By Mehru Jaffer
JAKARTA (JP): Lisaki Sotilis keeps returning to Indonesia because it is the last paradise on earth, she says. And Sotilis should know what she is talking about as she seems to be the quintessential Eve: curious, restless and extremely creative.
Standing before her is like coming face-to-face with the woman God had willed all women to be: free spirited, passionate, intelligent and caring.
If she had her way, the Greek artiste would love to lose herself in the immense greenery of this country, covered with little else except a mane of golden hair cascading down her back, jewelry made from forest flora and fauna and just fruits and roots as her daily diet. Forever fond of animals of all kinds, she may not even miss some of her fellow human beings from this glass and steel jungle.
""Lisa is capable of anything,"" warns Maria Kolonia of JakArt recalling the time when Sotilis, who is full of surprises, decided to participate in a ceremony at the White House in Washington wearing only a skirt and a top made just from her latest jewelry creations.
""There are very few places like this country left in the world,"" said Sotilis, who has been trotting around the globe for at least five decades. A guest of the month-long JakArt 2001 Festival, she is back in Indonesia with Transformations, a retrospective of her art works that can be seen at the National Museum.
The bohemian Sotilis was a close friend of Rudolf Nureyev and assistant to Giorgio de Chirico, father of Expressionism, at the age of 17. Sotilis has endless stories to tell about Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, all leaders in their own right, of the modern art movement that continues to haunt viewers for its strong expression of revulsion against political and religious fascism.
Dressed in a flowing gown made of pure cotton and gold-plated necklaces and finger rings in the pattern of large leaves, Sotilis traced her obsession with colors back to the day when she was still a baby and fell to the ground from the arms of an absent-minded adult.
""Ever since then I have been smitten with this disease called extreme excitement and whenever I come across colors the excitement becomes so acute that I have to call for a doctor,"" she impishly says, smiling.
When she is in Indonesia she goes straight to where textiles are made and displayed and spends much of her time admiring the intricate patterns and rich textures, the colors of which remind her of her mother's wardrobe in Greece.
She has great admiration for the handicrafts of Indonesia and hopes that machines will not be allowed to take over. ""Don't bother too much about the tempting dollars. Nourish your roots and keep your arts and crafts alive,"" is one suggestion to all Indonesians from Sotilis, who feels that in the last half of the 20th century, nature has been abused like never before in human history. It is only in places like Indonesia where people continue to enjoy an affinity to the environment they live in.
This precious relationship between human beings and nature has to be protected, she pleas. If nature continues to be disrespected like it has been in the past, she fears for human survival. She does not advocate the return of human civilization to a life in the jungle like our primitive ancestors but of future co-habitation in sustainable settlements in harmony with nature and with the assistance of science.
After having made so many grave mistakes, she is relieved that humans have eventually woken up to the idea that they cannot go on trampling on nature.
She is happy that the world is working toward becoming a global village, giving people an opportunity to share things with each other.
The thought that she can travel to any corner of the world today to meet with anyone she wants to is a very exciting one to Sotilis. On the other hand, she warns that the stronger and more worldly-wise people should not be allowed to take advantage of the more vulnerable, fragile people and societies.
She gets very excited talking about a world where different colors, races, religions, rituals and cultures continue to live together, adding to the spice of life. Variety is what makes life so beautiful according to Sotilis, who comes across as one of those charming utopians, in search of that formula that will turn this earth into Eden despite resistance from all the hardships this world presents.
The Sotilis exhibition, along with that of Giorgio de Chirico, Rudolf Nureyev and Hendrawan's installation about the colorful cultivation of rice remains open till June 30 at the National Museum.
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