Tuesday, 27 March 2018, was the official book launching of ‘Myth, Magic and Mystery in Bali’, a new book by Jean Couteau, published by PT. Phoenix Communications (owning company of NOW! Bali Magazine).
In the peaceful fishing village turned tourist village of Sanur, in the grounds of Sudamala Suites and Villas, guests enjoyed a full evening of art and culture. The launch began with an in-depth Press Conference, where author Jean Couteau, publisher Alistair Speirs, photographer Ida Bagus Putra Adnyana (Gustra) and artist Ketut Budiana were at the helm of the panel. The conference was held at Sudakara Artspace, where the walls were covered with art and photography from Gustra and Budiana, guests surrounded by the actual visuals found within the book.
Publisher Alistair Speirs spoke first explaining that the motivation behind publishing this book was to “preserve, on paper, a crucial part of Balinese culture”, and that working with Jean is “a privilege, as there are not many real experts of society and culture on Bali left today.”
Jean Couteau then continued, sharing with guests and members of the press his own backstory. He explained that the stories within this book were found through experience; yes, Jean does indeed have a doctorate in art history and iconographic art in Bali, but he dismisses his title of ‘Doctor’ Jean Couteau. This is because through this title he would not have been able to really engage with what is the subject of his book, the Balinese people.
He explained that real experiences and knowledge was gathered through sitting and speaking with people: from high priests, to royal families, to enjoying a coffee at a local ‘warung’ and engaging in conversation or interacting with local artists and students. What a doctor would see as a subject, he instead saw as a friend, what a researcher would consider an ethnographic study, Jean considers his way of life.
Yes, years of living in Bali and being part of the community helped to shape Jean’s knowledge. Yet, he understands that as an ‘outsider’ one cannot be too careful when discussing another’s culture. Thus, one of his motivations of this book was in fact not only to highlight the incredibly interesting beliefs and rituals found in Bali that need to be remembered, but also to highlight – through humorous stories – that at the end of the day, we are all human. He touched upon comedic accounts of an impotent Balinese friend, sexual slang and language amongst locals and the culture of ‘peeping toms’. “We are”, he explained, “even with our differences, all just the same!”.
Speaking of friends, beside Jean sat two of his closest friends whom collaborated with him to add imagery to his words. First was Ida Bagus Putra Adnyana (Gustra), a Balinese photographer with the unique ability to be capture scenes from ‘within’. Rituals unknown to many, captured up close. Then, Ketut Budiana, a true Balinese artist in his own right. Embodying the skills of the great late draughtsman I Gust Nyoman Lempad, as well as being a master painter, Budiana’s work brings the cosmological-meets-mythological world to life. Budiana explained that while Gustra captured what was at the surface of Bali, he captures it’s core. Both the seen and unseen, Sekala and Niskala, coming together to compliment Jean’s own work. A pleasant surprise to the evening was welcoming the son of I Dewa Nyoman Batuan, the artist who’s work was used as the book’s front cover.
Gustra’s photographs and Budiana’s art will continue to be exhibited in Sudakara Art Space until the 26th of April 2018 – anyone interested in art in Bali should certainly make time to visit. Pieces are also on sale.
After the press conference, the regular guests flocked in, including prominent members of Balinese cultural scene, such as Agung Rai (owner of ARMA Museum) and Suteja Neka (owner of Neka Art Museum), amongst others.
The event continued in Sudamala’s Natah Saji Courtyard, under the shade of the trees. Welcoming and starting the event was founder of Sudamala, Ben Subrata, a friend to Jean and a friend of Balinese culture.
As with all Balinese events, the evening’s entertainment included a traditional dance. The launch featured a Sekar Jagat, a dance usually performed by women but in a wonderful twist this version featured men who had mastered the art of female Balinese dance styles performing. The dancers were staff of Sudamala.
The night continued with more speeches, including again from Alistair Speirs and Jean Couteau. Another highlight was a special short film that brought one of the book’s story to life in animation, titled The Island of the Gods. (Those interested, please subscribe in order to be kept up to date on it’s public publishing).
The evening closed with enjoyable mingling and discussion in the courtyard, with drinks supported by Hatten Wines and Stark Beer. Another thank you to Sudamala Suites and Villas, Sanur, for hosting the event.
Those interested in a copy of the book, please email to nowbali-[at]-phoenix.co.id