Published in the Sunday Jakarta Post, 20 August 2006

Walter Spies’ living room and painting desk at Campuan, Bali, in 1936 (courtesy of Agung Rai Museum of Art)

Packaging and Promotion

“Indonesia, first to evacuate citizens from Beirut!” trumpeted the Bali Post in a banner headline last month. Amazingly, three days later, Delhi’s Hindustan Times claimed the same dubious distinction for India!. The more I travel to India – and lately it’s been twice a month, to scratch rupees from the pathologically pelit (tight) – the more I realize how close the two cultures are.
Both countries defiantly ignore tsunami warnings, for example, Only in Kuta and Tamil Nadu have tsunami siren batteries been stolen from their stands.
There are some areas in which the India and the Indonesian cultures differ, however. When one is asking directions in the Javanese countryside, local people will say “left” when they actually mean “right” – a simple binary confusion. Indian villagers in the same situation will say “Two kilometres (Dos Kilometer)” – whether it’s next door or 500 kilometres away – and point wildly down the road, in any direction, like pious French housewives denouncing a Nazi collaborator. In both cases the culture’s buddhahist under-pinnings act to suppress the truth, which is considered confrontational.
Indians are heavy-handed – breaking the spines on telephone receivers as they slam them down – whereas Indonesians are halus or refined.
Indonesians politely refuse when offered a bite of one’s mango pie at a road-side stall; your road-side Indian refuses nothing. This extends to airport taxi drivers who routinely snatch the last Strepsil in one’s arsenal or even the last puff of Ventolin.
Indians love to fly into rages; Indonesians know that revenge is best served cold.

• • •

The Bali Memorial at King’s Park, Perth

recently visited the Bali Memorial in Perth’s stunning King’s Park Botanical Garden. The monument is designed so that the sun’s rays at dawn hit the plaque – commemorating the fallen – only on the anniversary of the terrorist attack.
The Australian government has spent tens of millions of dollars world-wide on “Bali memorials” – the one at the Australian Consulate in Bali is particularly tense-making.
It’s good for the joint Australian conscience I guess – “The lest we forget” camaraderie that breeds superior warriors and sports heroes. But these memorials – and the continuing mawkishness about Bali in the Australian press – somehow serves to further tarnish Bali’s reputation.

Let’s not forget but let’s try to move on.
In the same vein, the much-heralded “Bali Recovery Programme” – funded for the great part by the good-hearted Australian government – has failed to use the world “tourism” in its title. Non-tourism Bali is not recovering I am here to tell you, because it never missed a beat! The cycles of cremations, temple festivals, fertility ceremonies and art shows has never flagged. If anything the ruts on the bullock-cart-like tracks of these ritualistic cycles have become deeper since the ghastly “Bali Bomb” and the subsequent drop in tourism. Why? Because the Balinese now have more time for their number one job…..being Balinese.

• • •

Baron Victor von Plesson at work (courtesy of Agung Rai Museum of Art)


(courtesy of Agung Rai Museum of Art)

3rd August 2006, to Agung Rai Modern Art Gallery in Pengosekan, Bali for an exhibition of photographs on artist Walter Spies life in Ubud in the 1930s.
It is so refreshing to be reminded of the way foreign artists lived in Bali in 1930s – surrounded by Balinese beauty – and to be made aware of legendary German artist Walter Spies’ incredible contribution to the world-wide appreciation of the Balinese bosom, the Ketjak dance and the Bali Style movement.
An exemplary aesthete, Spies invented the modified wantilan pavilion – in an attempt to get a baby grand between pavilion columns – Balinese landscape painting (the Batuan School) and wrote the definitive book on dance and drama in Bali, with English anthropologist Beryl De Zootes. He also introduced Baron Victor Von Plesson a self-professed to "demonologist" the joys of the world’s most gorgeous culture. Together they collaborated on the feature film “Insel der Damonen” (Island of the Demons) in 1936.
The world had to wait another two years, for Constance Bennet’s heady breast-fest, ‘Island of the Virgins”, to get a less demonic overview of the Island of the Gods.
Next to the Walter Spies exhibition were some extraordinary early paintings by Sanur artist Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, a pupil of legendary Australian artist Donald Friend, whose Bali diaries, co-edited by old Sanur-hand Christopher Carlisle, are to be launched next month at the national library in Canberra.
Well done Agung Rai, for show-casing these golden oldies!.

Detail from Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai’s painting “Serangan Belanda dipantai Sanur”, 1930 (courtesy of Agung Rai Museum of Art)

5th August 2006: My favourite regional magazine arrives
“The Qantas lounge has an Asian flavour with dark timber accents and slatted timber dividing walls contrasting with a limestone floor” writes Bangkok-based Peter Meyer in an article in the latest Travel and Leisure magazine which arrived at my Sanur house today.
Firstly, would the region’s writers please stop feeling they need to write about design.
Secondly, would they get over there Wallpaper magazine/Zecha-lackey hangovers! There is more to Asia than Singapore architect-derivative shtick! Let’s draw the line in the limestone floors and move on.
We the Asian People want our culture back! It’s been hijacked by hacks and designers who need a high colonic!
Don’t get me started!

17 August 2006: Independence Day in Sanur
This morning’s Bali Post has an excellent piece by their star journalist Wayan Juniartha entitled: “Ajeg Bali, ethnic separatism or nusantara nationalism.” Now, the Ajeg Bali Bali movement - for a more up-standing, traditional Bali - ran out of steam a year ago, like most social-engineering exercises in Bali.
Balinese journalists and intellectuals may be interested in keeping the debate alive but your average hard-working, hard-praying Balinese is too busy with intense ceremonial commitment - Bakti Yoga it’s called - to be too concerned for too long about its packaging and promotion.

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