I Wayan Sika (1949-2020)
On Saturday 4 January 2020 at 11 pm Balinese artist I Wayan Sika lay down upon his bed at his home above his gallery, the Sika Contemporary Art Gallery in Sanggingan, Ubud. He closed his eyes and sometime after he drew his final breath. His sudden and unexpected death sent immediate shock waves throughout the Balinese community, the Indonesian art world, and beyond.
A friend and inspiration to many, Sika was a true art maverick. Visionary, painter, woodcarver, community leader, art provocateur, gallerist, curator, writer, teacher, husband, father, mentor, along with being an ambassador of Balinese art and culture – he was driven by a kind, yet potent inner force. During his lifetime he connected with thousands of people from all levels of society. Many walked through the doors of his gallery, where he greeted strangers and talked about art, life and his personal experiences. His presence will be dearly missed in the Bali and Indonesian art worlds. Like the spirit of Bali his influence has extended far outside his island home.
‘Kasih Cinta’ (Give Love) 2008 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas
Sika was a deeply spiritual person, and during the last decade of his life, this pursuit had become his primary focus. He understood that he had well served his family and community, and in the final passage of his physical journey in the cycle of life according to the Balinese Hindu beliefs, he participated in the process of ceremonies referred to as catur marga yoga. In doing so, he was preparing for moksa, and for his spirit to ultimately be released from the human form.
Wayan Sika was born on September 24, 1949, and raised in the family compound in Silakarang, Gianyar. His father I Nyoman Narsa (born around 1922 – 2019) was a renowned woodcarver. Many students came to his studio to study under his guidance, providing an inspiring learning environment for the young Sika. Sika’s formal art education began in SSRI (School of Fine Art Indonesia) in Denpasar, followed by four years studying painting at the Academy ASRI of Indonesian Fine Art in Yogyakarta.
‘Durga’ 2011 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 120 x 140 cm
In 1970, aged twenty-one, Sika along with pioneering Balinese modernist Nyoman Gunarsa (1944-2017), Made Wianta and other students at the ASRI, founded the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) artists Foundation. Young and dynamic, the artists loved to experiment with new techniques and aesthetic concepts. A turning point and a radical new era in Balinese art, an original genre of contemporary art evolved through SDI that was recognised within world art for its aesthetic and philosophical distinctions. The artists reconfigured cultural symbols into an expressive, fresh visual language that is still influential today. Sika went on to play various essential leadership roles in SDI, Indonesia’s oldest art collective that is still active today, as the collective’s chairman on numerous occasions during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s (recording of dates unclear).
“Sika was, along with Nyoman Erawan, one of the principal proponents of ‘Hindu’ abstraction, a type of painting that structured space, and to a certain extent colour, in such a way as to express basic principles of the Balinese Hindu cosmology,” said Bali historian and art critic Jean Couteau. “It was an important moment of the ‘rationalisation’ endeavour undertaken by the Balinese elites of the 70s and 80s to ‘universalise’ both their art and their beliefs.”
‘Essence of the Void’ 2019 – Wayan Sika, nine panel installation, mixed media on canvas, 2.5 m x 3.2 m. Exhibited in ‘Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art’ at the AB•BC Building, Nusa Dua, April-July 2019
After finishing his studies in Yogyakarta in 1973 Sika returned to Bali, married Dwi Atmi and began a family, fathered three children Ni Putu Krishnawati in 1974, I Made Aji Aswino in 1977 and Ni Komang Astri Krisnandi in 1981. He began a furniture business specializing pieces carved in the Renaissance Rococo style. The company grew to employ more than 100 carvers, while Indonesian government ministers from the Suharto era acquired this furniture for their homes and offices. In 1982 Sika was summonsed by the Indonesian government to go to New Zealand to produce furniture for the Indonesian Embassy.
Europe was his next international destination and in 1986 Sika was in Switzerland making expressive carvings and bronze statues for twelve months. He received an order in 1989 from a Museum in Basel, Switzerland to make a Balinese Barong for their collection. It was during this period that the head of the Christof Merian Foundation saw his paintings and invited him to join their program of International Exchange Artists. Sika held his debut solo exhibition in Basel in 1989. The show sold out and this success provided the self-belief he required to devote more energy into his paintings.
Wayan Sika during the opening ceremony of ‘Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art’ at the AB•BC Building, Nusa Dua, 12 April 2019
Building community was one of Sika’s life intentions. During an interview I conducted with him in 2010 he said it was consistently challenging for the SDI artists to find a location to exhibit their work in Bali. He founded the Sika Contemporary Art Gallery in 1996 in Campuhan, Ubud as an exhibition venue in time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of SDI. The non-sales orientated gallery specialised in providing space to support regular exhibitions by talented young artists from Indonesia and around the world. The gallery became a prestigious site with a reputation for showing work of a high level of creativity and innovation. While the exhibitions at the gallery have recently been infrequent, the quality remains. The gallery still functions as a vital meeting venue for discussions and gatherings. International contemporary art star Nyoman Masriadi exhibited at the gallery as an emerging artist while still living nearby in Sakah, Gianyar.
Sika’s commitment to the community also extended to education and his actions were relevant in the development of new schools and kindergartens. He was instrumental in the revival in 1987 of the SMSR Ubud (The High School of Visual Arts), which later changed its name to SMK Ubud (Vocational High of School) located in Jalan Raya Campuhan, Ubud. On the 1st October 2010, after a 34-year association, Sika retired as a part-time lecturer at ISI Denpasar (Indonesian Art Institute).
