Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts:
Group Activity at its Best

by Michelle Chin

Komunitas Seni Rupa Lempuyang (Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts) was originally founded as Kelompok Lempuyang (Lempuyang Group) in 1988 by six artists born in Karangasem, the easternmost district of Bali. The six founder members were I Ketut Purna, I Gede Sukarda, Wayan Redika, Made Wisna S., Anak Agung Gede Ardana and Nyoman Tusthi Eddy. The ages of the 23 members range from 21 to 48 years old. The group now spans two generations with the youngest member, I Putu Dita Asta Giri (born 1981) being the son of one of the founder members, I Ketut Purna.

Wayan Redika

Ketut Jaya

The group was originally founded with the aim of providing a mutual support group for artists living in east Bali. Some of them had studied at the High School of Fine Arts (SMSR Denpasar), the College of Fine Arts (STSI Denpasar), or further afield at the Indonesian Institute of Arts (ISI), Yogyakarta. The founder members wanted the chance to get together, discuss their current work, organise exhibitions, and especially to motivate and encourage each other. They also wanted to provide an opportunity for younger artists (and would-be artists) to gather, meet and exchange ideas. In this way they were able to provide moral support, guidance and encouragement to those hoping to become full-time artists. Kelompok Lempuyang has always had an "open-door policy", accepting as members both those who are self-taught and those who have studied in fine arts institutions in Bali or Java. The group has sometimes invited non-members to participate in Kelompok Lempuyang exhibitions, and members of the Kelompok Lempuyang participated as guest artists in the Millenium Arts Exhibition held at six museums in Bali in 1999.

Kelompok Lempuyang has held exhibitions at the Department of Information Office in Amlapura (1993), Matahari Resort, Singaraja (1996), Toke Art, Buitan, Karangasem (1996), Hotel Puri Bagus, Candi Dasa, Karangasem (1996), Puri Agung & Studio Lempuyang, Amlapura (1998) and Hilton Hotel, Surabaya (1999). For the current exhibition at Taman Budaya / Art Centre, Denpasar in 2002, the group appears with its new name, Komunitas Seni Rupa Lempuyang or Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts.

The individual biodata for the members of the Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts shows participation in numerous venues throughout Bali. Members have also held solo shows or participated in group exhibitions throughout Indonesia in Jakarta, Bandung, Bogor, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Magelang, Surabaya, Gresik and Batam. In addition, several members have participated in group exhibitions held overseas in Australia, Singapore, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and England.

The group includes two winners of the prestigious Pratisara Affandi Adhi Karya award from ISI Yogyakarta (Anak Agung Suryahadi and Nyoman Sukari) and three recipients of the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia Lempad Prize (Anak Agung Suryahadi, Made Sukadana and Nyoman Sukari). Eight of the group's current membership have advanced to the finals of the Indonesian Art Awards (I Gede Sukarda, Made Sukadana, Nyoman Sukari, Wayan Setem, Nyoman Triarta, Made Dyanna, Putu Ery K., and Made Suarimbawa Dalbo). Many of the group's members have also received awards and prizes from their schools and colleges.

Nyoman Sukari

Made Suarimbawa Dalbo

Although I was already acquainted with some of the individual members of the Kelompok Lempuyang, I really only became aware of the group's existence in 1998. On New Year's Eve 1998/99 some of the members came to Ubud for the opening of a solo exhibition by Dewa Kompiang in Pengosekan. After that, they were planning to drive to the Lempuyang Art Studio in Karangasem where they would continue their celebrations of the new year. They suggested that I also drive out there, but when I saw the map they drew on a paper napkin it seemed to me that it may be hard to find the studio - it seemed to be way out in the sticks somewhere in east Bali, so in the end I decided not to go that evening.

A few months later I visited the artists at Lempuyang Art Studio. Actually, it wasn't in an isolated spot at all! In September 1998 a local businessman named Pak Budi had kindly provided the artists with a space they could use as a studio, located on Jalan Untung Surapati, a large road connecting the town of Amlapura to Tirta Gangga, Culik, Amed, and then right through to the north Bali coast. The studio itself was a Javanese joglo constructed mainly of wood, and divided up into various sections - the largest, central space was used as a studio, and another part was used for a silk-screen printing workshop which earned much-needed additional income for some members of the group.

