Kuda Lumping

Kuda Lumping
signed, dated and inscribed ‘Hendra 76 / KW / Bandung’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
147 x 202 cm. (57 7/8 x 79 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1976
Acquired directly from the artist by Dr. Lukas Mangindaan, Jakarta
Anon. sale. Christie’s Hong Kong, 24 May 2008, Lot 122
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Private Collection, Asia
Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, no 122 (illustrated in black and white, p. 122)

Brought to you by

Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

"As demonstrated by the numerous versions he painted of the Kuda Lumping trance-dance, Gunawan was fascinated by intense emotion in high-pitched and extraordinary situations, which he reformulated into dramatic vignettes which highlight the presence of human courage and perseverance vis-à-vis desperation.” – Astri Wright.

Hendra Gunawan's art throughout his artistic progression is inspired by an awareness of the beauty of Indonesia and its people. His skilful depictions are not only the pristine landscape of Indonesia which he adored, but also the existence of Indonesian men and women who contributed tremendously in building the nation, capturing genre scenes of everyday life. As one of Indonesia's most important and recognised figure in the arts, alongside Affandi and S. Sudjojono, Gunawan's remarkable sensitivity to colour and artistry in creating his works was deemed revolutionary.

Arrested and imprisoned for 12 years for his involvement in a cultural organisation affiliated with the Communist party PKI, Gunawan's signature style in painting was honed and further developed through his time in prison. Life in prison was debilitating, and robbed Gunawan of both life’s sense of purpose and its variety. During this period, Gunawan’s encounter with his much younger second wife inspired him on the use of more vivid and lyrical colours in his later works. These lively colours represented joy, life and hope that Gunawan longed for. This period can be considered as an important and pivotal period, departing from his earlier artistic style where most of his motifs were inspired from the tumultuous political context in Indonesia. However, as he progressed in the exploration of his artistry, there was one thing that remained constant – the depiction of the Indonesian people. They never failed to be the centre and focal point of his canvases in the context of work and play, in celebration and struggle. Gunawan’s picture planes were meticulously composed as a symbol of celebration of life of his beloved nation.

Kuda Lumping (Lot 32) is an outstanding example of one of Gunawan’s compelling portrayals of the people in celebration. This is a native dance of the Java Island, where it is performed during special and festive occasions. The troupe includes dancers riding colourful flat horses as their props and a shaman to lead the group. A small gamelan troupe completed with a sinden is also in accompaniment to liven up the ambience, attracting onlookers to gather and enjoy the show. The performance itself is very much a social event, in which the community at large will participate either as audience or helper. Such is the nature of the performance that it blurs the space for the stage and its audience.

There is a sense of informality achieved in the theatrical atmosphere which allows people from all corners of the neighbourhood to become a part of the performance, which is very much depicted in this exquisite work. Silhouettes of small human figures are seen at the background of the composition gathering to see the performance from afar, and also on top of the banyan tree, which is the symbol of gathering in the olden days. The performance is portrayed in grandiosity in size, as Gunawan preferred to work on bigger canvases, drawing from his experience of producing posters during the pre-Indonesian war. With the rendering of a larger scale and composition, Gunawan compellingly draws the viewer of the painting in, also inviting us to be a part of the celebration and festivity.

Unlike many other Indonesian traditional trance-dances, Kuda Lumping is a dance that symbolises the battle of good and evil, which the essence is captured precisely and intensely in the present lot. The main character of the performance, riding her horse, is on a mission to defeat 'evil', performed by a dancer wearing a mask on the left hand of the canvas. Both dancers are wearing elaborate costumes full of colourful beads and sequins. With full force, the horse rider charges towards the other dancer dressed in turquoise top at the corner of the composition. Beneath the display of strength presented in this scene, the dancer is seen moving gracefully with elegant hand movements. Stylized and cursive brushworks were also used to portray the vigorous movement at the peak of the Kuda Lumping performance, outlining the mane of the flat horse as well as the hair that adorns the two female figures, giving forth a dramatic interpretation of the performance. Bright and vivacious colours are also used to capture the essence of celebration, and also the intense energy of the scene of the performance. Different from Gunawan’s earlier works, Kuda Lumping showcases more complexity in colour layering which creates a sense of depth and an alluring visual imagery to the scene. With this work we can see Gunawan’s mastery in colour – it is with colour that Gunawan finds the most natural approach to share his feelings.

One can barely see that Gunawan had not taken any artistic influences from the west in creating his works. Rather, Gunawan created each and every scene with the newfound vocabulary that is true to his expression as a faithful countryman. It is not only by the usage of the local scene and subject that Gunawan expressed his nationalistic self, but also, the Indonesianess of Gunawan's painting is showcased in the way he portrayed his figures. This vocabulary is related to that of the wayang, which has influenced so much in Indonesia's visual and performing arts. In Gunawan’s works, figures are often portrayed in profile or silhouette, with certain stylized exaggeration of facial features, expressive body movements and long limbs. Accompanying the figures, Gunawan also dressed them in Indonesia's traditional cloth, batik .

Monumental in size, Kuda Lumping is an extraordinary interpretation of the livelihood of Indonesia by the true master – A rare masterpiece that came from the former collection of Dr. Lukas Mangindaan, a psychiatrist and close confidant to the artist. It is mentioned by Dr. Mangindaan that throughout Gunawan's artistic career, the present lot is the most favourite rendition of the scene. Without a doubt, Kuda Lumping is the truest form of homage from the artist for his beloved country.

More from Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) / Contemporaries: Voices from East and West (Evening Sale)

View All
View All