So what is the view that the “average person” sees in this maelstrom of building and economic boom going on in Bali these days? The fourth in a series of ‘short takes’ done in cooperation with Jakarta Post’s Bali Buzz, where it appeared initially.

by Rio Helmi

When you take the road leading east from the cross roads of Peliatan and Ubud to Br Ambengan, you end up passing a striking display of multi colored earthenware pots stretching along the road for about 50 meters. For first-timers it catches the eye, for old timers it’s a landmark. And if you’re lucky you’ll catch sight of the owner, a lean middle aged man with a long wispy white beard with a hint of dreadlock in it, a pony tail, and a twinkle in his eye. This is not an ordinary roadside shop. Rio stopped in one day to find out more about the man, Wayan Cameng.

RIO: Pak Wayan Cameng you used to be an artist once, no?

WAYAN: That’s right, I was a self-taught painter. I began with traditional Balinese painting, then because of the people I mixed with – artists from Yogya from the art institute (ISI) – I also got into abstract art.

R: And now you don’t paint anymore?

W: The problem is that the market tends to lean towards the more academically trained artists. Of course I really want to paint but now I express myself in different ways in life anyway. Painting and art doesn’t all have to necessarily be on canvas.

R: So before you sold your paintings, did that work for you?

W: Sure it made a big difference. To enjoy profit from paintings, it can be very ewarding in a commercial way. I enjoyed some of it when I joined exhibitions, or had my paintings in auctions.

R: But now you are more here in the shop?


Wayan Cameng with his “installation” of pots for sale

W: Yes, but as you know in Bali there is so much community activity. I was made kelian banjar (head of the local community) for two periods. So just when I wanted to paint there would be some matter that had to be dealt with, or I would be called upon…

R: So you couldn’t focus?

W: Yes, and as time went by the education of my children became paramount. There were school fees etc that had to be paid and so forth. But art still plays a role, it’s just translated into my daily life. You could say that all of this (pointing to his display of pots) is an installation. Actually Balinese have been doing installations since forever. Look at cremations (smiles). Yes but one day I’m sure I’ll get back into painting.

R: Nowadays there are a lot of newcomers, migrant workers here, many changes…

W: Very big changes. Very noticeable lifestyle changes for Balinese. But it has to be, how could it not?

R: Bali is not so welcoming to newcomers now too…


A migrant worker buying goods from Wayan Cameng

W: Yes, that’s part of the lifestyle change. The daily interface with people is different. Bali used to be primarily agrarian, steeped in its culture and traditions. Now all that has been transferred to the tourist industry. Now it’s all about calculation, people aren’t as sincere any more. Now they calculate the hours. With today’s atmosphere of competition, even the arts have been affected.

R: You have no desire to compete?

W: Hmm. Sometimes I feel the challenge, I think “ I can do better than that!” But then how to get into it again…

R: You still have your paintings?

W: Yes. Sometimes I even get an order. Maybe if you go by the Royal Pita Maha hotel, in their offices they still have my painting, Tjok Putra bought them. He said to me “Why don’t you make more like this, I can sell these to my guests. I will pay you contemporary rates. If you don’t make anymore I won’t sell these.”. Perhaps you understand how it is for an artist to get paid an advance before being inspired, it can be difficult.

R: Hmm, yes the economy of art is complicated.

W: Yes, there are two sides to the story. If we talk about pure art, fine. But not only must we be idealistic but also need to money to live…

R: You have to eat!

W: That’s what I told my son: “If you want to be an artist, you have to put aside some of your time to earn money as well.”. But he says “No, you have to idealist”. Well I understand his point of view, he’s still a student!

R: By the way, as we sit here chatting there has been a steady stream of customers. This seems a good spot. Maybe it’s more comfortable for you to be a shop owner, you can chat with people as you sell..

W: Ah it’s all the same. The most important thing is not to be too ambitious, just get on with your life. You know my major was philosophy, I studied at Hindu Dharma Institute (IHD). So we accept life the way it is, but you get on with it. However it’s important to communicate and socialize. I was lucky to have friends (from the art community) in Yogya – in the old days there were really only a handful of people who were painters. My wife used to be a teacher, then she even worked in a wig factory. Then we decided to open this little business to boost our income. As you know we Balinese we have so many ceremonies (laughs). You’ve been here for a long time, don’t you agree?


Wayan’s wife making offerings

R: Well yes, but things have changed. Before all the rituals and ceremonies were the most important aspect of life. Now it seems to be more about self-conscious identity.

W: (laughing) That’s true. That’s why I want my kids to be educated outside of Bali. It gives them a different perspective on Bali.

R: Coming back to the migrants. I travel a lot by the road in East Java. I see how tough life is for many people there. I understand why they come here to earn more for their families. Often on the ferry I chat with people about their lives here. They say “Mas, the Balinese say all kinds of things about us. But we work hard. Balinese only sell land, yet they look down on us.” It makes me reflect, from one aspect Bali’s carrying capacity is threatened by the continual influx, but if we think on a national scale it looks different. I think nowadays Balinese are spoilt.

W: Well yes, that’s true. Even some Balinese are waking up to that. You know when our friends from Java come here to work hard and sell bakso for example, after a while they can buy land. Meanwhile Balinese sell their land to buy bakso!! (we both laugh). But that is the reality. If you look at the situation now, many Balinese suddenly come into a lot of money, but they don’t know how to deal with it because they’ve never had a lot of money, they aren’t wise about it then run out of money. For these people education is number two.

R: Yes instead they just buy their kids an expensive car…

W: Well it’s probably because the parent’s orientation in life is materialistic. But our orientation should be towards education.

R: So what does that portend for the future?

W: I can’t say exactly. Can they make a living? People without education can make a living, but it’s different. I think in the future there will be really major changes coming. The people who are running things now can no longer be relied upon, their policies are something else, don’t imagine that Bali will continue being the way it is.

The coming generations are much going to be much tougher, it’s because the Balinese society isn’t ready, the human resource aspect isn’t ready yet. Nowadays technology is being accessed and relied upon by people everywhere, yet in Bali we’re a long way from that.

R: But surely there are a lot of Balinese who are employed by various companies etc?

W: But they are employed only at the lower echelons: sweepers, low-level jobs. Our human resource pool can’t compete.

R: Do you think this will come to open conflict?

W: It’s already happening. Don’t use the excuse that outside provocateurs will stir up trouble, already local villages are at each others throats, fighting over the exact line of territorial borders etc..

R: Because the soaring price of land?

W: (laughs) Maybe, maybe. If you think of it, there is no reason to fight over these things. Private land is different, but this?


all photos ©Rio Helmi