Monday, February 25, 2008

Ubud loses Made Subrata, an artist and a teacher

Features - February 21, 2008

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Ubud

The darkened sky on that somber Monday afternoon was soon followed by a strong wind that swung the trees back and forth. The wind didn't give way even after a torrential rain hit the earth with a ferocity that drowned out any other noise.

The gloomy weather provided a perfect backdrop for the mourners, who huddled together at various places in the house. In the vacated car garage next to the house, a group of women worked in silence, preparing the intricate ritual offerings for the cremation.

A few meters to the east, in the open pavilion before the rural family's shrine, the body of Made Subrata lay on an elevated wooden divan. It was draped with sheets of batik in subdued colors and faded patterns.

Sitting on the divan was Kadek Purnami, Subrata's second child. She tried to be brave, but her flowing tears and murmuring cry betrayed her broken heart.

Every time a member of the banjar (traditional neighborhood organization) approached the body to offer condolences and take a last look on the deceased's body, Purnami's cry grew stronger. Her husband, Putu Adi, tried to comfort her to no avail.

"The rain, the wind ... it is as if Mother Nature greets my father upon his return journey to his home up there," she said.

At that time she never knew how perfectly accurate her statement would be.

Made Subrata passed away at noon on Monday, Feb. 11, at the Gianyar hospital after being treated for several days for pulmonary infection, diabetes and high blood pressure.

For his family, it was a shockingly unexpected loss. Born in 1950, Subrata was only 58-years-old when he left his earthly existence.

He hadn't displayed any sign of serious health problems prior to his brief hospitalization in Gianyar. Naturally, his family struggled hard to cope with the difficult reality.

His wife Ni Ketut Rini, his oldest child Gede Suryagiri and his daughter-in-law Koming were purposefully drowning their sorrow in the hectic preparations of the cremation ritual while Subrata's only grandchild Gede Galang was still believing "Grandpa flies to heaven and will be back soon".

The death of Subrata was more than just a personal loss for one family. Having served as the vice bendesa (chief) of Desa Pekraman (traditional village) Padangtegal, a village of four banjar and 2,600 residents, Subrata was an influential figure in his community.

"Until his death he was still serving as the head of the village council," Purnami said.

"In fact, before he got sick he held a meeting of village elders here in this house. They discussed the plan to conduct a mass ngaben (cremation) next July. Little did we know that our father would be part of the ngaben, instead of being the organizer," she added.

As one of the village's leaders, Subrata played a pivotal role in shaping the social dynamics of Padangtegal, particularly in its relationship with the tourism industry. The village lies in Ubud, one of the island's most beautiful tourist gems.

"Subrata was the co-founder of Bina Wisata, a foundation that works to ensure that any tourism development in this area is beneficial to the village, local people and local cultural heritage," another co-founder of Bina Wisata, Nyoman Suradnya, said.

The foundation later transformed Padangtegal's Monkey Forest into a profitable ecotourism destination. It is arguably the largest community-managed forest on the island.

"The revenue from the Monkey Forest is being channeled back to the community to maintain our sacred temples and fund social activities.

"In the upcoming ngaben, each participating family will receive Rp 5 million in cash assistance from the village to finance the ritual. The money comes from the Monkey Forest's profit and the decision to provide such cash assistance was made during my father's last meeting as the head of the village council," Purnami added.

The people of Padangtegal obviously didn't forget Subrata and the contributions he made to the village.

As the news of his demise spread, streams of villagers flocked to Subrata's house to offer their condolences.

Representatives from four banjar paid a formal visit to the mourning family. Representatives from the neighboring village of Pengosekan were also present, saying the two villages enjoyed a harmonious relationship during Subrata's tenure as the vice bendesa.

Such a large number of visitors was unique because when Subrata passed away none of the banjar in Padangtegal sounded their kulkul (hollow wooden drum) as a sign of mourning due to an ongoing religious festival at the village's temple.

"Usually, if a banjar member dies, the kulkul will be sounded as a sign to the other fellow members to visit the deceased house and give assistance to the mourning family.

"If there is a major festival in the village temple, the kulkul will not be sounded and the banjar's members will have no obligation to visit the deceased's home," Suradnya said.

"But they came nonetheless, and came in such large numbers. That showed Subrata was not an ordinary man," he added.

Art critic Kun Adnyana shared a similar opinion, albeit for a different reason.

"He was a good teacher, an inspiring one. He never forced us to abide by certain aesthetic parameters or a certain school of thought. Instead he always motivated us to find and establish our own, personal set of aesthetic values and goals," he said.

Kun was one of Subrata's pupils during his teaching years at the then Denpasar College of Fine Arts (SMSR).

"A good teacher who is also an accomplished artist is a rare thing to find, and Pak Subrata was an ideal example of that rarity," he said.

Kun said Subrata was a master impressionist who dedicated his aesthetic life to capturing the physical and metaphysical beauty of Balinese women.

"His works are poems of colors and personal interpretations. The women in his canvases are more than just a representation of an actual, living model, but a representation of his romanticized ideas about the beauty of life," he said.

"His death is a personal loss to me, and, I believe, to the fine arts community in Bali as a whole. He set an example of aesthetic freedom, of creating without bowing to the pressure of the market. That's the kind of thing that is difficult to find nowadays," he said.

It was almost 9 p.m. when the procession carrying Subrata's body reached the village cemetery. The weather had been quite calm. When they began to torch the body, though, the weather suddenly grew wilder. Rain hammered down as heavy wind swept the area.

A similar thing happened again three hours later when in the darkest of night they cast Subrata's ashes into the ocean at Sunrise Beach in Sanur. The quiet ocean turned violent and a tall wall of white wave hissed loudly as it seized the ash container from Suryagiri's hand. In an instant, Subrata's last remains merged with the elements of nature.

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