Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan (Guerrillas Preparing For An Assault) is a rare to market revolution-themed picture of Hendra Gunawan that is exceptionally representative of his twin interests, the first in matters of the Indonesian revolution against colonial rule by the Dutch post-World War II and the second being his life-long interest in the daily lives of Indonesians, especially commoners dealing with the revolution.
In the 1950s, leading up to the painting of Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan, Hendra Gunawan was involved in a number of sculptural and monumental projects commissioned from Pelukis Rakyat, an artist association he was the head of. These projects served to celebrate the heroism of the people, and it was through painting them on commission that Hendra further sharpened his sense of empathy with the people.
Revolutionary subjects had been a mainstay of his works since the 1940s. Astri Wright, in her analysis of Hendra’s works, points out that he would seek to understand and paint the revolution in varied manners:
Looking back today at Hendra’s works from the 1940s, we see that from the very beginning, even with a revolutionary war going on, and with politics the spice and fear of every waking moment, Hendra was awake to many different kinds of experiences and atmospheres, never limiting himself to a few styles.
When Hendra Gunawan refers to guerilla fighters, he shuttles between recollection and history as well as transmitting a message for the present and the future. Hendra Gunawan was only twenty-eight when the Indonesian Revolution against the Dutch broke out. He became an active guerrilla fighter and even served before as a military judge. Yet his allegiance to art during this time never wavered.
Humanising the Revolution
Each of his work, especially of the revolution, is intended to be extremely vivid in its narration of events, with an intense psychological narrative to boot. Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan (Guerrillas Preparing For An Assault) achieves precisely this, with a close-up portrayal of a small group of guerillas during a break in fighting, planning their next tactical move. The main figure is painted facing the viewer squarely, without any disguise or need to evade from view. His green uniform, representative of preparedness and strength, marks him out from the rest of his comrades who are closing up on him.
His face bears an expression of forbearance and readiness while a fellow guerilla fighter approaches and leans in forward dramatically as he attempts to share a piece of information. Around them, the earth is an evocative red colour, symbolically representing the bloodshed of the revolution.
In the background, fellow guerilla fighters are holding steadfast, fighting straight into a cliff. This background scene is a fairly typical one for Hendra’s revolutionary pictures where minor figures complete a sense of dynamic action in the background, and attention is drawn to the psychological make-up of the protagonists. In Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan, the viewer feels he is able to enter the minds of the protagonists due to the close-up framing of the figures in the foreground. The viewer in fact may feel he becomes part of the painting, thereby heightening the sense of drama.
Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan and the Struggle for National Independence
Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan may very well have incorporated elements of the historically noted retreat of Indonesian republicans from Bandung in 1946 known as the Bandung Sea of Fire. It is not conclusive from elements in the painting itself if there is indeed a reference but knowing that Bandung is the birthplace of Hendra Gunawan may guide us towards that plausibility.
In any case, it is beyond doubt that Hendra Gunawan was totally immersed in the revolutionary struggle for independence and would have steadfastly stood on the side of the fleeing nationalists when they torched the southern part of Bandung as they fled. Read in a certain way, Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan depicts that moment in the revolutionary struggle when the guerrillas were squarely confronted with the prospect of defeat or victory in the form of national independence. They take a minute off the war to re-group, re-strategise and recover the momentum of the struggle.
As with many across the whole of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia who experienced national independence during the two decades following the end of World War II, Hendra Gunawan stood in admiration of the ideals of the struggle, and celebrated the heroism of the nationalist fighters. His tribute to them came in the form of depicting their bravery and their struggles. Gerilya Persiapan Penyerangan is a fitting tribute to the nationalist struggle, painted in 1960 at the height of a wave of consciousness and campaigning for national independence across Asia.