‘Songs of Solitude’ Exhibition: Ubud, Bali

The massive earthquake in 2006 was a turning point for Sujena, a young Balinese painter who had lived in Yogyakarta since 1996. The disaster had not only destroyed a major part of the city, but also compelled him to take an important step. “The natural disaster forced me to return to my home village in Bangli, Bali,” he recalled.

It was a painful decision for Sujena, who had considered Yogyakarta his true home as an emerging artist. The city was more encouraging and accommodating of his fresh ideas
and esthetic experimentation.

“In terms of exploration, I prefer Yogyakarta — almost every kilometer along the road in the community I lived in I would find an artist friend who I could talk to about art. Whom can I speak to about art in Bangli? I have to travel to Sukawati or Ubud if I want to have a decent conversation on contemporary art,” he said.

Sujena graduated from Yogyakarta’s Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI) in 2005. He participated in over 40 group exhibitions and won several awards, including the 2000 Merit Award of the Asia Pacific Nokia Art Awards in Singapore.

Despite his growing attachment to Yogyakarta, in late 2006 Sujena bade the city farewell.

The anguish of separation he felt after leaving the city was further aggravated by the psychological alienation he experienced immediately upon his arrival in his village in Bali.

“I had been away for 10 years and during that time so many things and changes had taken place,” he said.

Soon Sujena had to undergo the difficult process of readjustment with the customs, traditions, and daily life of his childhood community. Moreover, he also had to deal with many traditional obligations as an adult member of the community.

“I have to learn again to be a Balinese, to be a Hindu follower, and at the same time I have to cope with my extended family’s high expectations of me. Since I had spent a long time working outside Bali, they thought I would have a lot of cash with me upon my return. While in fact, I was as poor as when I left the island the first time,” he said.

Initially, the demanding communal obligations and expectations led him to misery and desperation. Yet, Sujena gradually found solace in his art. Consequently, his paintings show a distinctive shift toward a more spiritual theme, subtler compositions and quieter colors.

“I find myself more interested in spirituality, in the tranquility of the higher consciousness. Eventually, I find peace through and in my art. That’s the best thing about my return to Bali,” he said.

The results of Sujena’s psychological and esthetic struggle can now be observed in a solo exhibition titled Songs of Solitude in Ubud’s Komaneka Fine Art Gallery. The exhibit displays 31 paintings, most of which were created in 2007.

“Sujena has a rare quality — something few Balinese artists have managed to do. He has refrained from reproducing mainstream Balinese imagery; the classical motifs so strongly ingrained into the psyche of every Balinese,” said gallery owner Koman Wahyu Suteja.

Yet, he has managed to do so without abandoning the key philosophies of his traditional beliefs. Balinese Hinduism was essentially a belief system centered on efforts — practical and esoteric — to construct a balanced harmony among man, nature and God.

“These efforts to find peace, to construct a harmonious cosmos, can be observed in most of Sujena’s works,” he added.

His work Yearning for Rain, for instance, is obviously a creative extension of Sujena’s own longings for a serene existence. An image of a man, painted in white with eyes closed and arms extended, stands in the middle of the canvas. Hung above the image is a green cloud and a soft yellow crescent moon. The background color is black, and hundreds of tiny dots of white scattered across the canvas, emulating a light shower of rain.

“Have you ever stood under a light shower of rain in the middle of the night? If you have, then you will understand the feeling, the liberating sensation, and the smell of the grateful earth.

“Painting is a form of therapy for me. All these works and the processes of creating them have provided me with the emotional stability to overcome the psychological isolation I felt during the early days following my return to Bali. Now, all I feel is spiritual contentment,” Sujena said.

Soon, Sujena may also be financially satisfied. It turns out his paintings have been met with enthusiasm by collectors. “They have purchased 20 out of the 31 displayed works. It is quite an astounding achievement for a young painter in his first solo exhibition,” gallery manager Dian Ina said.

Songs of Solitude
Aug. 18-Sept. 18
Komaneka Fine Art Gallery
Jl. Monkey Forest, Ubud
Phone: 0361-976090

I Wayan Juniartha