One of the most inspired motifs in Affandi’s oeuvre is the Balinese cockfighting ritual – an event that captivated the artist’s imagination. The dramatic energy, sensory potency and interpretative depth of the tajen, as it is known in Bali, is a beloved theme in Affandi’s works.
In the present lot, Affandi captures the electrifying tension of the match by detailing the closely packed crowd surrounding the gamecocks. He distinguishes the many forms and figures that occupy the scene through contrasting colors. The background is filled with swirls of burnt umber, with shades of red and taupe, suggesting the frenzied kicking and gestures that cause dust to burst upon the scene. Against this, Affandi employs bright yellow, red, blue and some green to cast the viewer’s attention on the cockerels, molding their forms and creating texture with his thick impastos. As a result, the prized creatures, as if under spotlight, are immediately brought towards the foreground of the composition – highlighting their metaphorical and social significance.
What is notably interesting in Cockfight 1976 is Affandi’s inclusion of a watchful crowd, distinguishing this piece from other compositions in which the embattled birds are the sole subject matter. The artist’s angled perspective is framed to show the hands and feet of the figures, allowing the viewer’s eye to sweep across the breadth of the painting. As Affandi uses his hands and fingers to paint intuitively, he immortalizes the heightened emotions he experiences in media res, instilling a raw energy that dances freely across the canvas. The sheer washes of brown and deep green create a blur of movement and a palpable rhythm around the bold yellow forms of the crowd, perhaps mirroring the inhibition with which Affandi paints.
Crouched at the top right corner of the work, Affandi introduces the fully featured human protagonist of his narrative - the likely owner of one of the fighting cockerels. Portrayed with his mouth agape and his eyes intensely focused on his bird, the man’s animated expression pulls the viewers even deeper into the fight. His arm is outstretched as he touches the cockerel’s feathers, perhaps to rouse it further. Furthermore, the spontaneous, curved strokes that delineate the physical forms of the titular birds encapsulate the ruffling of their feathers amidst battle. Affandi’s unique approach to painting carries an undeniable corporeal power, capturing the essence and liveliness of the scene he chooses to depict. Here, it is as if one can hear the boisterous interaction between competitive owners and the crowd. The entire picture plane is filled with an incredible dynamism and is rich with “the whirling of natural forces”1 that Affandi was undeniably drawn to.
Indeed the heart of Balinese cockfighting was not necessarily the bravado of competition, but rather the effervescent atmosphere and the underlying values of community spirit. This lot is a stunning example of Affandi’s confident and mature approach in capturing the essence of the unique Indonesian sensibility, reaffirming his status as one of the leading modern artists in Southeast Asia.
 Jean Couteau cited in Sardjana Sumichan, ed., Affandi, Volume II, Bina Lestari Budaya Foundation, Singapore Art Museum, Jakarta Singapore, 2007, p. 39
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