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Special: The artist has only the use of her right foot to shake hands, wave and draw.
Packets of oil pastels, drawing books and black marker pens make the veranda of Gusti Ayuk Putu Suwini’s room in her family compound stand out as an artist’s space.
High on a table, safe from the weather, sits a box of drawings and resting on a drawing board is an incomplete composition showing hundreds of flowers. Ayuk Putu’s 19-year-old cousin, also Gusti Ayuk, calls herself Ayuk2, leads the artist into the room for this interview. Half carrying and half leading, Ayuk2 helps Ayuk Putu to a seat amid her art materials and works.
Ayuk Putu’s thick, dark hair runs in braids to her shoulders and is caught with jeweled pink ties but her body is twisted and as thin as a rail and her hands lie by her sides with lifeless fingers.
This 32-year-old artist does not speak but can use her facial movements to express joy or consideration and her body noticeably arches in response to questions about her art.
Colorful life: Gusti Ayuk Putu Suwini’s works portray Balinese figures in traditional outfits.
Ayuk Putu was born with severe cerebral palsy, explains her translator, Ayuk2, adding that the disease means Ayuk Putu has little control over her body and speech.
The majority of nerves this young woman can control are in her right foot which she uses to shake hands, wave and most importantly to draw.
In conversation with Ayuk Putu it is clear she understands at least three languages, including English which she has heard often at her family homestay and restaurant, Savannah Moon, in Ubud.
It was this interaction with foreigners that first sparked Ayuk Putu’s interest in drawing and led to the discovery that her right foot held the power of communication.
The artist: Ayuk works at home on a drawing of hundreds of flowers.The artist has never been introduced to the possibility of communicating with a computer keyboard; a common tool for cerebral palsy sufferers in other countries.
“She had never attended school, because of her illness. We don’t have special schools for people like Ayuk Putu. It was 18 years ago, when a foreigner gave her some crayons and started to teach her to read and write that Ayuk Putu began to develop these skills. It took a long time [for her] to learn and because her hands are not strong, Ayuk Putu naturally used her right foot,” says Ayuk2.
The drawings by Ayuk Putu are inadvertently drawn in the Kamasan style with its distinctive black outline with color infill.
Nature: Ayuk’s garden scene comes alive with butterflies.According to Ayuk2, the artist first sketches out her design with a fine black texta pen, as it is a medium that requires only a light touch. These outlines are then filled with oil pastel colors.
While the subject of Kamasan paintings depict the gods and tales of magic and mystery, Ayuk Putu’s display a more personal theme and document her surroundings and experiences such as the fish that swim in the tank on her veranda, little dogs that play in the garden, Balinese weddings with girls dressed as princesses and barong that dance along her street during Hindu religious festivals.
“She gets inspiration for her drawings from the garden at home and from television where Ayuk Putu sees things like Christmas celebrations, all of these inspire her to draw,” says Ayuk2.
Only very rarely does Ayuk Putu leave her family compound, she has never seen a Kamasan painting and never visited the Puri Lukisan Museum of Balinese art that is just a few hundred meters from her home.
“It is not often that Ayuk Putu goes out. Once a year I take her to the main road to see the Nyepi Ogoh Ogoh parade and I take her into our village to see the Barong dance. She likes the Barong,” says Ayuk2.
The artist’s younger brother, Gusti Nyoman Putrayasa, says his family is proud of Ayuk Putu’s achievements and supports her artwork.
“Of course I wish she did not have this handicap but Ayuk Putu has her drawing, so that makes us really proud. She is inspired by all that she sees. If we go for a trip to the beach or the mountains, the next day she will draw those landscapes,” says Gusti.
People have heard about Ayuk Putu’s work just by word of mouth, says Gusti. “We have never promoted her work, except by hanging it here at home. Guests come here and her drawings sell for around Rp 100,000 [(US$10.45].”
Ayuk2 says the artist is thrilled to be able to help the family financially. “When Ayuk Putu sells a drawing, we put the money aside to buy materials such as drawing books and oil pastels for her, but Ayuk Putu also likes to give her mom some money for ceremonies — she helps all the family,” says Ayuk2.
Tradition: Ayuk’s drawing features the wedding of friends.
There is much movement from Ayuk Putu as this is explained, a huge grin shines on her face and it is clear this young woman, despite her extreme handicap, sees herself as capable of earning an income from something she loves to do.
“She draws every single day. I keep saying to Ayuk Putu that Sundays are holidays that she should rest and watch television, but she wants to keep drawing,” says Ayuk2.
The artist has dreams of seeing more of the outside world, says Ayuk2.
“She wants to go out to see animals, birds and monkeys and to be happy. She wants to go to the zoo. She has never been,” says Ayuk2 who no doubt will find a way to take her talented cousin to places of inspiration, then to watch her interpret her experience through the drawing skill of her very fine right foot.
— Photos by JP/J.B. Djwan