Where is home?

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Last night while perusing a local glossy, drinking beer at a watering hole and listening to a live band mangle sensibilities on the eve of departing for another place…

Ludicrous, that’s the term for the question ‘where is home?’ Clichés are in abundance as retards frolic in the font. The printer’s devil is lurking somewhere between the syntax and grammar. Loneliness is good. It’s fulfilling and comforting. No glitches. No excuses, just a line of thought that runs linear to everything. A self imposed purgatory, an interval before the beginning of new life: Sparkling, smell of fresh fabric, new car interiors, sound of rustling plastic covers being removed from a sofa… sanitizing the senses.

Belief in a fresh beginning and new things all coming together to create a charade that will last for a while till ennui takes hold and all is abandoned.

Anton plays the guitar, the motley crowd of onlookers are speaking, scratching and drinking the warm beer, it’s nearing midnight as the thump carries down the road and reverberates in the rubbish heap.

Sting stings with every breath, the speakers hum and hiss. She moves crossing her legs for the rhythm has got to her, she looks around embarrassed. Food remains half devoured, cold and lifeless on the plate as her puffy fingers drum the discoloured napkin.

The Word is out tonight cruising and cursing the dregs of humanity that are flaying their emotions to keep above the waterline of life.

Questions rise medusa like from the crumbs of a baguette…a remnant nestles between nicotine stained teeth.

Where is home? The obvious is prosaic…family, children, relatives, houses, gardens and memories of births, deaths and inoculations. A string of events, places and things completing a picture of a place most call home.

Why the longing to belong to a person, place or thing? Why does home have to be fixed in the present continuous? Why can’t it remain a figment of the imagination: A hope that never materializes but continues to urge one on towards the ever shifting horizon?

Isn’t it frightening that everyone needs a home, a stationary object around which emotive aspects of existence play hide and seek.

Some may say home is where the hearth is or home is where one feels one belongs. But then why do we need to belong? Is it because there is an inbuilt homing device within us all that acts like a magnet constantly drawing us back to one thought process that cradles our hopes, joys and failures and emits a never ending stream of consciousness that connives with reality to lull us into sheep?

Home is probably an expression invented to give us universal wanderers an anchor that stabilizes our menial mentality for it perpetuates a notion upon which we build our lives, cities and our perceived love of the world.

Is it possible that we have missed the whole point of existence with our clinging to a reality that is constantly changing?

Could it be that home is really the human body each one of us lives in and not another person, place or thing?

Professor Unni Wikan – A Balinese formula for living

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Unni wikanProfessor Unni Wikan, celebrated Norwegian anthropologist and author of Managing Turbulent Hearts –   A Balinese Formula for Living (a book that strips the veneer off the prevailing society and lays bare the intricacies of everyday life of the Balinese on the isle), speaks to Mark Ulyseas, editor Voices Today, in an exclusive interview.

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MU – Many visitors, women being in the majority, view Bali as a ‘feminine’ island with a culture that is all embracing. Do you feel that the increasing number of immigrants to this island will dilute or distort this culture? And will it (Balinese culture) morph into a more aggressive form thereby seeing a clash of cultures?

UW – I never thought of Bali as a ´feminine´ island; to me, such a concept does not make sense. Bali is a rich and complex civilization with a multitude of ways and “cultures” being practiced, some of them strongly patriarchal.

I do not think that immigration as such presents a danger to this remarkable Culture.  On the other hand, the exposure of youth to manifold influences through globalization, modern forms of communication, tourism etc. will undoubtedly have its impact, in Bali as elsewhere. We cannot say at this point in time what will emerge. It is not just a question of what happens in Bali but in the wider world.

MU – Do you think that the concrete jungle that is growing across the isle will alienate the Balinese with the growing influence of the “hotel and villa” culture? And what, if any, is the way out?

UW – I wish I had the answer to your question for there is clearly the danger that you point to.  The Balinese have traditionally lived in close harmony with nature; you couldn´t cut down a tree or erect a building, even a hut, without appeasing and taking permission from supernatural spirits.  The “hotel and villa” culture is fundamentally transforming the land and disturbing spirits that used to belong in certain places and that are a part of Balinese cosmology.  On the other hand, the Balinese resemble other humans in that they are pragmatic, and these new developments offer jobs to many people.  There is no win-win situation.

