Hendra Gunawan is one of Indonesia’s most revered cultural icons. Adulated for his colourful paintings, Hendra introduced a fresh visual identity to the Indonesian art scene in the post-colonial era. His expressive portrayals of rural life and nuances of the human condition gave rise to an innovative yet personal aesthetic representation to Indonesia’s modern history. Produced in 1974, this present lot is a prime example of Hendra’s masterful ability in translating his love for his people onto his canvas.
Woman at the market depicts the figure of a voluptuous woman, resting her basket of produce against her right hip and holding two eggplants in her left hand. By painting the woman with a foot in front of the other, Hendra captures her in mid-movement and creates the narrative of her walking through the market, in the midst of carrying out her chores. The central focus on the woman in this lot is a classic mode in Hendra’s practice – women as a group are featured far more than men or even children. Inspired by his own mother Odah, who was a strong and courageous woman, Hendra celebrates the beauty and strength of ‘the woman’, giving her active roles in the narratives of his paintings. Ultimately, imbuing her with a sublime sense of confidence and ease.
In this lot, Hendra paints two smaller figures that flank her side, giving layers to the woman’s narrative. The girl on her left helps the woman by carrying a smaller portion of the groceries, while she snacks on a piece of fruit. On her right, a dog tilts his head up to face the woman, as if taking cue from her lead. The woman is now a mother with her daughter trailing by her side, a homemaker carrying out her daily duties and still, she is acknowledged as an individual. Her beauty is highlighted with the brightly coloured batik patterns of her dress, the womanly form of her figure and the red hue on her lips.
The artist re-imagines the unique femininity of the Indonesian women in her wayang-esque profile, detailing it with elegant, sloping features and elongated fingers. An insistence against formulaic standards of beauty, the unconventional colouring of the characters’ skin in this work is also quintessential of Hendra’s imagination.
The vivid hues used liberally in the background speak of the influence Hendra’s second wife had on him. A painter herself, her preference for a brighter palette stimulated Hendra to experiment beyond the muted tones of his earlier works. The shades of deep red, blue, green and purple are measures of Hendra’s maturing artistic vision, imparting an alluring dimension to the composition.
As an empathetic artist who loved his country and desired to portray the unique beauty of Indonesia through depictions of cultural mores and rural living, Hendra Gunawan was adept at immortalising a timeless quality in his works. The salutation to the Indonesian woman in Woman at the Market is testament to the enduring relevance of Hendra’s imaginative outlook and his pioneering spirit.
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