abortive Indonesian communist coup in 1965 for thirteen years, until his release in 1978. In 1980, Hendra Gunawan moved to Bali where his works received resurgence due to the Bali-inspired culture and art scene of the time.

Hendra's portrayal of Indonesian womenfolk across his oeuvre has gained a place of iconic value in the pantheon of modern Indonesian art. Works such as Washing by the River (Lot 428) and Penjual Ikan (Lot 429) reflect the place of importance the female subject exists in Hendra's art. Hendra's fascination with all things Indonesian finds a perfect expression with the female subject. If she was breastfeeding a baby with her strong, masculine feet rooted firmly to the ground, she was a symbol of the artist's beloved motherland, the young republic of Indonesia. If she was depicted in glorious colours, dressed in the finest traditional batik, she would be the symbol of the great Javanese culture that was close to the artist's heart. If she was placed in a grandiose landscape with which she could almost merge as one entity with her curvaceous body, which Hendra had intended to be reminiscent of the dramatic landscape, she would be the embodiment of all things beautiful and Indonesian.

Painted in 1960, Conversation (Lot 430) is a classic example of Hendra Gunawan's genre village scenes. His figures are drawn with strong features and undulating grace, wearing brightly patterned fabrics and displaying lithe, sinuous limbs highly reminiscent of traditional carvings and Sundanese puppetry. This work, which depicts a guerrilla fighter engaging a woman in impassioned dialogue within a village marketplace, bears a subtext that is an insistent call to allow Indonesians to fully govern their own lives, and no matter how impoverished their personal circumstances, to be allowed the right and freedom to courageously choose their own mode of liberty.

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