Yesterday, on my walk home from town, I passed an art gallery that was readying itself for an opening. I hadn’t yet had a chance to drop by on my near-daily walks up and down Jalan Sanggingan’s main drag (northern reaches of Ubud, a short drive away). But all the hoopla, the music and – but of course! a red carpet – caught my attention. It seemed like the right time to pop in for a visit… at Artomorrow.
What struck me at the outset was that the artists were all easily identifiable because they were all dressed up in identical black t-shirts. But then I noticed that, of the participating artists, the gender scale tilted heavily towards males; I only spotted three women in the gathering crowd.
Being the only foreigner in their midst, I was certainly odd woman out. I could feel their eyes scanning me, and detected their muffled voices. Once their initial shock wore off, a few artists – sporting beards, goatees, dangling earrings, leather shoulder bags – smiled and welcomed me.
Then I began to slip off my sandals, with the intention of respecting the custom of walking in bare feet indoors. Quickly, a few men approached and urged me to keep them on. As uncomfortable as I felt, I obliged and sauntered in quietly. Everyone else was in bare feet…
What struck me once inside was how the men (yes, only the men) were seated in a circle on the floor of the gallery, nearly all of them blowing smoke; but the cigarettes were quickly put out as soon as the organizer called them to quiet and prayer. There they sat, in stillness and with eyes closed, as the central figure intoned an incomprehensible prayer.
During the time that they congregated and prayed, I tip-toed around the space, noting the vast range of styles and materials used. Sure there were a few images that reminded me of the many drawings and paintings that I’ve seen displayed in galleries all over town; traditional works of classically-trained and stylistically homogeneous artisans.
But there were some startling surprises also…
It dawned on me that this was just the 2nd time I’d attended an opening in or around Ubud, where the displayed artworks marked a stark departure from the classical Balinese style of painting. Nearly everything about them – subject matter, brushstrokes, brightness, intensity of feeling – seemed to betray what the Balinese (and other Indonesians, because surely there were a few non-Balinese among them) have created, re-created, marketed, hawked and established as their signature style over decades.
It seemed to me that these (mostly male) artists – or more precisely, their paint brushes – were merely channeling and manifesting on canvas, an attitude of irreverence; as well as the energy, spirit and dreams of a youth, future and country (most certainly, an island) in transition.