Postcard from Bali

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 07 Dec 2013

After a month-long residency in Bali, two young artists take to the canvas with striking results.

IT was everywhere. Hanging on hooks in every eatery the duo came across. Roasted, barbequed, steamed and stewed.Worry crept in. They were going to be here for a whole month and could not just be surviving on cup noodles for the duration.

Something had to be done. They phoned their contact back in Malaysia and asked about eateries that served halal food. Thankfully, their contact knew exactly where to direct them and soon, after days of eating noodles, they were feasting on succulent duck meat.

The days of seeing swine everywhere were gone. The ducks had ushered in a new dawn for them. If this was a dream (or perhaps a nightmare), one could imagine pigs and ducks flying everywhere in the Balinese skies.

And maybe that was what the two young artists saw in their mind’s eye. Even before their artist residency programme in Bali was over, Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj and Hisyamuddin Abdullah took their experience and this vision to the canvas.

It’s raining ducks! Bebek Terbang is a personal piece by the duo on their food related dilemma in Bali.

And what resulted were two paintings depicting flying pigs and flying ducks, named Babi Terbang and Bebek Terbang respectively.

These two artworks and nine others form the Nah! Bali exhibition, showing now at the G13 Gallery, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

The residency is an initiative started last year by the gallery; Kenny Teng, the gallery director, shared that usually, only one artist is sent over for the residency programme but they decided to try something new this time around.

“Both of them have a different calibre. It’s very interesting to see them combine their skills into one artwork. Truth be told, we really didn’t discuss how to go about the showcase until the month-long residency was completed.

“That is when we decided that these two artists should collaborate to produce every single artwork, and this is very rare and seldom heard of in our country,” said Teng.

Both artists obtained their Fine Art degrees from UiTM Shah Alam in Selangor. In spite of the young ages, their names are recognised in competitions, exhibitions and collections.

About the residency programme, Teng was quick to note that it is an important element in “the journey of an artist.”

“Via a residency, they get to encounter new things like new geographical landscape, new culture and such that are different from their daily lives.

“I believe this is a time for them to absorb new ideas and ways of thinking instead of producing the same ideas again and again,” he added.

Two established names in the Balinese art circles – Nyoman Sujana Kenyem and Putu Bonuz – guided the Malaysians during their residency in Bali.

Najib concurred and said that though he prepared himself by doing a lot of reading and research before going to Bali, everything changed once he was there.

“Everything changed for me because it was all different from our way and culture. The Balinese society, their culture and way of life, their artworks and even their reason to paint.

“However, I wasn’t influenced by the Balinese artworks themselves as they are still very traditional whereas the Malaysian art scene is very contemporary. What I took from there and absorbed was their way of thinking,” said Najib.

The 26-year-old went on to say that the challenge was to blend his and Hisyamuddin’s distinctive styles instead of changing them altogether so that people will not be taken aback and not recognise their artworks.

“So when you see these paintings, it is as if another artist did it,” asserted Najib, who is also part of the Young Guns 2013 exhibition showing in Penang now.

What transpired was an eclectic mix of themes on all things Balinese.

Through their residency programme, Najib and Hisyammudin Abdullah discovered a new geographical landscape, and new culture to reflect in their art. This work is called Not For Sale.

This was nowhere more evident than in a series of four paintings called Semangat Alam (Spirit of Nature).

Taking centre stage in these four paintings is a sculpture of Barong, the Balinese king of the spirits, with a lion-like face, fearsome and majestic, often seen in Balinese cultural dances.

The four paintings depicted different facets of the spirit king’s face and had different colour themes to represent the four elements of nature.

The precise lines and contours of the rock figures allude to the employment of stencils but they were actually hand drawn by Najib, whose speciality this is.

“Hisyamuddin had the idea of juxtaposing the spirits with culture and nature because in Bali, the natural world is their deity. Moreover, people in Bali have the habit of putting a flower on their cars or behind their ears. That is why we decided to insert different flowers in all four paintings,” explained Najib.

But the duo did not only dwell upon the spiritual. The societal elements also informed their thoughts.

A long-enduring issue that plagued the locals was of course the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated much of Indonesia and, Bali being a magnet for tourists, the aftermath left the island dry financially and it took the community several years to recover.

This dilemma faced by the Balinese people is represented in several of the artworks but one stands out quite brightly. Named Rezeki Tamu, it shows an old man, well advanced in his years, wearing a worn-out shirt and a fisherman’s hat. A smile carves his wrinkled face. Arranged seven by seven in the background are circles, each depicting the currency symbols of the various countries in the world.

“I actually interviewed this pakcik (uncle) and asked him about his income. The currency symbols show the tourists that flock to Bali. This painting is contrasted with Para Pemelok Pohon which depicts sadness and disappointment and the state of affairs if the tourists are not aplenty.

“That is why only a handful of currency symbols are still put and also why the person has his back turned. And on the background, we have included verses of a poem that speaks about the destruction of nature, deity, oppression and the lackadaisical nature of youngsters,” said Hisyamuddin, 24.

Bali may be a regular vacation spot for you or perhaps you have only marvelled at the beaches on the pages of magazines. But the Bali brought forth by Najib and Hisyamuddin is a very different one.

They may have styles that are worlds apart but the things they saw and heard and experienced together have been translated into something very personal, very real and in some ways, ethereal.

> Nah! Bali is on till Dec 22 at G13 Gallery, Ground Floor, Block B, Kelana Square, Jalan SS7/26, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Viewing hours are from 11am to 5pm (closed on public holidays); entry is free. For more information, go to, e-mail or call 03-7880 0991/ 03-7880 0313.

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Postcard from Bali


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