Anak Agung Made Djelantik and Balinese Paintings

Born a Balinese prince at the time of Dutch occupation, Anak Agung Made Djelantik (1919-2007) became a genuine Renaissance man who lived through the great changes that shaped our modern world today. His observations of those times and the arts of Bali are his gift to future generations.

After a life in service to the health of the world, Anak Agung Made Djelantik passed away on the eve of Sept. 5, 2007, at the age of 88. As a specialist in tropical diseases, he worked for many years with the World Health Organization to combat Malaria in Africa, the Middle East and throughout Indonesia. He was the first Balinese Director of Sanglah General Hospital in Denpasar. It is his contribution to arts and culture, however, that is being honored here today.

At the late doctor’s simple one-day kingsan ring geni (bequeathal to fire) ceremony at the ancient palace of Karangasem, A. A. Gede Rai of Yayasan Walter Spies Bali and Horst Jordt of Walter Spies Society Germany decided to dedicate a permanent exhibition in a special room at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA). It is fitting that the Dr. Djelantik Room will be located next to a room dedicated to his favorite German painter, Walter Spies (1895-1942).

“We would like to honor Djelantik’s exemplary life,” insisted Horst Jordt, “as well as to remember the fact that he founded Yayasan Walter Spies Bali in 1981.”

Besides founding Lestibia, an agency for cultural preservation in Bali, Djelantik was the engaged and charismatic Spies foundation chairman for nearly two decades until his coma in 1999. He arranged many spectacular festivals to continue Spies’ work to foster emerging artists. In doing so, he had the support of Spies’ biographer Hans Rhodius who funded the society’s charitable works until he passed away in 1988.

While Walter Spies was a central figure in creating the image of Balinese idyll for the West and brought Western influences to Bali, Djelantik embodied the fusion of Balinese and European values.

Semi-retirement brought him to general practice at his home in Renon, Bali, where he continued to offer perceptive diagnosis along with practical non-invasive health solutions to his many patients. Active and engaging to a ripe old age, always gentle and kind, he lived as a humbling example for others.

His broad encyclopedic knowledge was born not only from many years of study, voracious reading and travel, but most importantly from an inquisitive mind and a modest persona.

Despite being a prince of the royal court of Karangasem in East Bali, he was never aloof. Alert even in his fragile days, he was always ready to learn from the people around him, and had a kind and thoughtful word for all.

His entry into the world of art writing was reluctant. It was after several letters from publishers that Djelantik, at the insistence of his wife Astri, accepted the offer to write a book on Balinese art.

“I’m just a Doctor,” Djelantik once said, “I know nothing about art.”

This honest and down-to-earth attitude, together with his clinical training and language skills, produced the first diagnostic of Balinese art. Through Balinese Painting (Oxford University Press, 1990), he presented an in-depth review of the various styles of Balinese paintings, the artists and their work. The artists’ answers he studiously noted down from interviews and his sensitive appraisal of artworks revealed the intricate web of religious and social values as well as the painting techniques that constitute the Balinese style.

He also touched upon the intriguing transition in which Balinese art found itself torn between the demand for mass production for the tourist trade and the desire to preserve the notion of Bali as the “last paradise” in traditional paintings.

His passion for art also led to a miraculous recovery. To regain motor skills after a coma in 1999, Djelantik began to wield a paintbrush again, something he had not done since his honeymoon. A remarkable series of vivid watercolor paintings, both na‹ve and poignant was the result of his art therapy, which revived his coordination and memory from the life-threatening hiatus.

These watercolors will be exhibited at ARMA along with select memorabilia in a permanent exhibition that opens Wednesday. “We did not expect, that it could be done within a few months,” noted Horst Jordt, adding, “We are lucky. This has been made possible thanks to support from the German Embassy in Jakarta.” Rucina Ballinger, the co-author of Balinese Dance, Drama And Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali described Djelantik as a “Renaissance man supreme, doctor of dharma, aesthetician, and one of most decent human beings I have ever met.”

Opening of the “Dr. A.A.M. Djelantik Room” 5 p.m., Jan. 9 Agung Rai Museum of Art

Kadek Krishna Adidharma