MU – Many long time residents believe the Balinese must be more pragmatic in terms of rescinding their responsibilities of the numerous mandatory attendances at religious ceremonies for the responsibilities of a job? Please comment.

UW – This is a challenge in many societies, how to accommodate job obligations with religious or ritual observances. I did fieldwork in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, and the same concern arose there: what could be required of job attendance of people who every so often had other “legitimate” ritual concerns. Or take Muslims in Norway, my country: praying five times a day at specific intervals is not easily combined with many kinds of job. Solutions must be found and generally, religions can be flexible:  they are, after all, partly man-made.

MU – There appears to be a growing gap between the haves and have not’s – the former being expats and the latter, Balinese. Do you think that this will lead to a backlash that will see a rise in criminal activities and in general disrespect for the Tamu (guest) leading to law and order problems?

UW – We see such problems emerging in many societies, they seem to be part and parcel of globalization. Organized, transnational crime is also on the rise everywhere.  What is special about Bali, as I know it, is how peaceful and orderly the island still is. But one should be aware.  Large-scale tourism naturally changes people´s perceptions of the Tamu, and the way many tourists (and some expats) behave further creates disrespect.

MU – Some say that marriages between expats and Balinese, where the age gap being a generation or two is abhorrent and should be curtailed; often these marriages are not legalized with competent authorities from the foreign embassies thereby disenfranchising the offspring from their rights to citizenship of the foreign country from which one parent comes from. Are we witnessing the birth of a generation existing between the gaps in society? And will these children of the morrow become the catalyst for change? And what change do you perceive this to be?

UW – I do not have first-hand knowledge of such cases, therefore it is hard for me to think through the implications with regard to Bali. Not having a legalized marriage is, however, a problem that many people in many countries are dealing with, and there is much international discussion of how to secure the rights of the child to paternity, inheritance and citizenship. Recently, there was a case in Egypt where a woman went to court because the man, with whom she had entered into a non-legalized (so called traditional – urfi – marriage) denied the child he had fathered paternity. In this case, both were Egyptians. She won, and has become an exemplar for others.  I believe women can become the catalysts for change.

MU – “I will not blame the rapes on Norwegian women. But Norwegian women must understand that we live in a Multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.” “Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes.”

You stated this in reference to high profile incidents in Norway involving immigrant men and the local (Norwegian) women. Do you think the reverse will happen in Bali, like attacks on ‘visitor women scantily clad’ by ‘locals’ because the ‘visitors’ have shown ignorance of the social norms and/or not understood the prevalent culture?

UW – I have never said that women must take their share of responsibility for rapes. This is sheer misrepresentation of my statement. The rapist bears full responsibility for rape, which is a crime. What I did say was that many immigrants come from societies where the way many Norwegian women dress and behave is misunderstood to mean that they are immoral.  In a multicultural society, it is an advantage if people learn something about one another´s codes of communication.  The same applies if you are a tourist. It is a sad fact of life that women are exposed much more than men to sexual violence.  So women need to be careful, and knowledge is power.  But full responsibility for rape resides with the rapist.

MU – Is then, cultural clashes and clichés the raison d’être for an emerging ‘irrational society’?

UW – No, I wouldn´t use such a term. Society is not “irrational” but persons can be. However, rape does not have to do with irrationality. It is a crime usually committed by wholly rational people.

MU – You have written a number of books that have thrown light on the travails and tribulations and the constant fight for survival between man and woman in societies that discriminate. Does your book  “Behind the veil in Arabia: Women of Oman” shed light or reflect the state of women in general in societies across the world like India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and beyond? And is the treatment of women in a society reflective of its ethos?

UW – Oman is special. It was, and continues to be to me an exemplar of a good Muslim society where women are well respected and treated. Oman has an enlightened ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has had the power for nearly forty years, and has done a world of good for his country, including women. Yes, there is an ethos in Oman that underscores gracious behavior and that is reflected in the treatment of women. It is different from what you find in many other parts of the Muslim world, local culture and religion always intersect, and so Oman is quite different from not just Afghanistan or Iran, but also its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. That said, there are also similarities: Polygamy – a man´s right to have several wives simultaneously – still holds in many parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world, Oman included. Men are privileged in numerous ways. But Oman could point the way to what other traditional societies, more harsh to women – Muslim, Hindu, Christian etc. – can become.

