Hendra Gunawan: Revelations of a Centenary in His Honor

Hendra Gunawan, Menangkap Kupu-Kupu
Hendra Gunawan, Pangeran Diponegoro Terluka
Hendra Gunawan, Berebut Topeng I
Hendra Gunawan, Menangkap Kupu-Kupu
Hendra Gunawan, Pemandangan Danau II
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On 4 August 2018, Ciputra Artpreneur Gallery, Museum and Theatre, opened an exceptional exhibition of Hendra Gunawan. The artist is generally rated as one of the five Maestros of modern art in Indonesia and this exhibition gives the public the great and very pleasurable opportunity to view his works close up. It will be displaying 32 works (out of the collection of 130), 23 of which have never been shown before.

TEXT: Carla Bianpoen
IMAGES: Courtesy of Ciputra Artpreneur Gallery and Museum

Hendra Gunawan, Pangeran Diponegoro Terluka

 

Hendra Gunawan’s genius has perhaps been less proclaimed, compared to masters like Affandi or Sudjojono, but this exhibition, which has been dubbed Prisoner of Hope, reveals an artist who many think is the equal of the world’s grand masters, and so deserves to be on the world map of art.

An autodidact, Hendra Gunawan acquired his skills by learning from friends and other artists and by doing it himself. He had to spend 13 years in the Bandung Kebon Waru prison because he allegedly sided with leftist politics. Most of the 32 paintings in this exhibition were created in his prison cell, but instead of dark visions, they emanate an unbelievable vitality that is an exquisite joy for viewers to look at.

His blue colors remind us of the French Mediterranean waters, although one of the show’s curators, Agus Dermawan, who has met the artist several times, revealed they are derived from the fish that have greatly inspired him.

 

Hendra Gunawan, Berebut Topeng I

 

His figures, particularly his female ones, are like mermaids, those legendary aquatic creatures of fairy tales with the head and upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. He visualizes them with their necks protruding and their bodies twisting, as if at leisure, and yet they also emanate a dynamic mobility.

Some of the vernissage audience on 4 August said his paintings reminded them of artists like Paul Gauguin, the French Post-Impressionist, who went to Tahiti to find inspiration. However, unlike the French artist, Hendra Gunawan is infused with an unbelievable vibrancy of life. Though he had to sit in a cell for 13 years, his elongated figures are neither static nor meditative; instead, they seem to be forever moving in dynamic mobility.

While this all may seem to be very unIndonesian, his themes expertly reveal the Indonesian social scene, and more specifically, the paupers on Java, who are marked in the work by their characteristic folk humor. Far from being saddened by their poverty, they vibrate with vitality and sparkling fun, intent on making the best out of life. While numerous pictures depict the people as hard-working fishermen, traders, farmers, and women sellers, with their feet and palms flat and widespread to show they are being workers, it seems the women can find the time for leisure. This is seen best in the paintings where they sit together doing absurd acts, like grooming each other while also nursing their babies, or sorting out the lice from their long hair.

The artist’s emotions and motions on canvas appear to be driven by the wind or an inner force. His background landscapes also appear to be in motion. This is seen in the painting, Menangkap Kupu-Kupu (Catching Butterflies), where the appearance of the figures, as well as the moving landscape seem to be in motion. Even the elongated form of a tree in Pemandangan Danau II seems to be moving, as if driven by the wind. Such movement is even evident in the large painting Diponegoro Terluka.

 

Hendra Gunawan, Menangkap Kupu-Kupu

 

Hendra Gunawan was born into the nobility of West Java in 1918. As the only son, his parents had high expectations of him, but he chose to be an artist. He once said that he felt like he was entering paradise when painting. He became a pauper himself, facing numerous hardships, but always sided with the little folks. Like other artists of the time, he joined the Indonesian struggle for freedom from the Dutch and founded Sanggar Pelukis Rakyat (the People Painters Workshop). This dragged him into politics and he was incarcerated after the coup in 1965. He remained in jail without any trial whatsoever 13 years but kept on painting. He died in 1983 in poverty, without a single work in his possession as they had all been pawned.

