An Island Goes Silent for a Day

This year April Fools Day and Nyepi – the Balinese New Year – occur on the same day, so while the tricksters and jokers abound in the western world, the island of Bali goes silent for a day of personal introspection. With different parts of the world teetering and wobbling in unimaginable directions, this juxtaposition of events happening on April 1st somehow seems appropriate.  As for me I’m off to the borderlands tomorrow where bishops from near and far will be praying for immigration reform and for those who have died trying to cross into the U.S.

But let’s go back to the southern hemisphere and meet the Ogoh-Ogoh monsters who cleanse the Island of the Gods on New Year’s Eve.

There is rap and hip-hop blaring on the neighboring street of Jalan Sugriwa in Ubud, but this is somehow incongruous with the normal sounds of scooters, horns, gamelan bands, roosters and barking dogs.  A group of teenage boys are rocking out while they delicately bend thin stems of bamboo for the frame of the Ogoh-Ogoh monster they are constructing for a raucous exorcism held on the eve of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year and day of silence.

The Balinese New Year is the day the island shuts down in quiet meditation and reflection on the values you personally want to embrace for the coming year.  The streets are silent, the airport is closed and the only people on the roads are the pecalang – the traditional security men on patrol to make sure no-one wanders outside.  The silence is also thought to trick the evil spirits into believing the island is deserted so they can take their mischief elsewhere. The week leading up to Nyepi is filled with traditional cleansing rituals in all the homes, villages and temples across the island, but the highlight has to be after sunset on new year’s eve, for this is when the ogoh-ogoh hit the streets.

These five to ten foot papier mâché monsters first appeared as part of the festivities in the early 1980’s and depicted figures from the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata tales.  The close of the Suharto regime in 1998 ended years of artistic and social suppression so it is little wonder that the monsters paraded today are as likely to depict corrupt politicians, drunks, gamblers and popular comic and film characters as the figures from the epic stories. These enormous monsters symbolize all the evil that must be exorcised before the New Year.

Let’s get back to dusk on the eve of Nyepi.  Evil spirits are first evicted from the home compounds and as they all tumble into the street they are herded towards the village intersection where large quantities of offerings are piled.   Everyone is on the street with flaming torches, the gamelan bands are playing, and the ogoh-ogoh monsters are hoisted high on the shoulders of the village youth as everyone parades around the village and converge on the intersection. Elaborately choreographed fights between the monsters lead to a fiery finale  as the ogoh-ogoh go up in flames in the ultimate act of cleansing.

Photos by J. A. Nasser. © 2012

Previously posted on the old Janvango travel site and here last year.

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Mock-Up

I have a whole new appreciation for editors and publishers – I thought I could quickly pull together a few sample pages of my proposed book – was I wrong.  I wouldn’t bore you with all the angst and details but I now have it in hand and here it is.  You can see all the pages under the Prickly Pear tab ….  let me know what you think.  This is part of the package that I am going to shop around for some endorsements and hopefully some sponsors.  The rest is just the usual grant writing stuff and have also included the short video from Aceh, Indonesia that many of you have already seen.

Final packing and I’m off in the morning to Palermo, Sicily!  I’ll keep you up to date on everything, I promise.

1.Title Page

 

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Rebuilding the Tambaks (fishponds) in Aceh

The 2004 tsunami that devastated most of the coastlines of Asia also destroyed the livelihood of millions.  Here is a look at one small village in the Province of Aceh, Indonesia where the traditional fishponds, or tambaks as they are known locally, were rebuilt with local villagers working together with international aid organizations.

(There is a second version of this video in Indonesian for the benefit of the generous local people who so kindly let us tell their story. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0K7XpUpEMs)


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In the Studio with I Made Budhiana

We introduce to you……….one of the foremost contemporary artists in Bali.

I Made BudhianaIt is our third attempt to meet up with Made (pronounced mah-day) Budhiana, and I’m getting a little nervous.  His studio is in the capital city of Denpasar, about a half an hour drive from Ubud.  Our driver, also named Made (that’s another story), is demonstrably irritated. I don’t think he likes Denpasar. I don’t think he likes driving. He huffs and puffs through the streets, commenting on the craziness of drivers but there is no such thing as road rage in Bali so he doesn’t vent his anger.  Twice now we have fallen victim to the Balinese phenomena known as “rubber time”. Imagine the Mexican “mañana” and multiply it by 100.  Made is having trouble finding Budhiana’s studio but after a phone call, we meet up with him at a crossroad (I’m so relieved to see him) and follow him  through the pot-holed  backstreets to Snerayuza, his studio and second home.

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Budhiana in the studio17

Snerayuza is an artist’s dream studio.  One, huge light-filled room with a mezzanine – a loft-style bedroom – the high walls are filled with his work, his friends’ work, Mick Jagger and Guns and Roses rock posters, and a whole variety of tchotchke that would make any artist envious. His backyard has an antique Javanese granary re-purposed as a treehouse/guesthouse for friends, an outdoor satay grill, huge volcanic rock sculptures and a giant flat rock used as a stage for impromptu performances – a common occurrence at Snerayuza. Made immediately offers coffee and we talk about music, we both share our love for Radiohead and he quickly pulls out a concert dvd and plays it.  We talk for hours about art, his wonderful studio and grounds that he has opened up to anyone wanting to be creative. While we were there a group of teenagers convene in his backyard after school, and a friend and fellow artist and writer, Aant S. Kawisar from Yogyakarta, stops by.  Budhiana is continuously documenting his life, in real time, so he pulls out his camera and films us filming him in a surreal exchange.