MU – What is the role of a culture? Does it create, give birth to or is it a matrix in which we are all born? And does this matrix hamstring enlightenment/progress in all parameters of society?

UW – We are born into cultures; I was born on an island in the Arctic Ocean in a part of Norway called the Land of the Midnight Sun, and my view on the world is profoundly shaped by the influences I came under through my formative 18 years there.  But cultures are ever changing, just like people; indeed, it is people who make up cultures, we are the agents, culture in itself can do nothing, it is just a word, a concept. It is important to keep this in mind: People have in their power to create and make “culture” happen, for good or bad.  Therefore too, culture clash is not a term I use: it indicates that there is something there with the power to act by itself. Think of people instead, and you have a better instrument for building peace.

MU –  As a celebrated and highly respected anthropologist do you think that Bali will survive the onslaught of the continuing influx of alien cultures bombarding the island; and will this be the beginning of a convergence that will bring about a new evolved society or will it be another reason for a conflict of cultures?

UW – Bali has withstood a continuing influx of alien cultures for a long time in history. That gives me hope for the future of this gem of a civilization. Bali is bound to go on changing and evolving; and society fifty years from now will be different from the one we know. But I believe there is a solid core that is sustainable and that may even take on a stronger identity as “Balinese” as cultures mix and mingle.  Or, I should rather say, as people from different cultures mix and mingle.  My husband, Fredrik Barth, wrote a book called “Balinese Worlds”, plain and simple. That says it all: Bali consists of many worlds, many cultural traditions that have co-existed, competed, and also enriched one another. This is due to the resourcefulness and tolerance of Balinese people.

MU – What are you working on now and will you be visiting Bali in the near future?

UW – I have just finished two books – one published in the US, the other in Norway, on honor killings in present-day Europe. A sad topic I never planned to handle but that became urgent with the murders of several young girls by their (immigrant) families in Europe.  One is called In Honor of Fadime: Murder and Shame and deals with the fate of a young Swedish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her own father because she had “dishonored” her family by choosing her own love in life and refusing a forced marriage to a cousin. Her story made the international community wake up to the fact that honor killings do not just belong to “them” but to “us” in the West, and has helped to put the problem on the international agenda. Now I am about to do something much more pleasant: embark on a long fieldtrip to Arabia (Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia) to explore ideas of freedom and dignity post 9/11, and to see how these ideas are put into practice in various walks of life. As an Arabic speaker I can work without interpreters and as a woman, I have easy access to people, I am not considered a threat. Among places I will visit is the Hadramawt in North Yemen where some families I know in Singaraja  originally came from so I will explore the links; there have been close connections between inner Arabia and Indonesia for centuries, with influences going both ways.

I have also an ongoing project in Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, where I have spent much time to explore culture and religion.

I was last in Bali a year ago, and hope to return later this year. It is very much a part of my heart.

High jinx at boot camp on Gili Nanggu

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boot-camp

There exists on this fragrant island a rare and dwindling species of party mammals who have survived Ibiza and Goa. They now co-habit at the cross roads of the world with clear and present intentions to suck on the nectar of Bali and glean a life style akin to the famed lotus eaters of yore.

This week’s column is about a Dickensian character named Boots who hails from the heydays of Goa in the 70s. A man for all reasons he is now settled, in a manner of speaking, in Bali. Every so often he succumbs to the call of the wild life that beckons all who have set up home amidst the frangipani.

I met Boots through a friend, Mark Tuck of Paradise Properties, when I cooked an Indian meal at his home for family and friends. Since then we occasionally meet to reminisce and part-take of fortified h2o that is beautifully presented by his wife Nevi. His son Rohan, an avatar of Tom Sawyer, can be found climbing trees, throwing stones at imaginary monsters and beguiling guests with his witticisms.

Now that you have got the basic ingredients permit me to divulge details of the fascinating weekend on Gili Nanggu; where people of many nationalities congregated to celebrate Boots’ birthday.

The fast boat to iniquity took around two hours. On the fine sunny morning with the sea spray peppering the windows of the boat and Mount Agung gazing down at us from a distance one felt uneasy – uneasy because one cannot swim. I enjoyed the boat trip except for the water. There was too much water around.

