A muse inspires while a lover enjoys, but it is a mother that nurtures and protects. In the art world there are many muses and lovers that entice and enthrall artists, but few “care givers” to help protect their creations. This slightly less visual yet crucially important task is the baby (pun intended!) of the Art Restorer.
At times a work of art might need to be revived through skilled restoration techniques, but as prevention is better than cure, art can also be preserved through chemical and scientific conservation techniques. Perhaps making this field slightly more scientific in nature, but it’s the love involved during the process that essentially links it with the nurturing aspects of parenthood;
Indonesia is a country with an abundance of ancient cultures, artifacts and artisans’ relics to restore from past generations. It is also a hive for raw, young and upcoming artists needing to preserve their work for future generations. Art reflects on the past and present as it imitates life, but the insight to glance forward to the future is of vital importance. In the world where globalization can often neglect aesthetic ethnic preservation and authenticity, the services of a restorer adds value to any new and old art piece.
One such” mother” or restorer, I have had the honor of meeting, is the benevolent Italian national named Michaela Anselmini. Being a cum laude graduate from the Artistic School and a certified restorer of antique and modern art by Vedeco in Milan makes her au fait for the task at hand. It is however her years of experience and accolades in past projects that impressed the crème de la crème of the art world and has made her almost a celebrity in this obscure field and closed circle in Europe.
Looking into Michaela’s big blue eyes can be mesmerizing, as it reflects the extraordinary tales of what her hands have touched and healed through the years. As a fresh graduate she immersed herself in her craft by restoring antique art at Comolli Luca’s Restoration while broadening her field of interest and expertise in preserving modern, contemporary art at the studio of Renata Knes. It did not take a free independent spirit like hers much time to establish her own studio where her clientele included the prominent galleries and artists of the Italian art panorama. Remaining the bailiwick within her field has inspired her to continually update her knowledge by attending seminars and courses that introduce the latest techniques and products available to restorers.
Her adventurous nature has made her spread her wings to live and work in other countries besides her homeland of Italy. She was even appointed as an art curator by the Minister of Tourism, Art and Culture in the Maldives! And in 2010 I had the luck to meet her on the island of the gods, Bali. In Ubud she was the manager of the art gallery Gaya Fusion, and among the list of her accomplishments is the opening of the Naka Contemporary Art Gallery in Seminyak. Word gets around in Bali, and an entrepreneur like her is an asset to any company. So it comes as no surprise that Biasa Art Space also saw the benefit of absorbing her talents and skills and presenting it to be utilized by the artistic community within the ring of fire. Unfortunately Indonesia has lost this surrogate mother of arts to another country, as she currently resides in Egypt and who knows where next?
Art in Asia.
Meantime back in the tropics of South East Asia weather conditions make it an ideal holiday destination all year round, but for artwork it’s a veritable torture chamber that accelerates the aging process to devastating and near fatal levels in no time flat. The high humidity creates the ideal breeding ground for fungi and bacteria that can completely transform a work of art into a piece of garbage. Canvasses stretch and acidity levels rise. Regardless if your medium is paint, ink or plaster the prognosis of the elements suggests only one thing… Disaster!
How Art is Restored and Preserved.
Methods and services provided by an art restorer include digital documentation, ultraviolet scanning, resin embedment, anti fungal treatments, hot and cold relining of canvases, and enzyme or anionic cleansing. For art made from gold, silver and copper gilding, by using the gauche method, is required. In actual fact, Michaela use to do all of this and much more. She has also been extremely generous in sharing her knowledge and ability, by explaining and illustrating to anybody who might be interested in this field of expertise, or who would just like to know how to take care of their art.
We take care of what we love. We take care of things that are valuable. An Art Restorer’s services are of cardinal importance to the preservation and conservation of art and humanity in general. If you plan to buy, export or import art in Indonesia, or anywhere in the world for that matter, make sure to consult an art restorer beforehand, or be prepared to cut your losses. To destroy art should actually be a federal offence as art should be adored the same way children aught to be.
How often do you sit and contemplate about where you are going and what is the purpose of it all? There is a wise Indonesian proverb that goes: “Hanya Tuhan dan sopir Bajaj yang tahu kemana arah dan tujuannya,” using Google it directly translates to “Only God and Bajaj driver who knows where the direction and purpose.”
