TEMPO, No. 07/VII/17-23 October 2006

Street art from Budakeling
By Seno Joko Suyono (Bali)

Bali’s Ni Tanjung attracts artists and anthropologists alike. She sets up stones, piles them up and draws on them to produce unique pieces.

THE old woman laughs at a picture of herself.

That afternoon, at the end of September, artist Made Budhiana from Denpasar visited her at her hut in Banjar Jabe village, Budakeling. Budhiana brought the art magazine Visual Art, July 2005 edition. There was an article by anthropologist Jean Cocteau about the woman from Budakeling.

"Looks like my older sister who died hanging herself," said the old woman in Balinese upon seeing her face in the magazine.

The woman is insane. She is 80 years old. She is illiterate, can’t speak Indonesian at all. Accompanied by two dogs, she lived in the smelly, filthy hut with no electricity. Perhaps the cow pen next door was cleaner.

However, she stole the art world’s attention. Jean Cocteau referred to her as an "outsiders’ art" player.

That is because she collects rocks from where Gunung Agung’s lava river used to be at around Budakeling. And then, one by one she draws the faces of humans and animals. The sketches are naïve, childish, funny but “magical.”

She piles them up at a road bend not far from her hut. The shape reminds us of the old menhir and dolmen throne of rocks, a place of worship in the megalithic era. She always gives offerings such as fruits, imitation gold, and incense at the pile.

Since the end of the 1990s Made Budhiana has been routinely documenting Ni Tanjung’s activities. He’s afraid that her “rocky art” would be taken apart by the people—because they are considered to dirty the area. Together with Ktut Jaya, a local painter, he takes pictures of Ni Tanjung’s work developments.

"At first I was afraid because Ni Tanjung snapped at him. I was afraid that she’d suddenly throw things at me," recollected Budhiana. He remembers that, when he accompanied Ni Tanjung drawing, passing truck drivers would yell at him: "Don’t be too serious or you’ll become as crazy as she is."

What impresses Budhiana about Ni Tanjung’s work is that, with only with white chalk water, the drawings could look so expressive. According to Budhiana, it’s different from the tendencies of the rock or wooden statues in today’s Bali, which, because they have too many ornaments and decorations, have become sweet.

"I once gave Ni Tanjung yellow and blue paints. And it turned out that in her works were becoming more apparent figures with strange eyes and mouths. She once said that what she drew were bethara (spirits) that she saw," said Budhiana. If studied carefully, Ni Tanjung also draws many pictures of houses. Some look like puras, some like mosques. In Budakeling there is indeed a Muslim community; perhaps that was what Ni Tanjung was thinking of.

Budhiana also gave her a pair of scissors. Ni Tanjung used it to make paper puppets which she later hung in front of her hut. Budhiana also presented her with a pair of scissors to cut zinc, so that Ni Tanjung could take advantage of the used cans around her hut. Budhiana would like to see the old woman’s “creativity” to continue.

***

Among her pile of rocks, Ni Tanjung often dances, mumbles to herself, grouses, and conducts her particular rituals. It makes her increasingly a laughing stock.

However, she doesn’t mind. Her moves are nimble. Even a little coquettish. In the past, she was indeed, said the people there, an Arja and Legong dancer. "I once played a Rolling Stones song from the Jeep, and Ni Tanjung danced to it. Her moves followed Jagger’s song beat," said Budhiana.

Often when she had an “attack” she would dance carrying a small mirror. She would dance looking at her own reflection in the mirror and looked at anyone—the passers-by behind her. All her weird actions by the locals are considered insane. However, they became astonished when those resulted in something.

The trigger was apparently someone was interested in her works. One “mystery visitor”—who stayed in Ubud—paid Rp15 million for the rocks through a village official. This caused a “furor” among the villagers. It seems that there was someone who was more “insane” than the real insane person. "The buyer was reportedly Kartika Affandi," said Budhiana.

The huge sums did not go to her at all. Ni Tanjung’s expression suddenly changed when Ktut asked about it. It looked as if she was confused and as if about to run amok. "As far as I’m concerned, the money was kept by the family or village, for Ni Tanjung’s cremation later," said Wayan Redika, a painter from a neighboring village.

Suddenly Ni Tanjung went inside her hut and emerged holding her mirror. “My mother brought me this from Yogya." She then lifted it above her head, looked up, swaying flirtatiously, and went down the asphalt road to her “throne of rocks.” She danced coyly, surprising cars driving by.

"Jayaprana and Layonsari…" she yelled to Made Budhiana and Ktut Jaya. Her eyes wide open darting here and there, she sang about the everlasting love between Jayaprana and Layonsari. Her voice became increasingly audible when she copied the movements of the figures in the drama. She continued to sing, even as we bade farewell.

That afternoon, from the “altar of Ni Tanjung’s shrine," we left for Tirta Gangga. From there is a straight path to the former bathing location of the kings in Puri Karangasem, although when we return to Denpasar we must pass the old woman’s way again.

And when we returned, the surprising thing was that Ni Tanjung was still on her “throne of rocks.” In the darkness of the night, under the faint glow of the moon she was sitting all alone. Her right hand was holding a brush, her left handling a rock. Looking serious, she was painting.

Ni Tanjung, good night.