Balinese Artist Kenyem Explores the Ultimate High

Katrin Figge | September 10, 2013  | source link :
Balinese artist Nyoman Sujana Kenyem was born and raised in Ubud, Bali, and has been exposed to cultural surroundings that are quite unique. An increasing number of tourists have been flocking to the island’s artistic hub in recent years — partly due to the success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel “Eat Pray Love” and the movie of the same title starring Julia Roberts — in search for spirituality and relaxation. But how much peace and quiet will be left to enjoy when throngs of visitors flood the town?

Is it easier to find happiness in a big city, running the risk of getting lost in the crowds and remaining anonymous, or in a tiny village in a rural area, which lacks the facilities and establishments a city has to offer?

Kenyem seeks answers to these questions in his paintings, some of which are currently on display at Philo Art Space in Kemang, South Jakarta. The exhibition, titled “Highest,” which opened on Monday and runs through Sept. 29, coincides with the gallery’s eighth anniversary.

Kenyem brings urban icons face to face with symbols of nature. In most cases, urbanism is represented by high-rise buildings that seem to be reaching for the sky, in contrast to leafy trees, juxtaposing cities with villages, and progress with tradition.

The presence of nature in Kenyem’s colorful creations is manifested in flowers, hills and mountains, confronted with skyscrapers and modern buildings.

Both elements hold their own, and there is no indication that the artist prefers one over the other.

“In his paintings, Kenyem expresses his admiration for the urban phenomenon, but also inserts subtle criticism,” says curator Tommy F. Awuy of the emerging Balinese artist, who was born in 1972. Kenyem, he adds, observes that urban people seem to be obsessed with height, flaunting it as “the power to control life as a whole.”

“Height is a concept that refers to the competition to receive the ‘ultimate high,’?” Tommy explains.

This competition is triggered by modernity, he adds, and society seems to have determined that self-fulfillment and reaching this ultimate high can only be achieved in a big city, thus many people flock to the metropoles in their countries in hope of making a better life.

“It is the place where all those hopes converge into an obsession to reach the highest place [possible],” Tommy said.

Yet, when it comes to the ever-pertinent question of whether city or village life is purest, Kenyem doesn’t take sides.

“A city is made up of a variety of existences that don’t always touch each other,” says Tommy. “But on the other hand, a city is also presenting strong communities, [with a] spirit of solidarity.”

This solidarity stems from the fact that many people are seeking to fulfill their dreams in the city, and don’t feel complete if they haven’t tried.

“Thus the spirit of solidarity, which is generally considered irrelevant in urban settings as it is seen as a typically rural spirit, is presented here boldly,” Tommy explains.

Kenyem doesn’t want to imply that one or the other makes for a better case. Through his art, he simply encourages visitors to acknowledge the fact that there is something of a battle going on between village and city, both of which have advantages and disadvantages.

It is then up to the observer to decide for themselves which they prefer to have in their lives – be it the glamorous life in a big city or a quieter existence, at one with nature. “Remember, the concrete jungle of a city is only an extension of a jungle with its trees,” says Tommy.