I’m in my second full day of Yogyakarta (called “Jogja” locally) on the main island of Java, but am still referencing some memorable encounters on Bali. Rather than post each one individually, I’ll do a “group show” so I can keep moving forward
I. the Artist
On the day I did advance planning before the big cremation (Nov. 1), I happened to meet a fellow who spoke excellent English and said his family produced traditional Balinese art. I was resting in the shade at the temple where the cremation would take place, and he fired up a conversation that overcame my skepticism quickly. That alone was reason to listen more carefully and then, after telling him I’m on a long trip and so can’t purchase anything, to tag along back to his family compound. Suddenly I was backstage in Ubud, where this family of struggling artists eked out a living. I wanted to photograph the compound but minded my manners, drank the strong coffee served by his grandmother, and talked about his art. Mr. Dewa Putra is 38, looks 27, and together with his brother-in-law and father-in-law produce what he calls “Bali Home Traditional Style” of art. He agreed that I could post some of his family’s art on this site and Facebook in the hope that someone would be interested to purchase.
Like artists everywhere, the galleries make the big money while paying the artists very little. Dewa said it takes between 3 to 8 months to do a painting, but a gallery will pay less than $100 and then turn around and sell it for 3-to-5 times that amount. I don’t think this is anything we haven’t heard before.
II. the Model
Thanks to the recommendation of a fellow guest at Ketut’s Place, I visited the exceptionally weird Blanco Renaissance museum on the other side of downtown. I will not say much about the art or ego on display, but there was a fine view from the roof of the building. The pagoda in the foreground is on the family’s compound, while those below are on another site heading down the hillside. The family’s temple site seemed woefully neglected, with the base of the pagoda a storehouse for empty boxes and etc.
From the rooftop, I could see a crowd of people on the lawn below and quickly descended to see what the fuss was about. About the last thing I expected to see was a photo-op for a bunch of tourists from Singapore, all with huge cameras and lenses crowding in to get a shot of these three models, with one of them a westerner!
Colleagues in cultural studies, ethnic studies, perhaps even gender studies would have a field day interpreting and deconstructing this performance. Here, I will only mention that a particular version of ‘beauty’ was being elevated over more local forms, and that the two directors were giving instructions (in English) for how the primary model should position her head. An assistant was barking out directions to the Balinese women.
How fascinating it would be to interview each woman separately to learn their perspective on the modeling as well as what they think of how the western model gets the spotlight while the local women serve as fawning admirers. It was a rich (and scenic) moment in the cultural politics of globalized norms of “beauty.”
Thus sayeth the guy based entirely on speculation.
III. the Driver-Philosopher
I mentioned Mr. Lanangrai Gusti who drove me to Mt. Agung and was able to answer many of my questions along the way. But I did not mention that he too is from a family of artists (on his wife’s side) living near Ubud in the village of Batuan. “Just ask for the Muji Family and anyone will show you the studio.” Clearly they are successful because they were invited to exhibit their work by the Westin Hotel in Denver and Aspen last year.
We had a great time discussing his experiences of Colorado, hail (which he thought was snow), and the “food he could not eat” until the hotel allowed them to cook their own.
The Rocky Mountains, big highways, long tunnels through the mountains all made a big impression and yet, “I was so happy to come back to Bali.”
Mr. Gusti also drove me to the airport in Denpasar–an exasperating trip because we were continually behind big trucks laden with rocks. “They need the rocks for landfill in the shoreline area.” Behind, between, and beside the trucks were scads of people on motorbikes, the ubiquitous form of transportation in Bali and Indonesia.
Mr. Gusti does not get angry or impatient in all his travels picking up and delivering tourists. “What good does it do? It does not change the situation. It does not make you a better person. It makes people around you unhappy and miserable. We have to learn to control our emotions like anger in order to be human beings.”
He liked that I meditate and said he could tell in how I talked to him. I don’t know about that but he was a good companion and excellent driver, and I wish him well.