Who is the richest man in Bali? The answer to this question appears upon to sign boards advertising just about any Balinese craft studio. The answer is ‘Made’….-who?-Made-to-order’. This joke hints at the insidious in Bali of the culture of the market. The term ‘order’ is a command, directed at the producer. Sometimes it involves the payment of a deposit, sometimes it does not. Order is a new mantra, which spells hope for many producers and exporters. Deposit or not, it is undoubtedly a contract, with a packet of money at the end of the production process.
In amongst the hassle of Kuta or the noisy traffic of Ubud, traders watch eagerly, hoping that some rich crazy will buy everything in their shop. With its street vendors, shops, galleries and art shops, Bali is heaven for any shopper, from the big spender to the penny pincher. It also happens to be the capital of the handicraft trade. In Bali, you can buy anything from carved Alaska seal horns to tribal Australian aboriginal trinket.
In cultural tourism’s earliest stages, Bali’s handicraft market was overloaded with local traditional products. In the latter part of the eighties, however, pop art and primitive designs began to make their way into the local industry, that is, became less ethno-centric, more modern, even if the production techniques remained very much traditional.
In a remote corner of Tampaksiring, seal horns are made into crafts that will sell well in Alaska as Eskimo art. The buyer, perhaps an Indonesian or Balinese tourist in Alaska may well have no inkling that the product was made in Bali. The horns are imported from Alaska, carved in Bali and sent back for the Alaskan market. The Makers are tropical Inuit, who have never even seen a flake of snow. In another corner of Ubud or Kerobokan some people carve didgeridoos, decorated with Aboriginal dots and lines, bound for down under. Again, the tourist in Australia would have no clue that the aborigines who made these souvenirs live overseas and frequently attend temple ceremonies.
Similarly, many non-Balinese Indonesian crafts, including traditional ‘Papuan’ and ‘Kalimantan’ souvenirs, are also made in Bali-because the Balinese, so the story goes, can make anything. Anything, that is, so long as there is a demand, for Balinese handicrafts are always ‘made to order’.
CULTURE AND HARMONY
Many people fear the deterioration of Balinese culture. However, what is taking place now is in fact the proliferation of culture, whereby out of Balinese cultural tourism, a commodity culture, a culture of marketing, has been born. It is superseding over the agrarian culture that makes the island famous.
Since the 1920s, when the ‘island of bare breaths’ shook the world, the term ‘Balinese culture’ has served as a mantra to evoke lush tropical beauty in both its inanimate and human senses. That Baliis widely understood as unique in this regard is invoked in West Papuan born Tapitalu’s wry remark that “the Balinese are lucky in that their cultural resources are richer than their cultural resources. In Kalimantan or in Papuan, the natural environment is much more attractive to wealthy visitors than the local culture.” Tapitalu offered a cheeky grin before going on to explain that for the sake of their “attractive natural resources”, many of these islands’ communities have been alienated from their homelands as, tree by tree, their forest were obliterated and, grain by grain, their earth dug up. In his view, as their timber and minerals “went global” and the payment for those resources went straight to Jakarta, the locals have gone nowhere at all. Seen from this angel, so many local cultures have been lost to modern economic reasoning, as om islands like Papua and Kalimantan the term ‘traditional culture’ does not have the same mantra like status as it does in Bali. There, nature is an important commodity and ‘culture’ an annoying obstacle to its development.
But in Bali this is not the case or so they say. In Bali, nature and culture coexist, and do so beautifully many claim, in spite of the fact that here, too, many people are protesting against over development, environmental destruction and the exploitation of local people and their culture- protestations to which the bureaucrats predictably retort: “Which people, and how many of them are there?” they retort, for everything in Bali is natural and beautiful-or so they say.
The construction of this image of Bali began with the Puputan, the heroic cum tragic ritual suicide of the Balinese knights, which they chose over succumbing to the Dutch invaders, in 1906. to save face before the civilized world of pre world war I, the Dutch colonizers pre-served and promoted the island intervesily, thus confirming for the European adventurer that Bali indeed harboured an enticing mystery. Thereafter, Balinese artworks were made available to a much had hitherto been the case, as tourists took gifts from the colonies back home with them. Many of them remain there, in museums and private collections.
In the 1930s, Walter Spies and his expatriate associates, along with a number of Ubud aristocrats, reoriented Balinese traditional skills away from a conception of such skills as an example of the individual’s obligation to the community, and towards the competitive market, where they were understood as examples of individual creativity. In the traditional economy, a craftsperson is rewarded for his work with the appreciation of their local communities. Artist are the mouth-piece of communal culture and their symbolic representations. The involvement of the Ubud aristocrats with Spies, that is, spelt the collaboration of local political and economic power with the power of the global market place. This traditions of collaboration between aristocrats and expatriates has shaped the face of Ubud’s art scene and remains strongly in place.
The merchant culture is then come into being dominant forces. Nowadays, however, much of the financial reward goes to foreign companies, and buyers often act as managers or agents in making suggestions for designs change very much pioneered by the Spies Ubud palace nexus.
Designers are foreign parties and Balinese producers are local partners. One is make order and another fighting with deadlines and quality. From this kind of relation comes a question: who is the richest man in Bali? Made!