We arrived at Gili Nanggu to warm comforting sand between the toes and chilled beer. Terra firma (after so much water) helped dispel the churning feeling in the stomach and the giddiness that came with the ‘rocking’ of the speedboat slicing its way through the choppy sea.

After a lunch of chicken curry and rice we dispersed…some to the beach, others to snorkel in the rooms.

For all those unenlightened folk who have yet to visit this island here are a few off the cuff remarks that may or may not find approval from all and sundry.

It takes about 30 minutes to walk around the island. Of course for those who carry an extra tire around the waist it may take up to an hour.

Traversing the island on foot can be daunting as there are rocks, debris of bottles and plastic waste (that needs to be removed) and trees which seem to conveniently fall across the beach with branches sipping the water from the sea.

There is a Buddhist temple on the island. However, I was too lazy to walk the walk and instead lounged with the hermit crabs that played hide and seek with every movement of the hand.

The hotel has a number of rooms with attached toilets that are in urgent need of renovation, a restaurant and a ‘play area’ where Boots set up his psychedelic paraphernalia and music system.

A few bales dot the beach front.

Okay that’s all the information you will be fed as you need to visit the island to enjoy the ‘other parts’.

While lying on the beach a respectable distance from the water line I was intermittently accosted by fellow guests who attempted to seduce me into the sea; fearful of drowning in three feet of water one escaped on a boat to sail around the island to watch sunset and take a few photographs for posterity. I returned at twilight to be greeted by throbbing trance music, laughter, and incessant chatter.

The dance floor was the beach. The props – tie dye fabric with colorful prints of Lord Buddha, Lord Shiva and retro psychedelic forms. UV lights placed strategically behind the stretched fabric transformed the display into ethereal images and with pulsating music one got the feeling that the event could have been mistaken for a get together of schizophrenics.

I sat in a darkened bale contemplating the futility of leaving such a menagerie of party animals to the elements while gently stroking my Arak Madu. Unfortunately all good things end…like my Arak Madu and so I was forced to enter the arena (dance floor) to be pleasantly massaged by outstretched arms of inebriated overflowing amphorae. Scuttling to the bar one managed to seize the day, in this case the night, pour myself a drink and make a dash for a group of locals sitting around a camp fire near the jetty. As luck would have it they turned out to be staff from our boat. Ignorant of the language, conversation quickly deteriorated into finger exercises, winks and a camaraderie that ridiculed sense and sensibility.

One of the prancing young bucks waved to me and asked, “What’s your name Bli? You India?”

“Yes from Bombay, my name is Mark Ulyseas”, I replied.

“What… Mark Useless?”

“Yes something like that”, I shouted above the throbbing monotonous music.

Then gibberish took hold as more beer arrived, courtesy yours truly.

The moonlit night and the sea gently kissing the shore were silent spectators to the shenanigans of homo-sapiens let loose to run free of inhibitions on a placid isle.

As the night wore on the revelers vanished into their hutments clutching anything they fancied. I on the other hand lay down on a bale, curled up and dreamt of the home I had left behind. Peace enveloped me to the vibrations of trance music which continued to play throughout the night until we departed the following day at noon. The wooden structure quivered with the sound waves.

An hour before dawn I was rudely awakened by a thud. Looming ominously on the beachhead was a gigantic Ogoh Ogoh with Spiderman in full flight on its back. Apparently Boots’ in all his wisdom decided to burn one at sunrise in keeping with tradition i.e. burning effigies on his birthday every year. He told me that this monstrosity was transported atop a boat like the one we arrived in.

As preparations for the incineration were underway, blurry eyed and bedraggled party animals began emerging from their shelters to witness the spectacle. Boots’ son Rohan and his friend held lit torches to the feet of the Ogoh Ogoh. Soon the monster was aflame to the sound of clicking cameras, clapping and yes, you guessed it – trance music. Alas, Spiderman refused to be drawn into the fire so stones and other objects were thrown to dismember the cartoon character. And as the smoldering remains of decadence lay scattered on the beach, the sun rose over Lombok lighting up the mighty Mount Rinjani to our left.

The sight was truly awe inspiring. Nature in all its glory had subdued our senses. The air tasted fresh except for the occasional whiff of beer breath. Some of us sat on the beach till the sun rose well into the sky.

