by Amir Sidharta
(from the Jakarta Post, Sunday, january 5, 1996)
The strange and comic pot-bellied terracotta figures now appearing in
Jakarta gardens, their elongated hands playing the gamelan, never fail to
bring to my mind the wealth of creative genius that originates in Bali.
These figures, which are products of Bali, have become one of the most prominent
Balinese handicrafts and can be seen everywhere, especially in the major
centers of tourism on the island. We tend to take for granted that many
kinds of Balinese handicrafts are works of collective creativity and therefore
remain anonymous and cannot be attributed to one person but rather only
to a village community. By contrast, in these idiosyncratic figures, we
get a strong sense of individual creativity.
I once became enamored of the subtle sense of gaiety in the paintings decorating the walls of Murni's Warung in Campuan, a village just west of Ubud, Bali. One portrayed a triangular face reminiscent of the cili-a female figure representative of fertility- usually made out of rice dough and included in Balinese offerings. Another depicted a village scene with rice barns flanked with ornamental bamboo poles. These drawings seemed to me even more idiosyncratic and individual than the terra-cotta figures mentioned previously. Later, I learned that the terra cotta figures could indeed be attributed to one person, a Balinese of Chinese descent by the name of Kay It. But what was even more interesting was that the paintings I so admired in Ubud turned out to be the creations of the same individual.