A Trees Offering is a conversation with Ketut Sukerta, Wood Artist and Mask Maker, translated by Dewi Dian Reich. The topic ‘Inauguration of Trees‘ continue this month at Sawidji. Our community are sharing their thoughts and reflections that have emerged from Delo Made Budiarta’ invitation to reflect upon trees with him.

I was born in a village that is full of diversity and life with various artistic skills. A happy life filled with creative actions amongst many different people with a similar spirit. I am part of this artistic community, a part of this different energy. And from the time I was born, my family history is tied to wood.

From when I was small I have known wood. As a wood carver and maker of masks, wood is even more deeply ingrained in my life as the material for the body of my work. I have wrestled and danced with wood for almost 35 years. And I feel like I have become inseparable with it. Bonded to wood.

I asked myself, ‘when did wood grow and become such a big part of me?‘ I don’t know that it was ever small. As I contemplate this I remember something important my parents said and passed on to me. ‘You must remember your Ancestors. As you you come from ‘Kayu Selem’.

Ketut Sukerta

In this, ‘Kayu’ the word for wood refers to the word ‘Kayun’ meaning ‘mind’. ‘Selem’ by definition is ‘black’. The meaning and interpretation of ‘black’ is not bad. Here it is the symbol of Prosperity. Mind signifies higher thought, understanding and inspiration.

Indeed there is a tree known as ‘Kayu Selem’ (Black Wood). And there is a legend about this Tree. At some point in the past there was once a Holy man who was incredibly powerful. His powers were almost like the gods. This Holy man, he sees that the tree is so very much like human beings. The limbs and branches like our hands, the trunk like our bodies. And the long stretch of roots sometimes like our own feet on the ground. With his power the Holy man turned the tree into a human being with Mind and Body.

The tree that became a man was named ‘Kayu Selem’. Because the color of the wood is dark. Now the wood has mind as well as a body. This is the story of my Ancestry.

A Trees Offering

Ketut wearing ‘Topeng Tua’ beside a Pule Tree (Alstonia Scholaris). The indentation beside him in the tree, is the part of the tree that has been removed for the specific purpose of creating ceremonial masks. Such as the one Ketut is wearing.

With the words of my parents, my memories always lead to a feeling of gratitude. To realise the feeling of gratitude, in Bali, there is something called Tumpek Uduh or Pengatag. This is done every 210 days. Through this ceremony we offer thanks for all the plants that give life to all of us. Giving thanks to our Ancestors, Nature whom we are part of.

All my artistic inspiration I pour into a piece of wood that then become masks, statues and so on. All my art, my work is through wood. The body of the tree of which I am also part of. All this has been given to me to be able to give life to my family.

A Trees Offering

To this day I am grateful to the Creator of the Universe and all within it. That Wood is part of my soul. A part of my inspiration. That I may work and create. That I may do my best to make art that can speak of my inspiration to the world. Just as with the ‘kukul’, it is also made of wood which can unite people’s thoughts and feelings..I am grateful that I live in this culture that has art in its very heartbeat.

Author’s Note

Our community has greeted the New Year with Delo Made Budiarta ‘Inauguration of Trees’. Regardless of what is happening in the world, the challenges we are facing or the struggles that inevitably we will hear about, the beauty of a Tree’s unconditional sacrifices, is worth a few moments in our day. Trees are certainly a resource for all of us. However, today we see that Trees, may be like our Father and Mother too.

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