When the Visa-on-Arrival into Bali was suspended 20 March at Denpasar airport, this confirmed how serious the Indonesian authorities considered the threat of Covid19 to health and safety of the island’s inhabitants. Seemingly, after weeks of speculation, they took severe measures which have destroyed the tourism economy and impacted on the Balinese, Indonesian and expatriate inhabitants totalling around 4 million people. While many world governments were slow to respond, the Balinese authorities too received criticism for their perceived complacency.
The Corona news is confronting. It is meant to be. We live in the digital media age, and the Internet has, for some, become an extension of their nervous systems. Our primary information sources, Google, Facebook and YouTube we relentlessly consume. These surveillance capitalism giants, along with some of their information, however, requires close scrutiny for its validity and questionable intentions.
Living here in ‘paradise’, exposed to news of this global assault, I experienced collective along with my personal fears. Deep inside, however, dwelled another feeling, of peace and stability. I followed the rules set out by the local administration, and subjected myself to self-isolation, to, as so many world leaders said, “save lives”. I read an array reports and articles, and watched many YouTube videos and documentaries on the complex topic. And I pondered. The global economy was plummeting; people worldwide were dying or losing their jobs, and some were fighting in the isles of the supermarkets over toilet paper. Yes, some of the videos I saw and reports I read were fanciful. Others, however, resonated deeply with my intuition.
After a few weeks of hibernation, I made a decision I had to venture out to see the world, beyond going to the shops for food. I first checked with my landlord, the word from the authorities was, “lebih bagus kalo…”, best if you, for example, stay at home. But there were no orders to do so. The Balinese of course had to go to the markets, temples, agricultural fields and care for their families. The schools have been closed for more than a month.
I travelled on my motorbike to the mountains and the sea. I was lucky to enjoy the ocean at Sanur before the beaches were totally closed to public 3 May. At Kuta and Seminyak the beaches have been off-limits all April, and there have been reports of arrests of disobedient foreigners. I made sure when in public places to wear a mask and to respect social distancing. Many Balinese, however, were not “locked down”, were neither wearing masks or social distancing. I also started visiting a few friends to learn of their take on this extreme human experience.
Social media was abuzz with the “lockdown” output of the Balinese, Indonesian and local ex-pat artists. It appeared as if the Balinese were enjoying this ‘isolation’, the tourist market, however, has gone. While some are smartphone savvy and are selling their work through Instagram, this is a minority. Few Balinese appeared to be making art of note. Made Aji Aswino not at the AB BC Building in Nusa Dua organising the next ‘Bali Masters’ exhibition made breakthroughs with his ‘ego’ sketches, while senior icon Nyoman Erawan posted a superb digital work. The majority of the works of masked faces or spikey green viruses were far from impressive or inspiring. A painting by Wayan Bawa Antara of a Balinese high priest in seeming passive confrontation with a devilish red virus, however, did catch my eye.
Gusti Agung Wiranata, the Ubud School traditional painter of stunning landscapes, the style pioneered by the famous German Ubud ex-pat Walter Spies (1895-1942), began his Facebook ‘Gallery art Home’ posting three works a day for five consecutive days from 28 April. “Don’t let the corona shock get the best of you, enjoy the art at home”, his post read, and continues, “On the last day of the event, we’ll be handing over the baton to 1-5 other artists to take on the challenge!” #GalleryartHome
I learned the ARMA museum in Ubud was open. I visited and was delighted to find the charismatic founder Agung Rai watering the garden with a pair of secateurs in his hand. Balinese artist Wayan Donal and Japanese artist Kamon Komatsu were, meanwhile, working on beautiful compositions. I was curious to hear of Pak Agung’s opinion of the catastrophe which had reduced tourism numbers to zero, and of course, the possible impact upon Balinese art.
“The Balinese are resilient. We have endured many ups and downs. The art and the artists themselves, never-the-less continue. Art is life to the Balinese, and their creative practices are cohesive and in harmony with nature. In Bali, there is an endless source of inspiration.” Pak Agung said, and stated, “Its circumstances like these when the most innovative artists make real breakthroughs.”
