by Rio Helmi
“Where are all your children? It is so quiet in America…”
Yesterday, the last day of February, I attended the tooth filing ceremony for the grandchildren of Dewa Nyoman Batuan who passed away earlier in the month, an adjunct to the funerary rituals conducted earlier in the week. Sadly, I was uninformed of his death at the time as I was away in Java, and I missed his cremation. Dewa Batuan was an old friend, and one to whom I have a debt of kindness.
Dewa Batuan was a pioneer, a man who broke through social and economic barriers, and not only for himself: he also pushed his community out of their pattern of poverty and semi indentured labor. At the age of 31, after studying with the legendary Kobot, he set up the Pengosekan Community of Artists. Suddenly for many families in Pengosekan there was a completely new income-stream besides laboring in the fields of richer neighbouring villages. And Dewa Batuan did it all with his own eccentric panache; he was always brimming with enthusiasm.
At an early stage he discovered mandalas, a colourful theme, full of imagination, that became recurrent in his painting. But perhaps he will be most remembered as a leader and a visionary who kicked down the door for soon-to-be successful artists in his community who didn’t even know that they were artists at the time.
Not to be left unmentioned is his long association with the Blair brothers, Lorne and Lawrence, of Ring of Fire fame, and with Ubud icon Victor Mason who helped open doors for the Pengosekan Community of Artists. The Blairs arranged for him to go to LA and appear on TV, which he did in a bright orange batik jacket over his sarong. I still remember the late Lorne describing how Batuan knocked them over on the set by asking Americans: “Where are all your children? It is so quiet in America…”
But I personally will remember him most for his kindness to me when I was a young man, and broke (with not much more than waist-long hair, a sarong, a shirt and a bag full of bamboo flutes) living for a while in Pengosekan with Robbie Patula in a tiny one-room house on Batuan’s land. Every day he had rice and some basic condiments sent over from his kitchen – these basically kept us alive. In those days the family wasn’t exactly rich either, but his generosity was not to be contained. Suksme pisan Dewa Nyoman Batuan, Selamat Jalan!