Srikandi is a famous and well-known work by Lucia Hartini, an Indonesian female artist, showing the triumph over her own emotions and the male-dominant society in Indonesia.
The main focus of this painting is a female figure, of perfect likeness to the painter herself, standing with arms akimbo, as if in triumph. The figure is centrally located and seems to stand rooted to the ground, in firm, martial stance with her chin raised and eyes wide open at the group of eyes staring at her. She seems to be in full awareness of her own strength and ready to fight back.
In this work, two walls take up about two-thirds of the background; dividing the canvas into two regions, one dominated by the brick-red walls, the other dominated by the bright sky. The wall on the left of the painting is straight, symbolizing her confidence and clear mind. Whereas, the wall on the right is a dizzy, zigzag wall, symbolizes her previously confused and fearful feeling about being stared at fiercely by the eyes.
The use of space in Srikandi (1993) is also unrealistic as the female figure is juxtaposed against the brick walls and the sky in the background. Therefore, this composition is largely based on the artist’s imagination. For instance, the buildings and walls seem to be floating in mid-air while the eyes at the top-right hand corner of the painting are disembodied; both cases are highly unlikely to happen in reality. In this sense, Lucia Hartini’s work is considered as a surrealistic artwork, which is highly symbolic and unrealistic.
The use of bright colors, such as the yellow and light blue, for the sky also conveys the message of a clear mind, as if there is sunshine after a heavy thunderstorm. Shadows are also used to define the muscles on her slightly tanned skin, suggesting a muscular figure, fit to fight back any staring eyes, which symbolizes the societal expectations of her as a woman in a male-dominated Indonesian society. The lighter and darker shades of blue highlights and emphasizes the flow of the blue drapery, as well as her defined body shape, thus making the figure realistic and lifelike.
A sequel of Spying Eyes (1989), the group of eyes are confined to a small corner at the top right of the painting instead of being free to ‘roam’ around in the painting in Spying Eyes (1989). Such confinement of the eyes in the small space suggests that the figure is now in control of these stares of the society and is no longer subjected to the control of these eyes as portrayed in the previous painting.
Although the painting is based on the artist’s imagination, it is painted in a highly realistic manner. The brushwork of this painting is well-rendered and well-blended. Lucia Hartini took up the academic and traditional way of realistic painting, where the brushworks are so well-blended that no brushstrokes can be identified. For example, the arms and hands of the female figure are painted in great detail, where her veins and muscles can be easily identified. The blue drapery is also painted with a very detailed eye, with the shadows and highlights bringing out the elaborate folds and fluidity of the cloth. Even the individual strands of hair can be identified in the painting.
All in all, the painting is based largely on a surrealistic world, but the figures and objects are painted in a highly realistic manner, in great detail. The bright colors, on the other hand, bring out the emotion of triumph and confidence of the artist through the painting.
There are several influences behind Lucia Hartini’s painting, Srikandi (1993).
However, the main influence of this artwork is her struggles in the male-dominated society in Indonesia, and her final triumph and control over her life. Lucia Hartini is a catholic woman living in a predominantly Muslim environment. In Indonesia, the society is male-dominated; this included the art world in the country. Females who chose the artistic career path, struggle in both art school and in society as they are looked upon with a critical eye and their works are not recognized. Instead, the societal expectation of a woman is to become a housewife and manage the house and the children.
While many female artists gave up their artistic career, Lucia Hartini continued producing artworks many of which reflected her struggles with societal expectations of her role as a female, many of which reflected the feminist movement. Since her work engages critically with inherited gender norms and her personal struggles in the confined society, her works are filled with symbols to reflect her struggles. In Srikandi, the disembodied eyes symbolize the society’s expectation and disapproval at her artistic career; the zigzag walls suggests her once fear and struggles in life, while the straight brick wall shows her triumph over her emotions and society with renewed confidence and courage. She also took a surrealistic approach instead of expressing herself in a straightforward manner so as to avoid criticism and uproar in society.
As suggested by the title of the artwork, the painting is also influenced by a favorite character from the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, well-known throughout Indonesia. Srikandi was originally a character from the epic, who was determined to become the wife of the Pandwa prince, Arjuna, despite the fact that she was already married to Dewi Sumbadra. Srikandi vowed to stand by Arjuna in battle, impressing him with her loyalty and courage.
Srikandi is the archetypical ‘Warrior Woman’ of South-East Asian legend. Lucia Hartini depicts her representation of Srikandi dressed in the blue cloth worn by members of the women’s armies who historically protected the Sultans of feudal Central Java. Lucia painted herself as Srikandi, with the female figure with perfect likeness to herself. This suggests that she has overcome her fears and stridently repels the critical and doubting eyes of the society which had formerly rendered many women prisoners of tradition. A sequel to Spying Eyes (1989), the female figure is no longer cowering in fear and insecurity from the eyes, but stands up strong and confident of herself against the group of eyes, possessing Srikandi’s courage and bravery.
The final influence is from that of the surrealist painters. Srikandi is similar to Dali’s surrealistic works, as both are set in an unrealistic environment in the artist’s imagination. The figures are also highly realistic and detailed such that they represent real life figures and objects. Such surrealistic approach seems to hide the main message behind the artwork, making it less straightforward. This is to prevent any uproar from the public as her personal struggles and pain are not accepted by the traditional society.