Living in Jakarta you cannot help but notice the Bajaj’s or Tuk-Tuk’s, as they are famed in India, the country they are imported from. Mostly bright orange with tacky stickers, or the so-called environmentally friendlier gas fueled blue colored ones, are little noisy smoke-belching three wheel transporters that take passengers on short trips around residential areas at a bargained fare – though it may feel it is your life you may end up paying with while in one of them!
EASY to get around?
Recently I got asked if it is “easy” to get around in Jakarta. It made me realize that there is no straight forward “yes” or “no” reply to this question, it entails an epic tale of chaotic proportion involving a speculated population of 10 to 20 million people trying to get somewhere every day, for whatever purpose by any means possible, via congested narrow streets, toll roads, multi-lane fly overs and notorious one ways filled with pot-and manholes. And after three years in The Big Durian I have traveled by many means, and sometimes without any specific destination in mind, but the sheer decadent desire to get taken for a ride.
The Blue Bird Group.
Most expats or “bule” do travel in the lap of luxury with having their own car and driver, but the first vital travel trip to foreign visitors of the city is to ONLY use Blue Bird taxis, or the same company’s high-end Silver Bird option, when you want to get to and from the airport or around Jakarta. With plenty of these clearly marked blue Toyota or black Mercedes-Benz sedans in circulation, it does make travelling relatively easy and safe. The deterrent of being “kidnapped” or taken on a long joyride in other taxi operators is used to endorse loyalty to this reliable company’s service. However I have never had the misfortune to experience the latter, I have had the odd joyride in a Blue Bird…
The oddity of the Blue Bird odyssey is how I can telephonically order a Blue Bird taxi to collect me at my place of residence and they find it on time by themselves, but when I want to get back home the next taxi I get into has no idea where I live, never even heard the street name! And in this day of technological advancement many a Blue Bird taxi driver has stopped, left me alone in the car, and “asked” for directions from people in the street while the meter keeps running. I did start to suspect that perhaps my lack of being fluent in Indonesian and my friendly gullible manner has made me vulnerable to these types of advances, so the survival instinct kicked in. As soon as I got in a taxi, I leaned forward and photographed the taxi driver’s ID Card and Taxi Number on the dashboard with my cellular phone and then firmly yet friendly stated my destination, worked like a bomb every time. The Blue Bird Group follows up all complaints, you can even tweet your concerns, plus it is also very handy to know your taxi’s number in case you leave any valuables behind inside the taxi. In my experience they have always returned it. Once it was returned by the driver before I even noticed I had forgotten it!
After taming the Blue Bird I felt the need for infidelity and used the Express Taxi Group and now also take occasional rides in WHITE Toyota sedans. Much to my surprise there was no thrill of a joyride with Express. Slightly cheaper I have been impressed that the service compares very well. One evening I got in an Express and was pleasantly entertained by a grammatical and phonetically perfected English speaking driver. Taking me on a short cut or “jalan tikus”, I still somehow managed to prolong the journey in order to chit-chat, and learned that he had worked on an oil rig in the United States of America before returning to the Republic of Indonesia. As a matter of interest I asked why he does not drive a Silver Bird, as being fluent in English is a requirement to be a Silver Bird driver. He explained to me that with Express he is the owner of his own taxi and only has to pay the company a minimal fee to be linked to them, making him a business man or entrepreneur rather than just a taxi driver.
Trans Jakarta Bus Way.
As for public transport most people look in horror at the Trans Jakarta Bus Way Service. The bus way has its own designated lane and route with a growing number of stops. I on the other hand saw an opportunity to mentally map out Jakarta by taking a cheap Rp 3 500 trip ALL around the city using Trans Jakarta. I got in the bus one day and sat right in front on the steps, next to the driver, and admired the city from this front seat BIG window elevated street view. This option however is no longer available to me as they have reserved the front seats of the bus for female passengers only, a sign that they are committed to providing a service that keeps the public’s needs in mind. The air-conditioned bus way can be very crowded at peak times, but in the day between 10am and 3pm, it is a pleasure to use as you can actually get a comfortable seat. Not many foreigners use the bus way making you feel like you having more of an authentic local workforce-class lifestyle experience.
