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Dance Nyoman Sura of Kesiman at Sir Warwick Purser’s 70th birthday in Ubud, 28 September 2011

Expats and the Arts 

Bali’s fame as the ‘Island of Artists’ was in no small part due to its promotion, during the 1930s,  by a small band of European and Mexican artists — Covarrubias, Spies, Niewenkampt, and Hoefker. In their work, they all portrayed Bali as an idyll for artists.
Today, despite inroads by sexpats, villa people and real estate developers into the island scene, it is still international artists, writers, dancers and photographers who make the biggest contribution, of all the foreign sectors’, to the continuation of the world’s most gorgeous culture.
Every year more and more top-rank Indonesian artists and writers make Bali their home too, which enriches the island’s reputation as a haven for creative people.
Last month saw the launch of many books by prominent expatriates and Indonesians.

Leading the pack was Jamie James’ sensational micro-buster ‘Rimbaud’ in Java’ published by Editions Didier Millet of Mertasari, Singapore and Paris (see excerpt from Zadie Smith in box).
Out of the same Mertasari, Sanur compound came long-time resident Leonard Lueras and Yayasan Purnati’s ‘The Art of Ogoh-Ogoh’, a sensational photo album of images of the Island’s demon effigies.
In the same month photographer Andrew de Jong of Canggu and Woolongong released a bouquet of beefcake beauties called ‘Men in Indonesia’, which is flying off the book shelves in gay saunas and select bookstores around the world.


Jamie James, a former art critic for The New Yorker, has written a necessarily short, delightful book about this “lost Rimbaud.” RIMBAUD IN JAVA (Editions Didier Millet, $14.95) was intended as a novel, but James, despairing of putting dialogue in the mouth of the protagonist, veered into non-fiction: a sensible decision. His alternate route is still a high-wire performance. It’s not an academic book and it’s not really a history either; nor is it — God help us — a “meditation.” It generally spares its readers the
pointless formulation: If Rimbaud had been here he most probably would have . . . Instead it offers a more honest motivation for writing, stripped of the veneer of “professionalization”: love. As James puts it, this book is “an act of enthusiasm.”
He is obsessively enthusiastic about Rimbaud, and so, like his fellow devotees, is profoundly, perhaps irrationally interested in whether or not Rimbaud smoked opium out there in the jungle, or had a lover, or took the
Prins van Oranje steamer or a local phinisi schooner on his return journey — all of which it’s impossible to know. Such speculations fascinate James, and he weaves the possibilities into his understanding of the poetry, and of
the man. If it all sounds too whimsical at first (it did to me, reading the blurb), you soon realize that the best reason to stick with Rimbaud in Java is not for the facts or the fantasy but for the spectacle of reading someone write beautifully about something he finds, well, beautiful."

The Island’s most prolific publisher, Sarita Newson, of Kiwi-Kintamani extraction, also published a book on ‘Ogoh-Ogoh’; and Ubud-based anthropologist Jean Couteau launched a book on the art of a Sanur-based Dutch painter. Celebrity furniture designer Carlo Pessina also had a retrospective of his distinctive designs at the GANESHA gallery at the four Seasons in Jimbaran.
"Far too much creative endeavour" as Noel Coward famously remarked in his 1930s ditty on the island's culture.
Meanwhile the Balinese have been busy 'raising the bar' with ever more extraordinary temple dance performances, festivals and cremations. Creativity in fashion is peaking too, with the Balinese women taking floral applique and saucy mules to new heights of extravagance in their temple dress (see photos following pages).
I had to travel as far afield as Gunaksa, outside Klungkung, to find a good, old-fashioned, all native  Barong Dance.

4th October 2011: Back to the magic hill outside Gunaksa village, Klungkung to film a repeat  of last month’s amazing Barong Masolah dance for the Cinémathèque Francaise  de la Danse.
As no-one seems to want  wants my romantic- poetic gardens anymore — the clever New Asian architects have succeeded in brain-washing developers and the public alike in the belief that minimalistic, formulaic gardens are next to godliness — I have had to retrain 30 or so of the tropical world’s best gardeners, as mosaic artists, decorative paint specialists and cinematographers.
This would be impossible anywhere but Bali, where artisans are ultimately flexible.
I have almost completely deserted garden design for ethnography and show business: my encore careers as  film-maker, exotic dancer, and soft-porn star (less of that later. Ed.) has taken over.
As barefoot/Facebook film-maker I have now made over 70 short films  and documentaries, most about Balinese rituals, but also films on famous Indonesian fish markets, Independence Day on Bintan, and Cougars from Coolongatta.
Truly inquisitive minds can go to Wijaya Pilem2 on You Tube to see the results.
Others can wait for Alam TV or Fox News to discover me.
I have a loyal Facebook following for my films which includes specialists from the Paris Cinemateque (the world’s oldest repository of films on ethnographic dance), the former head of the Indian National Trust and Logie award-winner Lissa Coote.
Tonight I take my field unit and a borrowed camera to Pura Bukit Puluh to reshoot, properly, the amazing Barong Dance I saw at the neighboring Pura Mastapa last month.

