An exhibition held in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the birth of Indonesian painter Hendra Gunawan, at Ciputra Artpreneur Museum in August, featured the history of the artist’s life. The exhibit of 32 of his paintings revealed his ability to portray ordinary life and also explained his relationship with curator Ciputra and the dark age of fine arts.
Known for his modern style and natural, colourful paintings, the series of Gunawan’s works show the details of his work, his attention to people and daily activities. Born in 1918, the self-taught artist has created numerous vibrant paintings which brilliantly manifest the spirit of diversity that led to Ciputra’s interest in collecting his masterpieces.
The exhibit “The Prisoner of Hope” specifically narrates Gunawan’s life during the 13 years he was jailed (1965-1978) for his involvement in cultural organisation Lekra (Lembaga Kebudajaan Rakjat) which was believed to be affiliated with the Communist Party in the 1960s. Known for his propensity toward representing the so-called “lower classes” of society, he was arrested without judicial process, simply judged for his alleged political views, which the government believed threatened the nation’s ideology.
Curated by Agus Dermawan and Aminudin T.H. Siregar, the exhibit focuses on the dark period of the cultural and liberal movements in Indonesia. Dermawan said that the series of works shows how Hendra Gunawan kept painting and kept hope alive while in prison at Kebon Waru, Bandung. He may have remained silent, but he never let the canvas dry.
“He was a painter who could best reflect a sense of the Indonesian spirit through the eyes of the world, through forms, colours—authentic visual narratives. His feeling of gratitude came from the ying-yang philosophy which led him to bring about a theme of populism that confirmed a postmodern truth,” said Dermawan who is also the author of “Surga kemelut Pelukis Hendra.”
He was a painter who could best reflect a sense of the Indonesian spirit through the eyes of the world, through forms, colours—authentic visual narratives.
-Agus Dermawan, Curator
Dermawan noted that the exhibit also presented a part of Ciputra’s collection that has not been shown to the public before. It was a visual revelation of Gunawan’s ability to portray local culture and become the force behind international art, thus validating his moniker of ‘a painter of the people’.
Those paintings include “Diponegoro Wounded at War” (1982), oil on canvas. The painting was not finished, such as the details of Diponegoro’s face, as Gunawan passed away in 1983 in Bali. The dramatic portrayal of traditional women also appeared in “A Mother’s Sacrifice” (1980), “Arjuna Nursing” (1979), and “Looking for Lice” (1980).
A self-portrait of Gunawan suffering in prison can be seen in “12 Years without a Bath” (1977). The exhibit also disclosed the personal relationship between painter Hendra Gunawan and the collector Ciputra through “The Ciputra Family and Ali Sadikin” (1980). Without Ciputra’s role, people may never have known the real Hendra Gunawan.
The centennial commemoration was also celebrated with “Spectrum”, an exhibition in response to the artistic influence from the master. Curated by Rifky (Goro) Effendi, the exhibit displayed the artworks of 70 artists.
Some of the artists included Davy Linggar, Eddy Susanto, Hanafi, Heri Dono, Jumaldi Alfi, Natisa Jones, and Nasirun. Presented in contemporary art and installations, the collective exhibit showed how Hendra Gunawan’s legacy inspires many young Indonesian Artists.