BUT it does not get any more horrific than the haphazard Metro Mini bus service. I would not advice the faint of heart to take a trip on one of these busses, but then again I did it, as I am a bit of a dare devil and could not resist the adrenaline rush. First of all this bus stops anywhere and never comes to a full stop, which means you end jumping on and off a moving vehicle. There is always a driver and his sidekick hanging halfway out the bus calling passengers and collecting the Rp 2 000 fee. On one of my daring trips this wing-man had a brick in his hand, as we started driving in heavy traffic up a hill I realized why. Every time the bus had to stop, due to the gridlock, the wingman jumped out and placed the brick behind the bus’ back wheel to prevent it from rolling backwards into the car behind us; as the brakes where obviously not functioning at an optimal standard level. What made the trip on this free range roller-coaster even more colorful, was the street musician that jump on with a guitar and start making music, and then promptly went around collecting change for his solo performance afterwards, before jumping off the bus again. You really feel like you’re roughing it and that you are lost in a strange world after a trip in one of these busses, with no air conditioning and HARD often upholstered less seats – prepare for a very bumpy junkyard pimped ride.
Then there are also smaller “Angkot” or “Mikrolet” mini vans that run on short routes through the smaller streets. Very convenient if one happens to run past your house, and you need to make it to civilization, or to the main road to wave a Blue Bird. The initial shock and novelty wears off fast, and in no time you get recognized, picked up and dropped off for a very small amount of money. The seat in front next to the driver is the best one in this vehicle, or else you might end up being squashed in like a sardine in the seat less back section of the van!
An “ojek” is another way for the more adventurous and culturally inaugurated traveler to get somewhere FAST. Basically you end up, luckily with a helmet, as a passenger on a scooter being whisk around, as if you’re on Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000, through the traffic, at times almost on the sidewalk and never in a proper lane, to where you need to be or what you fear might be your final destination, whichever comes first! It is always a sigh of relieve to get off, pay the driver and think “never again.” Until the next time you are in a race against time. This service is not to be sneered at, they have become much respected and you can even book an “ojek” online at www.go-jek.com
Taking the train.
I have even travelled by train to the Monas from Stadium Station in Kota , but found this was a bit of a balancing act having to stand the entire journey in a crowded coach. Completely lost in translation it was also hard to follow and know where to get off. My fellow passengers were very helpful and I wasn’t pick-pocketed as cautioned by friends when I announced that I would give a train a try. I would however strongly recommend an overnight FIRST CLASS trip to Yogyakarta from Jakarta using the train (I have done that prior to this inner city commute). Very comfortable with refreshments and flatbed seats makes the time fly while you sleep and wake up in a different city several hours later ready and rested.
How about driving yourself or walking??
Walking or driving yourself is not advisable, but once again tried and tested. I have driven both a scooter and automatic car in Jakarta and found myself almost in a Trans driving in the same direction as so many other people. With hardly any road rage incidents, as long as you going along with the traffic like a sheep, it makes sense, but to turn around or change direction… Out of the blue a random pedestrian or uniformed guard (whoever has the whistle) will appear like a fairy and blow his whistle and stop oncoming traffic for you. Politely tip this traffic controller; it’s not a Good Samaritan’s deed but a service after all! As for walking doing it anywhere else besides in a mall is inhumane. There are hardly any sidewalks and the humidity will leave you sweating and dripping like an old radiator, if you do not get instant lung failure from the traffic fumes! Long walks in Jakarta are best to have indoors without clearing your mind, but stimulating your senses and opening up your wallet with all the food and branded clothing shops inside the many malls.
Ready. Steady. Go!
Keeping in mind that scooters and motorbikes, with up to four passengers on each, swarm like angry bees on the streets and ruined remains of the sidewalks then ADD the Busses, Mini Vans, Taxis, Trucks, Bajaj’s and Private Cars to the equation – your head should be buzzing at the thought but the reality is even worse: Although toll roads are “bee” and bus free, they are also gridlocked regularly. The possibility of getting around Jakarta “easy” seems highly unlikely. A fellow South African once commented, after I collected him from the airport, that Jakarta’s traffic made Cairo’s traffic look like Kindergarten… Rumors have it that Jakarta might get a MRT (like in Singapore) and that Bajaj’s might get banned, but until then be assured that the moment you know your way around it gets “easy” or “easier”. Unless if it is raining or Friday. On those occasions do not attempt to leave your house, or if you at the office, rather work overtime. And always, always travel with an emptied bladder!