Breakfast was a disappointment. The sticky omelet and cardboard bread was a far cry from reality. The only saving grace was the tea. How could anyone go wrong with a tea bag?

Answering the call of nature thereafter was an exercise in hop, skip and slide. It left one wondering whether the powers that be on the island had any intention of upgrading or at least maintaining a semblance of hygienic creature comforts that would entice tourists to return to the place.

Later in the day after we had submitted to the vagaries of sub standard hospitality, Mark Tuck, his friend Steve from Lake Tahoe, California, and me took a boat ride around the island. The short trip confirmed what I had thought all along – here was a beautiful isle that could be made a world class destination except for……

When we returned the trance music had stopped. The ensuing silence was deafening. The ringing in the ears and echoes of thumping rhythms was all that remained in one’s head.

The return boat journey was a nightmare as the sea was very rough and one of the passengers attempted to regurgitate her breakfast which fortunately was prevented by constantly talking to her about movies and in particular Dr. Zhivago.

Back on land once again I heaved a sigh of relief and profusely thanked Boots for inviting me to his birthday party and Mark Tuck for ensuring one did not drown.

The journey to iniquity and back was invigorating except for the boat ride. Next time round the preferred mode of transport would be by helicopter.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

The Good Women of Ubud

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“Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams” – W.B.Yeats

This week’s column is dedicated to my late friend Bina and the good women of Ubud who I see every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at restaurants dancing the evening away alone or in groups, while the men watch from the sidelines. The throb of Jazz, Reggae, Rock and Salsa entrance the women who move to the music like birds in a mating ritual. Sometimes I feel the urge to join them but I am outnumbered ten to one by the heavenly bodies and the captivating fragrance of Chanel.

Today we shall not talk of that four letter word we encounter everyday – Love. Instead we shall put on our dancing shoes and waltz to Englebert Humperdinck’s song, Release Me, with a companion held close to our bosom like two swans in a partnership of a lifetime; although ours will last three and a half minutes, which is the duration of the song. But who cares, it is the beat of the moment that counts.

Growing up in the late 60s early 70s in a city that was the former capital of India, Calcutta, we were intoxicated by Pam Crain and Braz Gonzales who jazzed it up at a restaurant called Trinca’s on Park Street. Those were the days of the Fox Trot, Waltz and the Tag dance. Of course the Cha-Cha and Jive did get pride of place. Pond’s talcum powder was thrown on the floor to smoothen the surface so that we could twist to Chubby Checker in our nylon socks and pointed toe shoes and shorts that were so tight that they stuck in our rear.

As the years rolled on, the Doors and The Beatles opened us to a whole new world of bell-bottoms and floral shirts with collars the size of medieval contraptions. It was a time of free love, teenage pregnancy and good music. The Waltz then became the choice of fuddy duddies while we moved on to rock n roll. The girls in their midis, short tops and roman sandals were like Indian rubber men on the dance floor. The contortions could have displaced a few hips but this did not happen for they knew how to move to the music of the times. Then in the midst of the party in walked the crinkle tie-dye cotton skirts, long hair, faded jeans accompanied by the raucous sound of Janis Joplin and the wailing of Bob Dylan’s ‘Times they are a changin’. Peace descended in our hearts to the harmony of Simon and Garfunkle. The sound of silence was the music that stoked the fire in our hearts. We danced with complete abandon oblivious of the morrow that cried out for sanity as our lives flowed like a river in spate.

Many of us had fumbled on the dance floor or had been shy of moving to the beat or holding the hand of a damsel eager to accompany us in a ritual that invariably bordered on erotica. Unfortunately, some of us have carried this feeling through to adulthood.

I have often wondered as to why women dance to the spirit of the beat and are mesmerised by the vocal chords of songsters, Barry White and Joe Cocker. Could it be that they have tuned into the subtle nuances that lie hidden in the subterranean blues and these unravel their heartstrings?

Not too long ago I met Elizabeth, one of the good women of Ubud, who wanted to learn the salsa. A teacher would arrive at her hotel to guide her through the motions. As time passed she transformed herself into a creature of delight swaying to the tempo of a live band. She dressed in black and danced the night away. The tempo ignited her emotions and quelled the feeling of loneliness she carried within her. I sensed that the sound of feet tapping to the music could have been a balm that soothed her aching heart. But one will never know for she had tuned into a higher frequency of passion just like Bina who I had left behind in Calcutta.

