Learning How to Separate the Beauty From the Mess. A Little Art Theory and a Lot of Life Practice.

A Beautiful Mess…There’s been a lot of times I understood what it was to be busy. To have priorities and deadlines. Frankly though, I have never had something consume so much of me as now. Sawidji is very much a labour out of conviction. Perhaps born of necessity, but not from force. We have been building from ground zero a place where we can, with wholeheartedness immerse in our creativity. With support and knowledge to build something wonderful and worthwhile.

One of the driving causes we address is the state of ‘Art’ in Bali. The damage that untethered commercialism has had, with reckless handling and no thought of longterm consequences. The ones that are affected most irrevocably are the modest working artists and artisans. They who have been at the mercy of a system that recognises very little above profit. An no concern for them as people.

We wish to focus on positives without opening the can of worms that will only leave a bitter taste. Needless to say, that the cases of exploitation, the instances of ruthless fraudulence is unbecomingly high. At the centre of what we do as a countermeasure to all that past conditioning, is education and provide a collaborative environment that is transparent, honest and supportive. We have spent the last few months establishing a work space for our community. This is our Sanggar and Studio. Our Photography Studio has also made significant progress.And finally in this past month our Gallery is nearly at a stage that truly reflects what is at the heart of Sawidji.

Our core value system is the ‘Sawidji Triangle’:
1. Art only for arts’ sake
2. Appropriate Commercial Product Design
3. Education and Knowledge Sharing.

We have programs that focus on reviving the genuine spirit of art. You know, the real creativity, the one that usually accompanies self epiphanies and real moments of learning and discovery. Our Gallery provides learning and material support for any of our artists who are curious and wish to extend their knowledge base.

On the commercial side, we have a drive to be financially secure, so as to continue to be this place, this sanctuary, this home for art, for wellbeing and honest friendships. Our product design programs are based on systematic partnerships with key collaborators. Wherein we as a gallery provide the means for our community to be able to be commercially viable and independent. Whether it be in investment, skill sets or simply technical advice, we serve as the supporting aide to grow everyones’ confidence. For them to try and inevitably see, that they can. Its not the first time I see it as a life rehabilitation centre as much as an artistic one.

Our third possibly most important value is education and knowledge sharing. We see the incredible talents in our community. Talents that yes, are often technical strengths. Learned and often gifted by inheritance as much as practice. Due to the abundance of these skills amongst communities in Ubud, there is a form of inflation and over supply. During 1980-1990’s Balinese arts was excessively exposed and commercialised. They had their heyday and reaped the monetary rewards without much forethought.

If that was so good, why is the reality now so morbid? It is no exaggeration. Twenty years ago for every hundred member in a village that were painters, we may now have two or four painters in place of that hundred. Thats is no exaggeration. This is the present state of affairs. We now have a mission to focus on safeguarding what skills and initiatives there are left, to nurture the core values of our traditional arts if it is possible. It is definitely worth our best efforts.

Traditional artists are in no way less artistic than those educated in a contemporary system. However, they do have an extremely different creative view .In general, less individualistic and more community oriented. Also usually less controversial. Sawidji Artist Collective is not trying to change the core of this difference.

We believe we need to give what should have been given to our artists years ago. The knowledge, so they may know more than just the technical aspect of their art. To understand more about art in a world context, so they understand where they are in relation to the rest of the art world. With that knowledge they have choices. To grow their ideas in directions that may surprise us, or even themselves.

and now.. The Messy Wall

I apologise if this is ambiguous. I had to think of a way to show, not tell, the state of of disarray the meaning of art is in, here in Ubud,. the Centre of Art in Bali. Our process has been not always clear and easily articulated. For example, a few weeks ago, our Team perhaps overwhelmed a little with how much we had to get through ahead of us. Paperwork and computers were still foreign to many. The best thing I could think to do was to get everyone together and physically do something to our empty wall.

That day, we gathered everything that we could from our studio and with some direction but not much by way of explanation. My Team, Dewa Made, Dewa Oka and Pak Konco, helped me put together a very messy wall. I gave no explanation whilst we were putting things up on the wall.

Including, old patchwork quilts, new beach sarongs and scarves.. Wooden carvings, some by accredited artists worth thousands and thousands of dollars and other wood carvings that were designated for the Sukawati Commercial Art Market, perhaps valuing at one dollar. We have dried cornflowers and wildflowers as well as large tropical flowers all adorning ‘the wall’. We had sculptures grace its floor and paintings hung with the quilts and cornflowers. I even overheard one of my team say that he thought we were all going a little ‘mad’.

However, when it was all done, everyone loved the Messy Wall. I asked a few what they thought and they said’ its beautiful’. I am still unsure if that was lip service or an honest answer. Regardless though, when the wall was up and there was less confusion, everyone was fairly engaged. Through the assembly of that wall, I was able to explain several aspects of the elements and principles of design. Secondly, when it was all done, there is beauty in it. Because regardless of its disarray, it held many things beautiful from our environment.

Herein lies the state of traditional art in Bali. A mish mash of souvenirs and cheap copies diluting the value of the real artistic workmanship. The artists conditioned into becoming nothing more than production mills. Once the profit margin has lessened they are like abandoned derelict buildings. Uncared for and unattended with their sole value gone.

Through this exercise, a lot could be learned. Of course there is still beauty found in this messy wall. With no regard for the established principles and elements of art, a discerning eye can still locate what is of value in that mess. Overall, because our community is one fortunate to be surrounded by fertile and flourishing land, the Nature around us adds beauty to everything in abundance. The bright colours that is so intrinsically part of life in Bali makes most everything lovely.

in Contrast to the Messy Wall..

In contrast to the disarray of our Messy Wall, our Team was able to have respite from the mess by putting together a minimalist, black and white corner. The first to feature Dewa Oka’s black and white photography of Coffee Blossoms and the second, the black and white drawings of artist Harijadi. In both instances, the artworks have a theme that is far more audible when removed from distractions but enhanced by one or two objects around them that support their meaning.

The contrast of the two exercises only deepened the meaning further. The act of deliberation, conscious selection, care and pride taken in the smallest arrangement gave breath to each piece and allowed them to speak their own message clearly. Perhaps this was what we could liken to a good life practice. Separating the good from the mess and making the most of it.

The messy wall is not a bad thing. In fact, one can say that that is life. The natural state of affairs. If you want to find the positive in the big mess, you will definitely find plenty of beauty, plenty of positive things. For myself personally, I feel strongly that knowledge and understanding makes the biggest difference. The difference between saying, ‘that’s a beautiful wall’ out of lip service or ‘thats messy, it’s disturbing, because of this reason and that reason’.. ‘ Speaking one’s contrary opinion is a giant leap forward for everyone here. Who usualy almost always loves to concur.

For now though, education is a big part of everything we do. First we make sure in Sawidji House, the joy of learning has taken root. And from there, we will make sure to continue to find creative means to share the knowledge we learn with you.

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