You may wonder how on earth it could possibly be “easy”. The answer lies in that proverb. No matter where you find yourself in life or where you think, or would like to go, it will become “easy” the moment you learn to let go and just go with the flow and take it “easy” for a change. Whether you in your Private Car with a driver or a Bus, or find yourself on an “ojek”, the direction and purpose of your journey at the end of the day is only known by God… or the Bajaj driver.
One day the birds of the world, those whose songs we’ve heard, those whose songs are already forgotten and those whose songs we don’t yet know, gathered together for a great Conference.
A Conference in Ubud
Let me tell you a story. In the vicinity of Ubud is a village called Petulu. It is a beautiful village, with roughly 4,500 people and 15,000 birds! It is, in fact, a bird sanctuary. Just before dawn, it becomes the roosting ground of thousands of herons and egrets. While most herons migrate yearly, this particular flock appeared first in 1966 and remains here all year round. Local legend has it that these herons are the souls of the Balinese people slaughtered during the communist purge in 1966. Since there was no opportunity for traditional Balinese cremations, only a mass ceremony was held. Thus, to this very day, there are ceremonies specifically to honor the birds twice a year. It is not permitted to hinder these herons, as they are believed to be the embodiment of those tortured and heroic souls.
In the 1970s, well known theatre and film director, Peter Brook, along with Jean-Claude Carriëre, produced a play entitled “Conference of the Birds,” inspired by the mystical Sufi poem, written by Farid ad-Din Attar in 1177 AD. They toured their visionary masterpiece through rural Africa and it instinctively, like birds do, took flight and graced audiences in New York City and Paris.
I find it interesting that Farid ad-Din Attar was a practicing apothecary. As a chemist, he prescribed and prepared both pharmaceutical and holistic remedies. Coincidently, Ubud’s name is also derived from a word for medicine “Ubad,” which is also a medicinal herb that grows at the riverbanks of the village. It is believed to have great healing powers.
Though it may seem inconsistent with all these facts and fables, three decades later, “Conference of the Birds” arrived, or reincarnated, into Ubud (the cultural and creative capital of Bali, voted best city in Asia 2010). In collaboration with the 7th annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and displaying the tenacious talents of theatre fireFly, an Ubud based community theatre company, a new rendition of “Conference of the Birds” was able to soar.
Preparations and past productions.
Earlier this year, the “chick stage” production of “Conference of the Birds” was performed around schools and venues in Bali. Assisted with choreography by former celebrated European ballet dancer, Max Tichauer, the story was told through dance and drama, innocently portrayed by children, who were cast as the various birds. Those fortunate enough to catch the spectacle, at venues such as the Bali Zoo, praised the high caliber performance and professional delivery by these mere chicks/children!
Looking back at last year, during the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, theatre fireFLY managed to delight and entertain audiences at the Arma Museum in Ubud with their adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespeare, to any English speaking person, needs absolutely no introduction whatsoever. However, distinct Balinese elements influenced the storytelling, as an element of surprise and cultural coalition, making this performance a phenomenal experience for the tourist, expatriate and local market.
This production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was so successful: it instantly earned theatre fireFLY a respectable reputation, and cemented them within the Ubud community. Another Shakespearian play would seem to be an obvious choice to follow. After all, there are so many to choose from! What about Macbeth, or Othello? How about projecting the tragic Hindu tale of Rama and Sita onto Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet,” by making alterations to the script, costumes or set?
Farah Michelle Kimball, a Bali based Sufi Scholar, offers the following insight:
The stories in “The Conference of Birds” have captivated generations of readers. How is it that some theater and literature endures through the centuries? Like Shakespeare, Attar deals with the nature of love, the human spirit, the nature of the world – the inner mysteries that do not change over time. These Mysteries of the world may be obscured in our modern age, but they never lose their relevancy!