The first time I met Bina was when I bumped into her on the dance floor while straining every sinew to Rod Stewart’s grating ‘ Tonight am yours’. Her long black hair and lithe body clothed in a white cotton dress soon became entwined with me, as the song changed to Leo Sayer’s ‘When I need love’. In those days we called it the Slow Dance: A perfect opportunity to agitate the pheromones. From that night on we were regulars at Jam Sessions where a live band played pop songs and tea and cucumber sandwiches were served. Over a period of six years we graduated from these evenings to nights at the disco dressed like members of the band – Abba, and onto rock concerts on Calangute beach in Goa on full moon nights. Sadly from the time I stopped dancing with her, for I had grown weary of music, she drifted away. One day I awoke to a good-bye letter placed under my door. I never saw her again. She passed away last year on Valentine’s Day after a prolonged illness.

The only regret that I have is not having danced with her one last time.

‘Come on baby light my fire’ is a haunting melody that plays through my head whenever I encounter the good women of Ubud for they remind me of follies past. In them is reflected a joie de vivre, a time of roses and poses that keeps them forever young, a touch of Gatsby in the hills. They, like Bina, possess a lust for living and a natural enchanting rhythm that entices onlookers like sirens in a Greek tragedy.

Ubud embraces a string of restaurants and a host of entertainment that never ceases to drive away the melancholia that sometimes grips the good women of Ubud who have arrived from far off lands and nested in the hills. A night out with Chika and her saxophone, moving to Michael Franti’s ‘Yes I will’ at Flava Lounge or swinging to salsa with the genteel crowd at Indus is reminiscent of evenings at Park Street’s hip restaurants and bars of the 70s; Trinca’s, Blue Fox, Mocambo’s, Moulin Rouge, the Barrel, Sky Room with live music and good food. Here in Ubud shades of those swinging years flash before my eyes like errant motorcyclists whizzing past unmindful of the near death experience they go through everyday.

From Calcutta to Ubud, the song remains the same.

“You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if it were jus for dancing in the dark”
-Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark

To the good women of Ubud, I have one request…

Save the last dance for me.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Nyoman Suradnya – The enigmatic master of the Arts

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I Nyoman Suradnya speaks to Mark Ulyseas in an exclusive interview.

“The red is me…it’s Suradnya. My colour I try to get the Bali smile – not Java smile, not Sumatra smile…Bali smile”. – I Nyoman Suradnya speaking to The Australian, Tuesday October 07, 1975, at his first exhibition of his paintings held at Aladdin Gallery, Sydney.

The first time I met Nyoman at a friend’s place I took an instant liking to him because he knew the words of the song Release Me. We both sang it loud and out of tune till the dogs started barking. Later over a cuppa and fried banana fritters we discussed the state of art in Ubud. His frank and often strikingly honest remarks were a breath of fresh air after encountering many self proclaimed artists who were too eager to please any listener. The next day we met at his studio to carry on the dialogue.

I began by asking him the usual question, “Why Ubud?”.

He replied, “Because Ubud is where every breath is a prayer. Look around you at every nook and corner someone is making an offering to the Gods. The continuous religious ceremonies inspire this living culture. Ubud breathes life into the arts and many come here to live off this breath of living culture”.

Nyoman is 60 years old. A child of a rice farmer, he worked in the fields helping his family. From a very young age he was intoxicated by the arts and crafts and would experiment with whatever material he had to create images on paper, in wood and stone. Inspiration came from the Wayan Kulit (Shadow Puppet) and then from his brother. He painted in black and white as in those days colour was not available. On finishing high school he joined the Art School started by Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati of Puri, Ubud. In fact Nyoman was the first student! Here he learnt painting, woodcarving, stone carving, carving for the Bull cremation towers from the masters of each craft. Like in India the concept of Guru-Sheeksha (Master-Student) was prevalent.

After one year of the three-year course in the art school, Nyoman chose art on traditional lines learning proportion, perspective with regard to wood carving “Ubud Style”. He learnt the techniques from Balinese and non-Balinese masters. The market place was one of his haunts. Nyoman would visit the market to sketch the basic outline of his subjects. Then he would return to the studio and breathe life into the sketch with paint and brush strokes.