On this visit, I noticed that there was a great camaraderie amongst the artists who would while away their time sketching and painting together. This group seemed different from other groups I had seen in Bali. I had gotten the general impression that many groups of artists were formed simply to facilitate the holding of exhibitions, and that once an exhibition project was completed, the members hardly ever saw each other. However, the Kelompok Lempuyang members actually spent a lot of time together, even though from mid-1999 to early 2002 they were not even preparing for a single group exhibition. They simply enjoyed spending time together creating art - drawings, sketches, paintings, sculptures constructed of found objects, installations erected in the grounds of the studio, wayang puppets made from cardboard then painted.

Made Budhiana
At that time, the "motor" for all this activity was Made Budhiana who used the studio in Karangasem in addition to his Denpasar studio. Budhiana was teacher, mentor, friend, advisor, provider of materials, instigator of adventures and travels, facilitator for participation in various exhibition events. He made it a point to bring the latest exhibition catalogues and arts magazines to be left in the studio for the artists to read at their leisure. He insisted that they make the effort to travel to Denpasar, Ubud or Jimbaran whenever there were interesting exhibitions being held. Budhiana motivated and led the Lempuyang artists in a variety of activities - they often had impromptu jam sessions, creating weird and wonderful music, whether they used actual musical instruments or anything at all they could get their hands on that would make some sort of interesting sound! Whenever Budhiana went to Karangasem, up to ten members of the Lempuyang group would somehow squeeze into his jeep to go off on adventures, visit friends, climb mountains, swim in rivers, walk along the beach in search of interesting flotsam and jetsam, take photographs, shoot video films, go places accessible only with a four-wheel drive jeep, and all the time they were absorbing the abstractions to be found in nature which inspired so many of their paintings. In the afternoons they went off to paint and draw in the field at one of the incredibly beautiful mountain or seaside locations in east Bali and in the evenings they would paint, sketch or draw at the studio.

Hours and hours were spent in the creation of art and talking through to the wee hours of morning. The lights were always on in the studio until at least 4 or 5 am and sometimes through to sunrise, with several artists painting straight through till morning while listening to music playing on the stereo. Many of the artists would sleep overnight, temporarily "abandoning" wife and children and family so that they could gather together with fellow artists and kindred spirits. Local residents passing by on their way to market or school or office could glimpse the "world of the artist" through the open doors of the Lempuyang Studio. And what a strange world it must have seemed to most of those who passed by - they painted all night and slept through till midday!

After observing the many activities of the Kelompok Lempuyang group at the studio in Amlapura, I thought that it was a pity that all the other artists' groups in Bali were not as active and dynamic as this one. It was definitely not the case that they held a lot of group exhibitions. It was more that they were close-knit as a group. They were actually doing things together, spending time together, creating art together, going through the process of living and learning together. It seemed to me that this was group activity at its very best.

While the artists acknowledge Pak Budi's kindness in providing a studio space to them for three years, they decided in September 2001 to move out of the Jalan Untung Surapati studio. They are now looking for a new studio where they can meet and hold their group activities as they did before. In the meantime the artists work at home without a place where they can conduct their activities together as they did from 1998 to 2001. Currently, fifteen of the members live in Bali. Of these, most live in Karangasem and some live in Denpasar.

The group is also experiencing another sort of "division by location". Eight members are located in Jogja - some have already graduated from ISI Yogyakarta and have decided to make Jogja their permanent base, while some of the younger members are still studying at ISI Yogyakarta.

As with the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia group of artists, members of Kelompok Lempuyang are spread between Jogja and Bali. In the case of both groups, members based in Jogja enjoy a more central position in the Indonesian art scene and current art market boom. Being graduates or students of ISI Yogyakarta they also hold membership to Sanggar Dewata Indonesia, a group which has consistently facilitated national and international exposure of its members. Furthermore, the Jogja-based artists are in the "centre-stage spotlight" simply for their affiliation to ISI Yogyakarta because it is where all of the major galleries, dealers, curators and collectors look for the latest new talent. The Bali-based members are geographically located further away from the bright lights of centre-stage.

Responding to this "division by location", the Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts plans to hold a group exhibition in Yogyakarta in the near future, expanding their outlook and exposing their art outside Bali. In many ways, Karangasem is an ideal place to live and work, but to achieve recognition and success in the national and international art scene, the members of the Lempuyang Community of Fine Arts are forced by circumstances to travel further afield.

Michelle Chin is a writer, translator and arts management consultant based in Jogjakarta. She has been living in Indonesia for most of the past twenty years.

[published in exhibition catalogue, Irama Kesadaran by Kelompok Lempuyang, exhibition held at Art Centre, Denpasar, Bali in May 2002]