It is not a predictable, commercially risk free, recipe that theatre fireFLY director Rehane Abrahams follows when deciding on a new project. It’s the unpredictable labyrinth of inspiration that is guiding her, as she keeps her heart and third eye wide open while searching for a new challenge. Dwelling in the knowledge that being true to her inner-self will set her passions free, she believes that her audience will follow her inspired pathway, and keep buying tickets to see her auspicious productions.
As a benefit, and displaying her trust, devotion and belief in bringing “Conference of the Birds” to life, Rehane performed a one women show at Gaya Fusion in Sayan, Ubud. Adapted from the 2000 BC Sumerian myth “Turning the Ear – The Descent of Inanna” was accompanied by eclectic live music, performed by Oded Carmi, and a video installation by new media artist No.E Sakana. With a fusion of African, Indonesian and Butoh dance, and Rehane’s hair-razing acting, vocalization and trapeze artistry, the show was a mental ravishment. It was a bold example of her capabilities, and bloody bagus talent, when she is launched onto a stage.
A New Production
Rehane feels that the theatre the company makes is ceremonial. In her words:
Theatre must function as more than entertainment. Otherwise, what’s the point? fireFLY shows are rituals, they have their own internal logic and respond to the cultural forms around them which, in our context, is Balinese. “Inanna” and “Conference of the Birds” formed a yin-yang/above-below/rua-bhinneda (black and white) with “Inanna” being the tabuh rah (blood sacrifice) and “Conference of the Birds,” the high ceremony. This manifested naturally with the rehearsal space for “Inanna” being next to a cockfight ring. It would’ve been perfect to perform there, with the blood on the floor, but I chickened out!”
And so, a new production of “Conference of the Birds” emerged from the cloud of fairy dust left by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and partly funded by midwife “Descent of Inanna.” With the intention of projecting a bird’s eye view of the truth, through a symbolic and timeless tale of thirty birds on a mystical journey to find the Simorgh.
Adult actors, cast as the Hoopoe, Peacock, Nightingale, Sparrow, Hawk, Parrot and Partridge, lured audiences of all ages to the Ubud Maya Resort and Spa’s amphitheater for five live performances from 6-10 October 2010. This majestic setting was the perfect venue for what can only be described as a rare, soulful theatrical treat.
The starlit open sky acoustics echoed the live angelic sounds of classically trained Anello Capuano’s music, against the backdrop of a misty green river gorge. The actors performed goose-bump inducing choreography by Eliat Tovi, and sang sounds organically acquired by training with Julie Oliver, infused with the fruitful labor of six months of rehearsals and development of a unique hybrid intercultural acting technique, at the Purnati Centre of the Arts.
Finding the Inner God
Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wandered into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside”
A grounding principal of Sufism is to be taught the ability to learn. As the thirty birds travel through seven valleys (symbolizing Yearning, Love, Gnosis, Detachment, Divine Unity, Bewilderment and Selflessness or Subsistence in God) in search of the Simorgh, it is all in preparation to learn.
Ironically, “Simorgh” means “Thirty Birds” in Persian, and at the end of their journey they find; thirty birds, YES, they find themselves! The lesson being that; GOD IS WITHIN US. What could possibly properly prepare any bird/person to realize that God dwells within you and through you?
As we live in the exiting world of confusion and free will, each individual or group makes their own choices and travel their own valleys, keeping in mind that freedom has its responsibilities. Variety is the spice of live, and although predominantly Muslim today, the historic Spice Islands, and the modern day archipelago of Indonesia, are home to an endless variety of gods and spiritual beliefs.
Following the story of “Conference of the Birds,” I chased understanding and embarked into a valley where I too have never ever been; my inner God. A place can shape you, and experiences certainly do. My eyes view religion as the external veil humans use, to wrap or drape over and around themselves in representation of what they internally believe. Through their rituals and ways of life, they expose their true inner God.
During this journey I realized my own religion. Within me lies a love for the place I had to fly to, like a bird, as I wasn’t born there. My love affair is in deed with a place rather than a person. This Utopia I have wrapped around me is Ubud. And the ability to let God dwell within you, and through you, with love; I famed too simply be part of – “UBUDISM.”
Thus the birds lost themselves in their desire
To be one with him who consumed them with his fire.