Nyoman turned to the technique of Batik and went to Jogyakarta in 1973 to learn the art from the Javanese master craftsmen. On his return to Ubud he began by inventing batik colour pigments with some powder so that it could be blended like acrylics. The special batik paint he created was used in his paintings to recreate the batik effect on his canvases. This was a groundbreaking technique that enabled Nyoman to take the craft of batik, which was confined to fabric onto another medium.

The resultant effect was a creative leap whereby batik was not limited to fabric but became a medium that Nyoman could use to manifest his perceptions of the real world around him onto canvas. Colour exploded on the palette and splattered into shapes, forms and perspectives that immediately made Nyoman’s work recognisable in the numerous countries where he held his exhibitions. He became a pioneer in this field.

Nyoman’s considers the word “artist” as one coined for or by tourists. The apt phrase according to him is Unagi, which means wood carver, builder, painter etc. All the arts and crafts were primarily for the Pura (House of God) and the Puri (House of the Royal Family). Later with the arrival of Walter Spies who was influenced by Henri Rousseau, the mingling of the two art forms resulted in metamorphosis of Balinese art forms. The local artist began to paint “daily life” and incorporated perspectives, subtleties of shading etc. The foreign artists and Balinese craftspersons took to each other like “bees to flowers”.

Asked about his opinion on the numerous art galleries sprouting up all over Ubud he replied, “The mushrooming art galleries across Ubud are like McDonald’s fast food outlets. They’ve lost the plot. The kitsch is feeding the tourists because that is what the tourists want to see and buy. I do hope this does not continue otherwise good taste and discerning customers will fade away along with various art forms”.

And when I enquired as to whether he had reached the zenith in his art form, he looked at me for a moment and then laughed loudly and said, “ I believe there is a promise land, a place I can reach nirvana with my artwork. However, I am still travelling and learning and travelling. When will it end I do not know. But I firmly believe it will be in this lifetime”.

I Nyoman Suradnya has been known to speak his mind and to encourage his fellow villagers to beautify Ubud. In fact due to his endeavours Ubud won the Most Beautiful Village in Indonesia in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

Some of his numerous past exhibitions were: 1977 Galerie de Geneva, Milan, Italy; 1982 Arts & Crafts Centre, Melbourne, Australia; 1985 ISLA Centre of the Arts, Guam University, USA; 1990 Gallery Balance, Osaka, Japan; 2004 Café Fleischli, Zurich, Switzerland.

Today one can learn the craft of batik and batik painting from the master himself at Nirvana Pension & Gallery situated on Jalan Gautama , off Jalan Raya, Ubud.

Gamelan Master – Tjokorda Raka Swastika

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The Gamelan Master speaks exclusively to Mark Ulyseas

Introducing Tjokorda Raka Swastika of the Ubud Royal family, a Gamelan Master, who I met in the palace garden to talk about his art. This is what he had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

It is a short introduction to Gamelan. The music has intrinsic religious significance and is an integral part of Balinese culture. This short passage from our conversation does not do justice to the art. But for the sake of brevity we have confined ourselves to presenting it only as an introductory piece so that anyone not conversant with this religious art will begin to understand the complexities of Gamelan music.

This is what the master had to say to the readers of The Bali Times.

I learnt Gamelan from a local guru Dewa Nyoman Sura from Pengosekan Village about 5 km from Ubud. In those days, there were no children Gamelan. I hung around the musicians and watched them play.

In the 60s there were only two Gamelan groups in Ubud – one belonged to the Ubud Kaja (North) and the other Ubud Kelod (South).

Gamelan is the traditional music of Indonesia (specifically Bali and Java). Gamelan means the traditional ensemble of instruments. For example, in Bali Kendang (drum), Reong (kettle gong), Gong Kempur (medium gong) and Kemong (kettle gong).

The materials used in the Gamelan are metal and wood. Prior to the use of metal we had bamboo Gamelan as seen in the Gambang Ensemble.

The metal used for instruments is made of the Panca Datu – 5 elements of tin, copper, iron, silver and gold.