I Made Budhiana is one of the leading contemporary artists in Bali whose style is constantly evolving and challenging the norm. We caught up with Budhiana at one of a series of art events he put on called “Art, Shit, & Parasite”.   This event included a dialogue on process-art, a performance of Kidung-Jiwa (song of the soul) where original poetry is sung to a contemporary musical arrangement, paintings were exhibited “carpet-style” and video-art digitally painted and projected in real time by the artist Haidai.

We are pulling together a short documentary on this amazing artist – so stay tuned.

Enjoy, and a big thank you to I Made Budhiana for sharing his work and home with us.

Originally posted on 22nd January, 2012 on my travel blog Janvango.

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Faces Around Bali

Bali Visbs002

 

From kids to contemporary artists, poets and musicians, and from the farms in the mountains to the spectacular ceremonies, the faces are as diverse and dignified as you would find anywhere on earth.

Enjoy this short slideshow ………

Originally posted on my Janvango travel blog on 19th January, 2012

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Ogoh-Ogoh Monsters

There is rap and hip-hop blaring on the neighboring street of Jalan Sugriwa in Ubud, but this is somehow incongruous with the normal sounds of scooters, horns, gamelan bands, roosters and barking dogs.  A group of teenage boys are rocking out while they delicately bend thin stems of bamboo for the frame of the Ogoh-Ogoh monster they are constructing for a raucous exorcism held on the eve of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year and day of silence.

Continue reading

The Balinese New Year is the day the island shuts down in quiet meditation, and reflection on the values you want to embrace for the coming year.  The streets are silent, the airport is closed and the only people on the roads are the pecalang – the traditional security men on patrol to make sure no-one wanders outside.  The silence is also thought to trick the evil spirits into believing the island is deserted so they can take their mischief elsewhere. The week leading up to Nyepi is filled with traditional cleansing rituals in all the homes, villages and temples across the island, but the highlight has to be after sunset on new year’s eve, for this is when the ogoh-ogoh hit the streets.

These five to ten foot papier mâché monsters first appeared as part of the festivities in the early 1980’s and depicted figures from the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata tales.  The close of the Suharto regime in 1998 ended years of artistic and social suppression so it is little wonder that the monsters paraded today are as likely to depict corrupt politicians, drunks, gamblers and popular comic and film characters as the figures from the epic stories. These enormous monsters symbolize all the evil that must be exorcised before the New Year.

Let’s get back to dusk on the eve of Nyepi.  Evil spirits are first evicted from the home compounds and as they all tumble into the street they are herded towards the village intersection where large quantities of offerings are piled.   Everyone is on the street with flaming torches, the gamelan bands are playing, and the ogoh-ogoh monsters are hoisted high on the shoulders of the village youth as everyone parades around the village and converge on the intersection. Elaborately choreographed fights between the monsters lead to a fiery finale  as the ogoh-ogoh go up in flames in the ultimate act of cleansing.

 

Photos by Jorge A. Nasser.  This year Nyepi was celebrated on 23rd March, 2012

(Originally posted 18th April, 2012 in my travel blog Janvango)

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La Noche de Rábanos or The Night of the Radish

La Noche de Rábanos

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These radishes aren’t for eating

they are mammoth, gnarly roots that are carved into elaborate sculptures depicting everything from the Virgin de Guadalupe to gazebos, whimsical grasshoppers and entire village scenes.

Welcome to Oaxaca, Mexico!

 

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The zocolo in the center of town is always a hub of activity but on December 23rd barricades go up and the square is closed off until early evening when La Noche de Ràbanos begins.

 Thousands throng past the displays, judges judge, and a grand prize of $13,000 pesos (~ $1,300USD) is at stake.

tents in zocolo

Let’s go behind the scenes to El Tequio Park near the airport where these monster radishes are grown. Starting on the 18th December the harvest begins and truckloads are delivered to the artisans who will work their magic….

On the morning of the 21st the kids arrive armed with shovels and trowels

and then in the afternoon they all gather to carve and sculpture their own masterpieces under the watchful eyes of parents and teachers.

Courtyard

Plastic knives don’t work too well

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So the real sharp ones come out in all shapes and sizes

There’s not a scrape or cut or drop of blood anywhere to be found and there is deep, deep concentration

Some of these carvings are as good as you see in the Zocolo …on The Night of the Radish

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Back in the Sonoran Desert

We don’t always have to travel to far lands to find compelling stories – they are all around us.

“Cuisine of the Desert: Foraging for Cholla Buds”, starring Tucson ethnobotanist Martha Burgess, as she leads a workshop on one of our prickly native foods. We don’t always have to travel to far lands to find compelling stories – they are all around us.

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