‘New Rising Life’ 2014 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 180 x 120cm
In 1996 Sika was asked by the Christof Merian Foundation to select Indonesian artists to travel to Basel, sponsored by the foundation for 3 months periods, including the opportunity to present their work in the cultural museum in Basel. Made Wianta, Nyoman Erawan, Made Djirna, Made Budhiana, Edi Hara, Ketut Pandi Taman and Putu Sutawijaya all gained vital exposure to galleries from London, Holland and Germany. They are considered today among some of Indonesia’s finest contemporary art.
In 2001 Sika chose to step aside from the Christof Merian Foundation and reassess his focus. He had received a calling to dedicate himself to his spiritual journey. As an artist this was to have a profound effect upon his work. He continued to organise group and community exhibitions as well as curating, writing in books, catalogues, magazines and newspapers. Sika experienced a series of health problems that saw him unconscious on three occasions, once in 2003, again in 2006 and finally in 2009, when he hovered close to death for many days. On this occasion, he received visions that inspired his final artistic journey a series of spiritual-religious paintings.
‘Bali 7 Maret 2017, The Day of Nyepi New Year Cakra 1941’ 2017 – I Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 160 x 200 cm
Over the next ten years Sika painted when ‘called’, often early in the morning after meditating. He created a distinct body works within the framework of Balinese contemporary painting, pictures that channelled high frequency symbols and texts – messages from the ‘other’ world. And while such artworks are a renowned facet of the Balinese way of life, Sika’s paintings were distinctly noteworthy – rare and valuable. I lived nearby to Sika for ten years and I would often visit and we discussed an array of subjects, as well as art. A frequent topic was sekala/nisakla (the seen and unseen elements of life according to the Balinese), and about the complexities of his culture. He disclosed his preparations for moksa and his then current series of paintings that he displays in his gallery. Sika recalled how they had impacted upon visitors to the gallery. While each composition was slightly different, all resonated with an invisible force that could be felt.
Sika shared with me that on more than a few occasions he would venture downstairs from his living abode above the gallery to where his paintings hung and find a visitor, mostly foreign tourists, engaging with his works. Some expressed strong emotions of grief and sadness, he said, while others sat peacefully in meditation. He often had long conversations with these people about his paintings. I too had my personal experiences.
‘Krishna Narayana’ 2009 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 150 x 200 cm
The beautiful mixed media compositions often-featured glowing golden hues. Consent, 2009, 200 cm by 300 cm depicts an enormous lotus flower with a five-tiered triangular structure positioned on top of the petals. Upon each level was Sanskrit text revealing a narrative relevant to his process of spiritual evolution. Krishna Narayana 2009, 200 cm by 300 cm features a figure cloaked in a green fabric veil, a complex system of ‘chakras’ define energy centres upon the physical form, other sacred symbols and mantras complete the composition along with a depiction of Hyang Sang Widhi, the Balinese supreme being.
The paintings pulsate silent messages that resonate with the soul. To many these works are mysterious, and cannot be explained. According to Balinese traditions and the creation of the sacred classical, religious paintings, and the amulet diagrams on cloth, rerajahan are one of the distinct functions of an artist. They act as an intermediary between the heavenly realms and earth to translate esoteric information into decipherable and practical codes. Sika’s mission was similar while defining important steps within his journey, and contributing to the development of Balinese contemporary painting.
‘Dewi Rati’ 2009 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 150 x 200cm.
“When I met Wayan Sika in 1980 he regularly talked about spirituality and how it related to contemporary visual art,” said renowned Balinese contemporary artist, academic and lecturer at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar Wayan Karja. “He often shared about Rwabhineda, the Balinese Hindu concept of dualism and his ideas about the polarity of black and white which inspired me to see the world in different way – in many colours. In 1998 I began my masters thesis on a body of 209 paintings according to the colours of Pangider Bhuwana – the Balinese religious cosmology. “This has become my artistic pursuit and I am currently finishing my dissertation titled Kosmologi Bali: Visualisasi Warna Pangider Bhuwana dalam Seni Lukis kontemporer di Kabupaten Gianyar (Balinese Cosmology: Color Visualization of Pangider Bhuwana in Contemporary Painting in the Gianyar Regency). Sika was one of my inspirations and helped me to create a broader picture of the Balinese religious cosmology within the concept of contemporary art.”
A special moment for Sika was 12 April 2019 at the recently commissioned exhibition facility AB•BC Building, Nusa Dua, He and his son Aswino Aji, co-founder ArtBali the annual Indonesian contemporary art exhibition at the AB•BC Building, helped officiate the opening ceremony of Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art, a showcasing of installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects by thirty-four Balinese artists and communities. Sika was also one of the invited artist, his installation of nine paintings The Essence of the Void, 2019 measuring 360 cm by 360 cm, was one of the highlights of the show.
‘Consent’ 2009 – Wayan Sika, mixed media on canvas, 200 x 300 cm
There is much that can and should be written about I Wayan Sika, not only about his art, yet also about his generous character. Many have tales of this important change-maker who willingly supported individual and community development (creative, human & spiritual). The Sika Contemporary Gallery has played a distinct and important role in the development of Indonesian art. His renegade anti establishment attitude was an inspiration and vital essence in the pursuit of Balinese contemporary art. Sika’s artworks are accessible to the public and continually on display in his gallery.
Sika has now crossed over to the ‘other’ side, yet the veil between the two worlds here in Bali is very thin. The Balinese are renowned for their rich oral tradition of storytelling, and now Sika’s memory will live on through this cultural expression. When we talk about Sika we will have good cause for celebration knowing that he is close by and his spirit is alive in each, and every word.
Selamat jalan Pak Sika, and thank you.
Wayan Sika at work in his gallery 2019
Words: Richard Horstman
Images: Richard Horstman and courtesy of Made Aji Aswino