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Paying Tribute to Affandi: Ubud, Bali

Frail though she may appear, 73-year-old Kartika Affandi beamed with energetic delight the moment she began speaking about her late father, Affandi, one of Indonesia’s greatest 20th century painters. The sky over Ubud was cloudy on that Sunday afternoon and the breeze was chilly, a fitting atmosphere for an ode to a fallen hero.

Kartika reminisced about her childhood in Ubud, including her sense of mischief and the warm friendship the people of Ubud extended to her family. Slowly, she turned her head and looked at her host, Suteja Neka, the founder of the Neka Art Museum (NAM).

“Without Pak Neka’s generosity, we wouldn’t have been able to build the Affandi Museum to commemorate the lifelong dedication of my late father,” she said, touching Neka’s shoulder with affection.

That generosity, Kartika later revealed, included the museum’s purchasing 40 paintings of the master painter.

“A majority of those paintings had been designated for the collection of NAM,” said Neka. “Affandi is one of the greatest painters of our time, and we want to make sure that younger generations will have a chance to view and be inspired by his works. Those are the main reason why NAM went a long way to secure some of his best pieces.”

Neka indeed went a long way in trying to acquire Affandi’s works. In the process, Neka and his wife were once stranded in Manila during the attempted military coup of December 1989, when the rebels seized the airport and all flights were canceled.

They were in the Philippines capital to recover two Affandi paintings.

“We removed the paintings from the frames because they were too large to carry back, and we are afraid that the situation might get worse,” Neka recalled.

Such dedication and perseverance have shaped NAM into the institution that possesses the second largest collection of Affandi’s works. The first is, naturally, the Affandi Museum in Yogyakarta.

Born May 1907 in Cirebon, West Java, Affandi was a self-taught artist fondly remembered for his unique technique of painting directly from tubes onto canvas. His works are highly expressionistic, with subjects that reflect the artist’s strong empathy for the common people.

In 1945, Affandi moved to Yogyakarta, and co-founded the Young Indonesian Artists (SIM) in 1946. The following year, he established the People’s Painters grouping with fellow painter Hendra Gunawan.

From 1949 to 1951, he studied in India under the auspices of an Indian government scholarship. He went on to hold solo exhibitions in major cities in Europe. In 1964, Affandi represented Indonesia at the Venice Biennale.

In 1978, the Indonesian government awarded him the Bintang Jasa Utama, a special order recognizing an individual’s contribution to the nation.

Three years earlier, the University of Singapore had presented him with a Honorary Doctorate, and in 1976, he received the Prix International Dag Hammarskjoeld Prize in Florence.

He passed away in May 1990, and was interred on the grounds of his museum.

“NAM has an emotional connection with Affandi. He always supported the establishment of this museum and was one of the guests of honor at the official opening of NAM,” said Neka.
“Beyond everything else, I had the privilege to call this master painter a warm, personal friend.”

To pay homage to the great painter and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, NAM has organized a centennial exhibition that runs from Aug. 12 through Sept. 16. It features 15 paintings as well as dozens of photographs that immortalize the precious moments Affandi shared with his close friends.

“Ten paintings are from NAM’s collection, the rest belong to private collectors,” NAM co-director Wahyu Suteja said.

As Suteja Neka took Kartika’s arm and escorted her along the exhibition gallery, Affandi’s brilliant yellow suns, deep blue oceans and fiery red fishing boats shone from the frames, illuminating their faces.

Affandi Centennial Exhibition
Aug. 12 through Sept. 16
Neka Art Museum
Jl. Raya Sanggingan, Ubud
Phone: (0361) 975074

I Wayan Juniartha