Richard Horstman (The Jakarta Post)
Sun, September 18, 2022
In a crisis, human ingenuity comes into play. Kelompok Seni Gotong Royong, a new Balinese art collective embracing cultural philosophies, was formed in 2020 in response to the global economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. Their original goal was to support the families of the members of the group. This vision has evolved into community arts and culture education and sharing with those in need.
“A few months into the pandemic, the local economy began to decline with international tourism shutting down. As a result, there was real concern among my artist friends,” said Rio Saren, co-founder of Kelompok Seni Gotong Royong (KSGR). The Jakarta Post. “These fears were what prompted the creation of KSGR.
“A radical shift in mindset was required to face an uncertain future and the challenges of generating a sustainable income. We had to challenge the understanding of our potential and how we can be successful in the future.”
“Balinese art once only served the community. However, the move away from the sacred with the development of the commercial art world over the last century meant that art became political and exclusive. As a result, many were marginalized and only a limited number of artists were successful,” said Saren, who graduated from the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar in 2008.
“We have refocused our art practices and focused on what has been lost from our culture through modernity.”
Founded in May 2020, KSGR aims to realize new forms of value creation inspired by the wisdom of its heritage, with sustainability and cultural renewal as essential priorities. The collective name Gotong Royong (mutual cooperation) derives from the village basis of communal sharing. The management system banjar (usual village council in Bali) is the defining model of the collective.
Sharing knowledge: Rio Saren, co-founder of Kelompok Seni Gotong Royong, shares his skills with some students from Bali Hati School. (Courtesy of KSGR) (Courtesy of KSGR/Courtesy of KSGR)
KSGR’s Sunday gatherings at Pintu Saren Art Space, behind Saren’s family compound in Sibangkaja, Badung, are a supportive environment for members to discuss ideas related to the group and their studio practice. In addition, preparing and eating food is a celebration and a form of gratitude for their blessings. The Garam Dapur Project (Salt Kitchen) is a result of these discussions.
“As an open space for food preparation and the exchange of ideas, Garam Dapur focuses on learning, experimentation and presenting exhibitions,” explained Saren. “Then we set out to develop another idea to generate sustainable income by reviving traditional terracotta practices and creating functional, unique artisan products to sell – effectively. The firing process takes place on site in a Balinese kiln.”
In 2021, KSGR began conducting midweek workshops for school groups for a small fee. Participating schools include Bali Hati School, Seva Karuna, Sekolah TK Kumara Dharmayasa, Sekolah Desa Negeri (SDN) 3 Sibang Kaja and Green School Bali. The Green School Group runs throughout 2022.
Workshops for adults and children from the region began on a donation basis in February. Each with a different theme. Participants included expatriates and tourists. The afternoon ends with sharing traditional food. As a result, awareness of KSGR is spreading and people are traveling from Denpasar and Mengwi to enjoy the unique experience.
Bright Smile: A happy participant handles clay during a terracotta workshop held by Kelompok Seni Gotong Royong. (Courtesy of KSGR) (Courtesy of KSGR/Courtesy of KSGR)
“The activities of KSGR make a relevant cultural contribution. Especially when we see kids playing games on their phones, forgetting their digital distractions and focusing on learning and creating,” said Saren’s wife, artist and mother Sumie.
“Making art traditionally from raw materials is relaxing and makes you feel like you’re back to earth,” said 27-year-old Australian tourist Sue Xu Ding. “The donation system was a welcome surprise; I think it’s a real art method. It allows participants to rate and act on their experience by paying what they see fit.”
Saren is currently in talks with SDN 3 Sibang Kaja Committee Chair Komang Suryawan to develop a permanent sustainable program for all schools, especially the early childhood age group, in Sibangkaja.
“I want to use every potential aspect and resource in my village to help develop a more prosperous community,” said Suryawan, who has a background in tourism and is the founder of Edan Community, a social and environmental initiative.
“Education doesn’t just happen in schools. Every environment is a space for learning. KSGR introduces new opportunities that can work alongside the state curriculum,” said Suryawan, who lives near Saren.
“It is important to encourage the creativity of the younger generation. I hope this program gives students the freedom to express their own ideas.”
Artwork: “Topeng Pandemi” 2021-2022, a terracotta mask installation by Kelompok Seni Gotong Royong and school children, is on display at Pintu Saren Art Space. (JP/Richard Horstmann) (JP/Richard Horstmann)
Collectives have guided the development of Balinese art. Classical Balinese religious paintings were created within unique communities known as to sing. From the 1920s, new commercial opportunities led to the formation of the first modern collectives and distinct ‘schools’ or village art styles that developed to capture the burgeoning tourism market. Contemporary art collectives began in the 1970s and continue to do so to this day. However, their goals are focused on discussing art ideas and how they can capitalize on the market. Proceeds from art sales go exclusively to the artist.
Social media has effectively increased the profiles of KSGR and the artists, particularly on Facebook, with the artists enjoying increased sales from the prominence. Both KSGR workshop models have proven their worth, and collective members receive a monthly expense allowance for all artistic materials in their personal practice. The sale of KSGR members’ art from the Pintu Saren Art Space generates revenue for the collective. Transparency is the top priority. Therefore, KSGR offers its monthly financial report to public scrutiny. KSGR’s function recently expanded and donated money to a resident of Sibangkaja in need of urgent medical attention.