A few ex-pat artists report that they are still receiving commissions. Well-known English painter of bamboo, shimmering landscapes and trees, Neal Adams in Ubud said, “During this period of uncertainty, it is not easy to be positive or focused. I have, however, found that continuing with my work regardless, has paid off. I have received some new sales over the internet from clients stating that even though times are hard, they can still bless each other with respect and support.” Adams noted, “It’s important now for artists to be realistic with their prices.”
“Of course, Covid19 has impacted upon my activity and career,” said leading Balinese female artist Ni Nyoman Sani. My exhibitions are rescheduled, and the opening dates are unknown. My focus has been on how to create while having more time at home, connecting deeply with my inner self. I have returned to painting still life compositions of fruit upon dark backgrounds. This time and space have forced me to concentrate and to be more patient.” The works are symbolic, Sani said. “The dark background represents this current gloomy period. To survive, we must stay at home, be patient, consume healthy foods, and pray.”
The pandemic has stalled and halted exhibitions and programs throughout Bali. How will the Bali art infrastructure endure this crisis, continue to grow and make a positive impact? All of the fine art galleries and art spaces are closed, some are open by appointment. All museums are closed, except for ARMA. An online presence will play an essential role in keeping their artists and brands in the public’s eye.
Rio Riawan, the curator of TiTian Art Space, Ubud and the head of R&D of Yayasan TiTian Bali, has spearheaded two new online programs, a children’s newsletter and an exhibition. “In the newsletters we feature world-class artists Picasso and Balinese modernist, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, to inspire children’s creativity while being at home,” Rio said. “TiTian’s first solo online exhibition is a new format and a fundraiser to help reduce the impact of CoVid-19. 50% of the proceeds to be donated to marginalized people of Bali.” ‘Ida Bagus Punia Atmaja: A CoVid-19 Solidarity Exhibition’ presents dynamic paper-mâché alien forms inspired by Punia’s divine visions.
The Tony Raka Art Gallery, in Ubud began an artist in residency program in January 2020 with leading Indonesian female contemporary artist Arahmaiani. Since the “lockdown” they have continued with the residency. “The gallery will provide the space for various post-pandemic community activities, presentations, discussions, workshops, exhibitions and performances, for BERSAMA, Arahmaiani’s interdisciplinary art project,” said Tony Raka. “Involving Balinese contemporary and traditional artists and local environmental and socio-cultural activists interacting with the public, BERSAMA, which has evolved over two years, seeks to discover alternative and creative solutions especially to the environmental problems we are facing.”
“We’re lucky to have clients who have previously visited our gallery, liked something and have purchased artworks online after the shutdown took place,” said Melvine Amar, French curator and founder of Nyaman Gallery, a vibrant creative space in Seminyak. “It’s a shame to see the gallery without people enjoying our artist’s beautiful works. Art needs to be experienced in person, but we understand we have to protect our community.”
“Our artists are hard at work with ongoing projects, continuing to bring art to the world in other ways. The hardest part is not being able to support our artists as much as before, but our team are positive, working hard, and constantly coming up with new ways to enhance our website and social media presence.”
Bali street art maverick and owner of ALLCAPS store and gallery in Canggu Julien Thorax reports that the Bali street art community celebrated via Instagram an event for Earth Day 2020, 22 April. “The global – paint at home – mural festival featured 800 artists from 60 countries and received enormous international attention helping raise awareness of the importance of Earth Day 2020. Our contribution to the happening, curated by SeawAlls, featured eight local artists painting murals themed around the day on walls at ALLCAPS.”
Visiting the once pulsating tourist mecca of Ubud now a surreal experience, with nearly shops, restaurants, bars and hotels closed. The streets are quiet, and at night the hub is a ghost town. There is, however, a large expatriate community in the area keeping some businesses open, and importantly providing work for the Balinese. Many public campaigns have begun on the island, some initiated by foreigners, to raise money to provide necessities to the marginalized. The local authorities are doing their best to enforce all to wear face mask to help prevent the spread of the virus, while the international media, along with many pundits, speculate about herd immunity on Bali. Why has the island of the Gods seemingly had so few people being affected by Covid19? Perhaps it is because of the local and global impact of Balinese prayers and ceremonies?
Let’s remain positive during this extraordinary period, be creative and dream big dreams. Please believe in a brighter outcome than what many politicians are preaching, and be prepared to do what we can to help our fellow man.
This article was published earlier in 2020 on http://www.pluralartmag.com
Words: Richard Horstman