Teacher portal: 06 Independence

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The mid twentieth century in Indonesia, like many of its neighbours, was a time when the people struggled against colonial power. Art became a tool in the drive for independence from the West.

Alison Carroll talks about Hendra Gunawan’s Hello Hello Bandung, which was painted as the Japanese left and the Dutch tried to resume their colonial control of Indonesia. Gunawan uses the angular form of the wayang puppets when depicting the soldiers.

Vietnamese artists were also looking to traditional techniques and merging them with modern ideas. To Ngoc Van’s Lighting a torch to go to night class, was painted just before he died in the battle of Dien Bien Phu against the French.

In the Philippines, Alison Carroll talks with Brenda Fajardo about how she combined depictions of people throughout the independence struggles with mystic symbols of the tarot cards to make a political statement.

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Interviewees in this episode

Brenda Fajardo – Philippines

Brenda Fajardo, born in 1940, was honoured in 1998 as one of her country’s  One Hundred Culture Heroes by the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. Using folk beliefs and imagery, including the use of tarot cards, she takes local historic and mythical stories and brings them to life in paintings of contemporary political relevance.  A well-known series is her Playing Cards of Filipino Life, a version of which is in the collection of the Queensland Art Gallery. Her work is often small (but intensely worked and richly coloured) but the themes are large – about the struggle of life in socially chaotic times, especially for women, children and the powerless.

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Discussion Topic 1 – The politicisation of the artist

The daily reality of life, the struggle for independence in Indonesia, the Vietnam War, the struggle against martial law in the Philippines, politicised Australian and Asian artists. They could not turn their backs on the enormity of change and social injustice before them.

Brenda V Fajardo talks about the artists working towards the transformation of society. This flies in the face of those who consider the primary role of art to produce beauty, or to remind us of beauty.

What is your positon on this? Tease out the relationship between your art and your world. Look at what you are creating and ask yourself ‘is this really what I want to say’, is this about me and my world?

Discussion Topic 2 – The gaze

Notice how these artists have interrupted the gaze. Hendra Gunawan turned away from the solitary heroic figure and instead painted companionship of women. Notice the stance and the angles.

We all have a way of looking, this is influenced by who we are, and the culture we are from. A young Indonesian woman will look at the world differently than an older Australian man.

What powers or traditions in our society are influencing your gaze? What might you do in your art practice to adjust or interrupt your gaze?

Discussion Topic 3 – The potent mix of traditional and contemporary

We have seen how Hendra took the energy from the tradition of the Wayang puppets and applied it to his work, employing a profile, a pose, a shape. We have also seen how Fajardo combines social reality, the divination of the tarot pack, and pre-colonial tradition, particularly the Babaylan (High Priestess). This potent mixture of traditional and contemporary gives the work strength.

If you were to apply this principle, what set of traditional iconography might you incorporate into your work?


Historical context




Vietnam War



Philippines Martial Law




The Artists

S Sudjojono


Hendra Gunawan


To Ngoc Van


Brenda V Fajardo (Philippines)



The Colonial Gaze





Wayang Puppets and Tarot Cards