SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART: Indonesia

Exhibition traces influences of Kay It

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.

Fertility in Bloom
Fertility in Bloom, 1969, acrylic on paper.

Kay It was born in 1938 in Tabanan, a village in southwestern Bali. As the eldest son of a family of mixed Balinese and Chinese descent, Kay It was expected to continue his parent's copra business. However, the young man seemed to be more interested in art. From primary school onwards his favorite pastime was drawing, and he is even known to have bought his pencils and paper on credit when he ran out of pocket money. After completing his secondary education in the 1950s, the determined student of art spent some time with a relative who was attending an art school in Surakarta, Central Java. In 1959, having run out of money, Kay it to returned home.

Back in Bali, he became acquainted with other painters, including Alimin and Roesli Hakim, at the house of Javanese painter Bambang Soegeng in Tanjung Bungkak, south of Denpasar. Bambang's house had become a meeting place for non-Balinese Indonesian painters who lived in Bali at the time. They displayed their works at a studio gallery adjacent to the house. Kay It's first exhibition was held at Surabaya's Pik Gan Art Gallery in July 1964. No paintings were sold. Young visitors to the show offered the artist this comment: " Oom (uncle) your paintings are terrible." But rather than discouraging Kay It, the experience served as a challenge to him.



...the challenge met..