My Jakarta: Ngakan Nyoman Sudiana, Balinese Painter
Erika Febriani Indra
Most Jakartans like to jet off to Bali for the weekend, not the other way around, but for Ngakan Nyoman Sudiana, a 28-year-old painter from Bali, this trip to the Big Durian is all business. On just his third trip to Jakarta, Ngakan explains exactly why he’s in town, why art is sometimes more about luck than talent and what he thinks of the transformation of the scenery — from the sylvan hills of Ubud to the rowdy streets of Jakarta. As somebody who also paints for the Japanese emperor, he explains to us how traditional painting can be both similar and different from Japanese art.
How did you end up here at the Sultan Hotel, participating in Persona Mahakarya Indonesia [Indonesian Painting Community 2010]?
A friend asked me to come here and participate in the painting exhibition. I’ve always wanted to come to Jakarta. I’m used to doing exhibitions in Bali or Singapore.
This is only my third time in Jakarta. The exhibition ends on Nov.1 so I might look around the city after that.
Have you had any time to see Jakarta’s tourist hotspots?
I went to Balinese temples with my friend. I’m Balinese so the first thing I wanted to do was check out the temples here in Jakarta.
I traveled all the way to Banten province just to see temples.
We also went to Tanjung Priok, in North Jakarta.
How many painters are here? There are 30 of us, but I’m the only one from Bali. What do you think of ‘Eat Pray Love’?
I haven’t had time to see it. I’ve been busy with religious ceremonies. So which do you prefer, Jakarta or Ubud? I prefer Ubud for sure.
That’s where I get all my inspiration from. I don’t like noisy places.
Jakarta would be a good place to live if you had a lot of money.
But Jakarta has its perks too.
If I lived here I could meet people from all kinds of fields and professions, which would open things up for me.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I paint what I want to paint.
How’s the life of an artist nowadays?
At first the whole thing was really difficult. But now it’s getting better.
When I first started selling my paintings, I took them to a few galleries, but when they were sold I didn’t get the money right away.
I got sick and tired of the whole ‘game’ pretty quickly.
I was frustrated and started keeping the paintings to myself. But I started young.
You wouldn’t believe it, but I’ve been doing this since I was in sixth grade.
The hardest time for me as an artist was when I was in junior high school.
I wanted money. Not recognition.
When did you turn professional?
When I graduated from high school I met a Japanese painting instructor. I used to paint traditional paintings, and then I went to an art school and got hooked on painting more modern canvases.
But when I met the Japanese guy and started to learn from him I began making kimonos, Japanese clothes, and Japanese folding fans called Sensu.
Can you explain traditional painting more?
There are three kinds of painting: traditional, modern, and realist.
Simply put, traditional paintings depict traditions in Bali, for example Balinese dances.
We also paint people without clothes like Bali in the past.
Have your skills as an artist translated to any interesting experiences?
I painted kimono in silk. I’ve been painting for the emperor of Japan for six years.
I met a Japanese friend at one of my exhibitions and he asked me to draw cherry blossoms and some Japanese motif.
I was asked to fuse those motifs together, for example towers, Buddhist temples and dragons.
He gave this to the emperor and that’s how it started.
Does it feel weird doing traditional Balinese paintings and then switching to Japanese art?
It’s almost the same, but the motifs are different.
The motif tells about each tradition, for example their custom house, clothes.
And we can’t find cherry blossoms in Bali, right?
What about responses that you got from visitors?
In the first exhibition, many people liked my folding fans.
I painted on top of sandalwood.
I thought those who bought them were wives of officials.
Does anybody else in your family paint?
No. My parents are farmers.
But my father has always supported my passion to be an artist.
Now when I can, I give him money and vice versa. We help each other. I’m married.
I have a 6-year-old son, who is back in Ubud with my wife. I already taught him how to draw using pastels.
I gave him a sketch book and he draws in it while I paint.
You are also a teacher. What kind of painting do you teach?
It depends on what my students want, for example some of them asked to be taught Batik, egg painting, and stone painting.
So we have to be flexible.
They pay for the lessons so we can tell them to focus on one thing —like traditional paintings — and not the other.
I teach in Seminyak. It’s a foreign school and I get paid by the hour.
What’s harder, being an artist or being a teacher?
When I teach foreign kids, they can’t be serious all the time. It’s common in children.
Adults are thinking about money but children just want to play.
I became a teacher because I like to see people succeed.
If any of the students become successful artists, teachers can be proud of themselves.
And sometimes their mothers also buy my paintings.
Is this the last time we’ll ever see you in Jakarta?
I’m always willing to come back and participate in Jakarta’s exhibitions.
I made a lot of friends here so I’ll be back once a month.
The only bad part is I can’t come if there is religious ceremony in Bali.