Ciputra, a passionate collector of the artist, revealed that he had known Hendra Gunawan before he was incarcerated. ‘I first saw him painting in 1962, and was impressed by the unison of his spirit and physical. His paintings were still relatively cheap at the time, and whenever I had money, I would buy one’.

Ciputra felt that he and the artist were on the same wavelength. ‘Like myself, Hendra Gunawan was faced with hardship in his life and unfortunately died before he could enjoy the fruits of his hard work.’ In an autobiographical release, Ciputra revealed the hardships that he had encountered when he was young. But he has managed to overcome them and he is now one of the leading property developers in the country. Ciputra said entrepreneurial awareness is a must, whatever other skill one might be blessed with.

An entrepreneur of sorts, Ciputra was trained as an architect and is also a major art collector has coined the term artpreneur to describe his combined passion. In this spirit, he has established his Ciputra World, which consists of Ciputra Artpreneur Gallery and Museum together with a high-end theater and shopping mall, plus adjacent hotel on a 10.000-square meter plot of land in Jakarta. The gallery and museum comprise about 1,500-square meters, within which a major facility of a 60×12-metre jumbo screen and digital projector has been added.

 

Hendra Gunawan, Pemandangan Danau II

 

The massive Hendra Gunawan exhibition comes with an exhibition of contemporary responses by 70 contemporary Indonesian artists. Curated by Rifky Effendy, they are exhibited under the title, Spektrum, and include renowned artists, such as Heri Dono, Entang Wiharso, Eddy Susanto, Mella Jaarsma, all displayed together with works by young emerging artists.

While there is none that could possibly match the genius of Hendra Gunawan, it is an exciting exercise that includes some notable works.

Painter Kemalezedine and Yogie Achmad Ginanjar are the artists who come closest to Hendra Gunawan’’s color scheme and swinging lines. Restu Taufik Akbar’s (Holy)day: Rhythmical motion in Silence is also executed with a combination of tropical colors, Geugot Pangestu Sukandwinata made a paperwork with special technique to visualize Hendra Gunawan’s life in the cell, Eldwin Pradipta created a single channel video, consisting of 4 parts which each present Hendra’s works under the title, Reminiscent of Romanticism, while Theresia Agustine Sitompul and Patricia Untario have taken to the fish that were close to the artist’s heart. Theresia formed her fish by using cuttings of colored brocade and combined fibre and resin, while Patricia Untario created a delicate work of glass and fishbone. Meanwhile, Nasirun created a huge installation with the workers’ feet at its base. But it is Muchlis Fachri’s The Ten Faces, featuring the swaying figure of Dasamuka, that has a fresh and comical take on one of Hendra Gunawan’s paintings.

 

 

Hendra Gunawan: Prisoner of Hope
Ciputra Artpreneur Gallery and Museum, Jl. Prof. Dr. Satrio 3-5, Jakarta

 

 


 

Carla Bianpoen has been a freelance journalist for culture and contemporary art since 1989. Her reviews have appeared in such publications as The Jakarta Post, The Indonesian Observer, Asian Art News, C-Arts Magazine, Visual Arts Magazine, Harpers Bazaar Art Magazine, Tempo, Jakarta Globe, Esquire Indonesia, and Art Republik. She co-authored Indonesian Women Artists: The Curtain Opens, and has also written ‘Revealing Sakti’ to introduce Sri Astari Rasjid oeuvre. She was the Artistic Director and Co-curator for the Indonesia National Pavilion, Venice 2013 and 2015. She has been a juror for the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards since 2009. She is a recipient of the Visual Art Magazine’s Award (2011), and the Government of Indonesia’s Contemporary Art Award (2014).

 

 
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