Gunawan, Hendra (1918–1983) By Sambrani, Chaitanya
Known in Indonesia as the peoples’ painter, Hendra Gunawan was born in Bandung. Family circumstances were strained with a father who gambled and his parents divorced while Hendra was still a child. After finishing high school, Hendra was part of a theatrical troupe, painting scenery as well as acting and dancing on stage. During the late 1930s, he is presumed to have studied landscape painting with Wahdi and modern art with Giorgi Giseken, a Bandung industrialist. It was after meeting Affandi in 1939 that he took up painting seriously. Hendra was associated with a number of artists’ organizations as well as popular culture. His career was marked by a deep interest in representing the lives of common people: villagers, farmers, folk dancers and prostitutes. Scenes of family gatherings, beach, festivals and marketplaces abound in his oeuvre. His art practice continued throughout his thirteen years spent as a political prisoner (1965–1978). In fact, it was during his prison years that he arrived at his mature style characterized by radiant, sometimes discordant color, and sinuous figures with exaggerated and distorted limbs. Especially in his later career, Hendra created paintings approximating history paintings in scale, about four meters in width. Even after his release from prison, the stigma of having been branded an enemy of the nation continued to influence his reception. To date, there has been no catalogue raisonné or retrospective exhibition of his work. Hendra Gunawan died five years after his release from prison.