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On arrival the grand temple is bursting at the seams; pilgrims are  flooding in from as far away  as Negara, Lombok and Singaraja.
In a back room, off the main wantilan hallI, I find the dance troupe of  trance-masters getting dressed, but the charming corps de ballet dancers are not there.

"The main Telek dancer is menstruating" my friend, I Barong (his real name) screams across the dressing room, pulling a face.
Last month I filmed  Wayan’s father, the troupe's  lead Barong Dancer, ‘flip out’ when, at the end of the performance, hen  emerged from the Barong — wild-eyed and fancy-free -- to eat a live black chicklet in one gulp and flail around (in a nice not a nasty way). He was then served arak in a cup by his doting, dancing priestly son, also somewhat away with the pixies.
Earlier tonight I had greeted Wayan Barong as he arrived at the temple , looking like the young Tony Curtis in Prince Valiant — white teeth and long perfectly-formed fingers and gold rings flashing — and now I  document him getting dressed into his Barong costume with its his hairy goat-skin leg-shields with their attendant bells and striped trousers.

Fashions & Faces around Bali, September 2011

[Click image to enlarge]

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(Later the same night. Ed) 9.30 p.m. : The Barong Dance is in full swing on the terrace below  the long stairs and the towering gate that leads to the temple
After an hour-long overture the gamelan starts to play the trance-dance, melodies as Rangda, the Evil White Witch, taunts Barong, the village mascot, by slapping his mask with her spooky white  head scarf (see “Barong Masolah” v=usMZ7DfdJeI  on Wijaya Pilem2 on You Tube).
My driver of 35 years, Grandfather Made Kader, is shooting with the big camera. He reminds me of  Leni Reifenstal shooting ‘Triumph of the Will’ in Berlin, in 1936. All the dancers and the Barong seem to be playing to the camera.
Suddenly the star dancer  Barong emerges from the hairy beast’s bodice  and starts a frantic kris-dance (ngurek) of such intense beauty that one  can hear the collective clank of a thousand jaws dropping.

•                   •                  •

The speech that I should have given on 1st October at Warwick Purser 70th Birthday Party:
"We are gathered here tonight, again, in white, looking our best for ‘Tuan Lurik’, the indefatigable hostess with the mostess of Jogjakarta, Ubud, Jakarta, Mt. Masedon, Portsea, Port Douglas, Batujimbar, Menteng, Tembi, Chiang Mai and Toorak fame.
Our Warwick has many talents — as a father; a  homeware, home, and hotel- designer; philanthropist, lech and decorator — but he is most famous for being famous.
How does this happen?  Well, one needs a good start, like the above talents, and one has to be charming and witty and have a well-born Melbourne wife.

Sir Warwick Purser, and Susanna Perini from Biasa Artspace.

Writer/Photographer Leonard Leuras at his Sanur book Launch

Anthropologist and Comedienne Rucina Ballinger  and author Jamie James

Melinda and Arthur Karvan at the Ogoh-ogoh book launch at Wantilan Lama Batu Jimbar.

Tati Waworuntu

Bulantrisna Djelantik and Rio Helmi

Paul Ropp, fashion Designer

[Click image to enlarge]

From his earliest days with the much loved Lissa Purser — as managers of the legendary Hotel Tandjung Sari on Sanur Beach in Bali (1969-71)-- and through his years in Jalan Penarukan Jakarta — when he was building up Southeast Asia’s biggest travel agency PACTO — and a decade later as Minister of Tourism in Vanuatu...... and now as the white Raja of Tembi, South of Jogjakarta — the high and mighty and talented of Jakarta and the world have beaten a track to his glamorous and culturally-refined homes with the best-looking staff money can buy.
Long before it become fashionable, Warwick was professionally non-judgemental, blasé even, about life’s trials and tribulations.
While perhaps not a great conversationalist, nor even a good listener(he, he), Warwick sure knows how to put together people who are, and he has always done this with great generosity of spirit and verve.
He is also a master of ‘keeping things to himself, and he’s had a lot to keep! Ha!
His even temperament is his defining trait: Warwick is basically unflappable(though he folds neatly)
In almost 40 years of friendship I can’t remember him ever losing his block. He has , on occasion, lost the shirt off his back, his marbles, his sense of reality …. but he rarely succumbs to the vilest of vices ….. lip-curling petulance.
He was my first boss, and has mentored many careers including those of  Agung Prana, Mendez,  John Panca, and that of his daughter, Polly’, who is now marketing whizz at John Hardy Jewellery. Unknown numbers of other artists, dancers, musicians, masseurs and satpam have benefitted from his largesse.
We shine in his company.
In the words of the fabulous singing Farmer’s: “God Save Our Gracious Warwick”.

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