This piece depicts a group of eight children playing football in a surrealistic landscape in which nature and man disquietingly affect and distort into each other. Hendra believed that art must not only be understandable to the people, it must also be dedicated to the understanding of the people. Football had taken over psychology of much young boys all over Indonesia: Hendra himself was an avid footballer in his younger days. The title of this work is an allusion to Endang Witarsa, a former player and coach for the National Football Team of Indonesia (PSSI), widely known and beloved for his skill, dedication and humility. This piece perhaps contains some sentimentality for Hendra’s youth, and for the children who continue to be able to partake in these joys, walking in the footsteps of monumental football players in the Indonesian popular imagination.
In signature Hendra composition, these children are depicted with elongated limbs curving in impossible angles, their fingers and feet warped out of scale in spindles. The two children on the ground even seem to blend into the ground itself – echoing the physiological disfigurement in Cezanne’s The Bathers. Furthermore, the ground plane is rendered in a whirlpool of brown, with accents of blue, orange, green and white, as if the movements of the children have left permanent visual and spatial imprints upon its surface in a dazzling dance radiating with movement and energy. This move is a radical innovation upon the heritage of wayang kulit: by colloquialising the characters of these plays and depicting their movements in two dimensions, Hendra created an art form that represented Indonesia’s history, democracy and innovative cultural potential.
This piece originated from the collection of the late Ali Sadikin, the Governor of Jakarta from 1966-1977. Mr Sadikin had an unparalleled impact on the arts in Indonesia, establishing the Jakarta Arts Center (1970) and Taman Ismail Marzuki art center (1968), ensuring artists did not face the yoke of persecution and encouraging their creative expression no matter the sociopolitical impact. This was certainly no easy task in the era of Suharto. Furthermore, he was a dear friend of Hendra’s: when Hendra was imprisoned for his ties to the Indonesian Communist Party, Mr Sadikin would ensure that he had enough material to continue his work. Hendra’s gratitude is clearly seen in the painting Ali Sadikin Pada Masa Kermerdekaaan (Ali Sadikin During Independence), which was gifted to Mr Sadikin upon Hendra’s release, where Mr Sadikin is fictionally depicted as a fighter for freedom and liberation.
This work is at once tender in its intimacy but aggressive in the competitive expressions of these children, at once joyful in its lightheartedness but tragic in the surrounding darkness permeating the work. As with other works by Hendra Gunawan, this work is full of contradictions: its resistance to an ease of viewing is perhaps what drew Ali Sadikin to Hendra’s oeuvre, and why the artist remains so sought after today.
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