By Rio Helmi
Last night, the 19th of June 2014, at the ARMA museum, the launch of the landmark publication “Lempad” was a historical occasion not only for Ubud, but for Bali as a whole.
The book, a weighty, 300+ page tome is really the love-child of an obsessive, 20 year affair between the couple Ana Gaspar and Antonio Casanova with the late, legendary artist Lempad. Struck by the work of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad when they saw it at the Neka Museum a couple of decades ago, these two collectors scoured bookshops looking for what they believed surely must exist: a book about the great man.
Somehow it seems they never got over the fact that there was no such book, and seven years ago they finally made a commitment to produce an exhaustive, if not definitive book on Lempad. They engaged seasoned author Jean Couteau who has had decades of immersion in the world of Balinese art, and who has penned countless essays and a fair number of books on various Balinese artists.
It has certainly been a long undertaking that has taken them all around the world to uncover the works. As Jean Couteau pointed out during the press conference yesterday, Lempad’s works already started spreading across the world in the 1930s. He and Antonio Casanova both discussed some of the difficulties involved in identifying the works of a man who never signed his works himself. In fact the actual “signing” of his pen and ink works (those that were actually ‘signed’) was done by various members of his family. There was nothing fraudulent about this: it was done in a naive spirit of giving the work a title and its author acknowledgement. Let us not forget that the whole idea of formal acknowledgement for an individual artist’s work was a foreign concept for the Balinese.
Indeed the whole ‘modern’ concept of what an artist is, was quite absent in Bali during the beginning period of Lempad’s life somewhere in middle of the 19th century. Lempad started off working in the more classic sense of a Balinese “Undagi” (master architect/builder) and “Sangging” (religious artist); roles that integrated coded knowledge of architecture, art, religious/magical formulations of space, correlations of the human body to said spaces, iconography, mythology and more. Perhaps the closest thing that the modern Western world could correlate this to was the Renaissance movement. And Lempad was definitely a man of the stature of Leonardo da Vinci, acknowledged or not.
All of this of course makes identification of Lempad’s work even more complicated. There are sculptures, drawings, paintings, temples, gateways and other works attributed to him. Perhaps the most reliable source for all of this would have been his son, I Gusti Made Sumung, who devoted much of his life to “managing” his father. While Lempad lived in another world, Gusti Made Sumung dealt with this one.
Unfortunately by the time this team put their shoulders into this monumental work, resulting in this impressive book, Gusti Made Sumung too was long gone. However I shall discuss Sumung another day.
Meanwhile the book, published by Pictures Publishers of the Netherlands, is out, and within a few days should be in major bookstores. It received a fittingly grand launch at the ARMA museum last night with a special address given by one of Indonesia’s literary giants, Goenawan Mohamad. An impressive line up of honored guests, including prominent members of Ubud’s royal family (the Ubud palace was Lempad’s foremost patron) were presented a copy each of the book. Attendees then were invited to an exhibition of Lempad’s work, and then finally a sumptuous Balinese dinner buffet was laid out in the wonderful gardens of the museum. At the launch the book was available for IDR 1.5 million; in the stores expect to pay substantially more. No complaints please – it will be worth every Rupiah.
Photos by Rio Helmi