Gamelan is played on religious occasions as it is one part of the rituals viz.:
Dewa Yadnya (God ceremony), Resi Yadnya (Prayer ceremony), Manusa Yadnya (Human being ceremony), Pitra Yadnya (Soul ceremony) and Buta Yadnya (Devil ceremony).

Gamelan in Bali is also performed in temples when sacred dances take place. Of course it is played for the performance arts elsewhere.

The Gamelan vocal is also part of the Panca Gita.

I have been performing the Gamelan for 30 years and have taught students from Australia, Japan, Holland, Denmark and England.

In 1986 I visited Tokyo along with the Gamelan group from Ubud. It was for an International Music and Dance Festival. Since then many Japanese have visited Ubud to study the art. Many have been my students. Three years later in 1989 I performed in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Finland. In 2000 I taught Gamelan for three months in Sydney. Today there are two Gamelan groups in Sydney, one started by the local Balinese community and another by an Australian. I performed at the Summer Festival in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2003.

Presently, I am concentrating on teaching and the future progress of children’s Gamelan. The 1999 Bali Arts Festival held in Denpasar saw my students represent the Gianyar Regent team, which won an award.

In 2005 the children group, Cenik Wayah, who were trained by me represented the Gianyar Regency at the Bali Arts Festival and won an award.

Now I am also training women in the art of the Gamelan.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Morganics – Hip Hop is my passport!

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‘It’s the seams, it’s the edges where worlds meet, old school, new school, can you feel the heat?- Rapper Morganics in Ubud!

The New Year sun is days away, hiding far behind the hills of Ubud ready to rise and shine to warm, caress and preserve the beauty of a land reminiscent of the fabled Camelot. It will spread before us like a feast at Galungan and once again we will waltz through the year in Ubud rubbing shoulders with royalty, holy men, artists of vibrant hues, culinary maestros, musicians and the ubiquitous stereotype expats who lounge around watering holes wallowing in Draught.

The week began with a Hip Hop cool dude, Morganics, from Down under who is here for a brief R & R with his beautiful girl friend Karina from Paris before returning to Sydney for the launch of his latest album Hip Hop is My Passport.

When I quizzed Morganics about his Cd he replied, “ This album has been recorded on my laptop as I travelled through countries producing tracks with children on the streets of Arusha, Tanzania, on subway trains in New York with rapping ciphers (circles/groups), performing with aboriginal elders in Oz, rapping with Balinese school children in Ubud and culminating in the recording of a Javanese folk song to Hip Hop with Thanding Sari at the 2006 UWRF. The title of this song is Jungle Funk and it goes like this – it’s the seams, it’s the edges where worlds meet, old school, new school, can you feel the heat? This is how Hip Hop is my Passport came together through a series of cross-cultural collaborations. The album also features people rapping in Swahili, Spanish and Pitjanjarra (a central aboriginal language). Along with this album there’s also a one hour documentary DVD on the making of it.”

Morganics was born in Brisbane. His father a left wing political activist introduced him to the Warumpy Band and Kraftwerk while his mother, a feminist and into street theatre, made him listen to Grace Jones and Prince’s early work. When Morganics was 13, Hip Hop culture was taking root in Oz. And like punk music it was revolutionary, political and inventing itself at every stage. He had been in television from an early age doing shows with Lee Majors on one of the popular TV series produced by NBC called Danger Down Under.

Around ’95 he co-formed one of Australia’s first Hip Hop groups “MetalBass’n’Breath” with Baba Israel (New York) and Elf Tranz Porter (Houston). The 3-member band formed on the streets of Sydney rapping, playing drums and break dancing. It expanded to include Funk Jazz musicians and a DJ.

‘Ya I played with bands from Run-Dmc to Michael Frante. In 97-98 I was based in New York for nearly a year and did gigs with Badar Ali, son of the late Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (great Qawali singer), as well as, the originator of hip hop culture, Grand Wizard Theodore who also invented ‘scratching’. The group disbanded in 99 and since then I’ve been doing solo stuff and a lot of community work and more recently Hip Hop Theatre. I will be producing and performing in some Hip Hop Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne, Brisbane, New York and Manchester UK. I will be going on a European tour in August 08. Presently am writing a Hip Hop travel book titled – Hip Hop is my passport – memories of a Hip Hop nomad and what better place for inspiration, perspiration of the mind and the groove of culture than Ubud!”

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