Acclaimed as one of Indonesia's greatest modern painters, Hendra Gunawan believed that life existed because of the community. This is reflected in his paintings that depict the daily lives of ordinary people in Indonesia. Womenfolk have added significance to Hendra Gunawan. He admired their resilience in the face of adversity, their inner strength which complemented their external beauty.
In this painting titled "Mentjari Kutu Rambut", the central female is depicted in Hendra's particular mode of seeing and understanding the world around him. Painted larger than usual, she dominates the otherwise bare canvas, taking up most of the space in the foreground. She is bestowed with an extremely altruistic bust line as though emphasizing her nurturing capacity, at the same time giving her the air of an ancestral ruler. Cloaked in vivid, striking colors which brings attention to the contours of her body, her limbs are sturdy, her eyebrow arched, curious and determined. One hand is placed solidly on her hip, the other raised provocatively to her lips, inspecting the louse combed out by her friend and servant, also another lithe, confident female. The woven patterns on her clothes are of traditional design, and especially prominent is the pair of upswept wings spread over the curve of her left thigh, forming the symbol of the mythological Garuda. This personification covers the entire work with its lice-crushing theme, signifying supreme force and good triumphing over evil. This is Hendra's conception of a modern female imposing, sensual, and very much the mistress of her own world.
In the aftermath of the 1965 anti-Communist purge, Hendra was imprisoned for 13 years for his involvement with LEKRA. This long imprisonment left him with an intense longing for his family and the outside world, and the expressive paintings from this period are charged with profound emotions rarely seen in earlier works. It was also a period when colour took on a pivotal role in Hendra's work as Astri Wright commented '(his paintings) radiate with colour - clashing, surprising sweet - but somehow almost always brilliantly resolved in the composition as a whole.' (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain - Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, p. 177).
The present lot was painted during his time in prison; it was then brought to the Netherlands by the Tilburg missionaries of the Holy Heart (MSC), who long worked in Brasil, the Philippines and Indonesia, where they supported Hendra Gunawan during his imprisonment.