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In tourist-free Bali, artists persevere through ‘darkest moment’

Bali, Indonesia – Sixty years in the past, I Ketut Soki was the delighted recipient of his first portray equipment – and since that day, he has not often put his brushes down.

“I still have the spirit to paint. I still have a lot of ideas,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

“I paint to maintain the Balinese culture. I want to show people abroad about Bali. I paint the island … harvesting, paddy fields, cultivating.”

The 72-year-old was one of many pioneers of the portray type often known as Young Artist, identified for its vigorous and vibrant depictions of Balinese life.

But the artwork scene on the island is completely different now  and lots of artists within the once-thriving cultural centre are struggling. Bali’s borders are closed to international vacationers – and of their absence, the prospects for gross sales are restricted.

“Artists feel the impact,” Soki mentioned. “Many people have stopped painting because it is so hard to sell now.”

I Ketut Soki is among the pioneers of Bali’s Young Artist portray type. He has taken to promoting his work through Instagram [Erwin Pietersz /Al Jazeera]

Each portray can take greater than 150 hours to finish however Soki says he has had no alternative however to drop his costs.

He nonetheless considers himself one of many fortunate ones as a result of, with the assistance of his granddaughter, Dewa Ayu Candra Dewi, he is ready to promote some items.

“We started to promote his paintings on Instagram at the beginning of COVID because many galleries closed,” she mentioned.

“The other day we sent a painting to the US through the post office.”

‘All I can do’

Others are fighting the brand new actuality.

For many who name this fabled island house, life modified when the borders closed.

In the village of Batuan, craftsman Wayan Madru carves and paints conventional masks. He studied this craft when he was nonetheless in main faculty.

Before the pandemic, he offered his masks to international vacationers as souvenirs.

“There are 304 families in this village and 95 percent are mask craftsmen. Because of COVID, all sales were cancelled,” he mentioned.

“Artists depend on tourism, now that is gone. We can’t find work and life is so difficult.”

He mentioned his earnings has been lowered to about $30 a month.

Some artists within the village have turned to different jobs throughout the pandemic however the 61-year-old says that isn’t an choice for him.

“I am elderly. I can’t work on a construction site, I don’t have the strength,” he mentioned.

For months, there was hypothesis about journey corridors however bold plans for Bali’s reopening have thus far come to nothing.

Still, in anticipation of that day, vaccinations for tourism employees are underneath means.

“We are very optimistic, hopefully within a short period of time, we would be able to reopen the borders for the revival of tourism and the economy,” Sandiaga Uno, the minister for Tourism and Creative Economy, mentioned.

Wayan Madru carves and decorates the masks makes use of in Balinese conventional dance. They are well-liked purchases for vacationers [Erwin Pietersz/Al Jazeera

Bali’s arts and tourism sectors are closely entwined. In normal circumstances, tour guides take travellers to galleries to see and buy the works on display but now, most guides have had to find other work and some have returned to their villages and the land.

Komang Suarmika, a guide for more than 17 years, is working on a construction site.

“We try to survive with what little we have, we sold our jewellery and other belongings,” he said. “My wife cannot work because our children are young.

“We can’t count too much on tourism for now. What I can do now is hard labour in construction. I’ll do anything for my family.”

While working as a guide, Suarmika taught himself to speak Korean – a useful skill in his previous work and one he hopes he will be able to use once again.

“Economic-wise, this is bad and painful,” he said.

“But this is a lesson for me, to be stronger mentally. And a lesson for our economy, in the future we should not only rely on one thing.”

Bali’s picturesque terraced rice fields and fascinating culture have long lured visitors. Some say the COVID-19 pandemic offers a chance to reconsider mass tourism [File: Murdani Usman/Reuters]

Indonesian environmental teams have lengthy criticised Bali’s mass tourism strategy and they’re stepping up requires a extra sustainable mannequin centred on arts, tradition and nature.

“Mass tourism has created a lot of problems. The beaches are contaminated, there are uncontrolled developments … and a water crisis,” mentioned I Made Juli Untung Pratama from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI).

“We should not rely on the quantity of tourists … mass tourism strays away from Balinese culture and way of living.”

‘Darkest moment’

Gallery proprietor Gede Susilo Dharma, who is predicated within the island’s cultural centre of Ubud, hopes that it’ll not be lengthy earlier than the vacationers return.

“It is the worst situation. The darkest moment for the tourism world. There were some incidents like the Bali bombings and volcanic eruptions. But it is worse now,” he mentioned.

The 45-year-old is the proprietor Mammoth Gallery, which sells handmade statues of wooden bought from artists across the island.

While many artists have been pressured to hunt different types of employment, Dharma says he’s attempting to maintain the standard craft alive.

He continues to fee new sculptures to help the artists – despite the fact that his income has fallen by nearly one hundred pc.

Komang Suarmika, a vacationer information for greater than 17 years, is now engaged on a building web site to earn cash after promoting jewelry and different belongings to make ends meet [Erwin Pietersz/Al Jazeera

“Wood carving is a traditional art of Bali. You need talent – you cannot learn it through formal education,” he said. “If the artists stop, such a great tradition can disappear.”

International media often refer to Bali as a resort island or tropical paradise.

But for Dharma, the island is more than that. It is home – and seeing many Balinese persevere through the economic devastation the pandemic has wrought is deeply personal for him.

While many galleries and businesses have shut down or closed their doors temporarily, the Mammoth Gallery has stayed open.

“Our gallery has to stay alive, we will never shut it down,” he said.

“I want the world to know that we are still fighting.”

Vaccination is under way in Bali – with tourism workers among those first in line – in the hope that tourism can eventually resume [File: Made Nagi/EPA]

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