In many ways, Kuda Lumping is the best subject for an artist who is known for his 'indisputable Indonesian-ness' and whose "infatuation with the people, as well as with the republic, was life long." (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, p.166).
Amongst the traditional dances of Java, Indonesia, the Kuda Lumping (Hobby horse dance) stands out as one of the most distinctive and remarkable of trance dances. Not unlike many of the other trance dances, Kuda Lumping is about the battle of good and evil; an orchestration of mind and body in reconciling the dichotomy between the two. Masks are used by the dancers to pose as various spirits and the protagonists are horse riding dancers. The name Kuda Lumping literally means 'flat horse'. Once in trance, the horse-riding dancers assume the identities of warriors mounted on their horses, waging battle against evil.
Kuda Lumping by Hendra Gunawan shows the artist tackling one of his most preferred subjects in a repertoire of scenes from Indonesian life. In the present work, the feverish energy of the dance is conveyed through the artist's skillfully composed picture. Tightly composed, the two figures - a warrior pranced on a hobby horse and a masked figure - are embroiled in a struggle of near-epic proportions. The flaying arms of the horse warrior, one arm higher than the other, are powerfully stylized and lend a striking rhythm of movement to the picture, breaking the strong angular line of the elaborately painted hobby horse. The heaving bosom of the horse warrior is reflected in her adversary, the masked figure who is captured falling backwards in a terse encounter.
An enervating energy pulses through the painting, reflecting Hendra Gunawan's true passion and enthusiasm for the dance. Astri Wright, the Indonesian modern art scholar expounds - "As demonstrated by the numerous versions he painted of the Kuda Lumping trance dance, Hendra 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--vis desperation. The dancer on the hobby-horse is said to take on the spirit of the horse; in Hendra's work. The dancer is usually a woman accompanied by clowns, whipped on by the team boss." (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, p.175)
Also called Jaran Kepang, the Kuda Lumping transmits an incredible sense of raw energy and rousing passion. When a horse warrior is completely in trance, he or she displays an unnerving tolerance, bravura and high capacity for pain. Glass-eating and being resistant to whipping are but two of the most common traits. Indeed, the dramatic vignette that is the present lot, Kuda Lumping is the direct outcome of the artist's intimate acquaintance with the trance dance. At the same time while being richly detailed and a fascinating ethnographical rendition of the dance, Hendra Gunawan leaves his distinct painterly style on the subject, accentuating the drama of the dance.
He does so by severely foregrounding the encounter whilst situating the dance within a clear and evocative landscape marked by the presence of a ceremonial procession on the shore. The painter's use of colour is highly developed; in design and choice of colours, Hendra Gunawan harks towards a celebration of the vibrancy and immense energy in life and evokes a love and celebration of his native culture.
An essential character of the Kuda Lumping dance lies in the negotiable division between the stage and the realm of the audience (or the off-stage). The magic mystical quality of the dance is easily infectious and has a visceral experience on its audience. For Hendra Gunawan, the Kuda Lumping dance would be the perfect subject deeply wrought with the idea of the peasantry and the commoner in the village strata of society; the dance offers a minor universe suffused with the drama, colours, culture, magic and belief of Hendra Gunawan's beloved people and land.