After his death in 1983, Hendra Gunawan (1918-1983) was described as an 'artist whose Indonesian-ness was indisputable,' and a man whose 'infatuation with the people as well as the republic was life-long.' (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit and Mountain- Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994, p. 166.). These comments were viewed alongside the knowledge that he was involved with politically oriented cultural organisations, showed that he was strongly attracted to socialist ideologies and deeply concerned with the realities of life for the Indonesian people. However, one should not over-emphasize the political tendencies in the work of Hendra, as his choice to depict the ordinary Indonesian folk pre-dated his involvement with any organisations. It was ultimately the people and the land that mattered to the artist as Astri Wright has keenly observed 'a Gauguin who did not need to leave his country to find his paradise.' (Ibid., p. 181).
In the aftermath of the 1965 anti-Communist purge, Hendra was imprisoned for 13 years for his involvement with LEKRA (a cultural organisation affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party). 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, surprisingly sweet - but somehow almost always brillantly resolved in the composition as a whole.' (Ibid., p. 177).
Whilst colours are essential in the construction of the composition, it is ultimately the women that take the centre stage as evidenced by the illustrated lot. 'Hendra's women are types, not clearly distinguishable individuals, and many interpretations of their roles and meanings are possible. At the most basic level, they are nourishing, nursing, mothering beauties, voluptous and undulating bodies wrapped in brightly coloured cloth. Their forms are echoed by the forms of papayas, eggplants, and cucumbers. They are young and their long graceful arms, exaggerating the elegant hand movements that are so typically Javanese, contrast with their thick feet with widely spaced toes - the feet of villagers and farmers. This way of depicting feet, as well as the use of exaggerating profiles, with long necks, protruding noses, and large eyes, echoes the stylisation of the human form found in wayang (traditional Indonesian puppetry). (he) chooses to use the female form to signify the greater truth and the beauty of the land and the people which he simultaneously celebrates and longs for in his work.' (Ibid,. p. 177).
The present painting was painted in 1973 when the artist was still in the prison. The work best exemplifies the features which are discussed before as the artist celebrates an ordinary and routine day at the beach as the fishermen came back with their finds and a spontaneous market were gathered. Hendra's artistic expression has transcended an otherwise mundane scene to a poetic documentation of Indonesian people.