The Jakarta Post
For decades, Ni Nyoman Tanjung lived with her husband in a small wooden shack, building a repository for her gods and ancestors ' painted volcanic rocks resembling faces ' on the side of a small road in Buda Keling, near Karangasem in Bali.
In 2003, Bali-based art scholar Georges Breguet came across the woman, who is thought to have been born in the 1930s, and recognized her as an extraordinary, if untraditional artist. Breguet began to collect her more mobile pieces and also introduced Ni Tanjung's work to the outside world.
According to another Bali-based art expert, Jean Couteau, Ni Tanjung is a rare Indonesian example of art brut, or 'raw art' ' the term coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe works created by non-traditional artists, distanced from mainstream society as a result of mental or social constraints.
(Another phrase ' 'outsider art' ' covers the works of self-taught or naÃ¯ve art makers who were never institutionalized).
Currently, some of Ni Tanjung's works have traveled around the globe and are on display as part of a show curated by Lucienne Peiry at the Collection d'Art Brut, or Art Brut Collection, in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Also on display are the works of other international brut artists, such as Gustav Mesmer, Giovanni Bosco, Antonio Roseno de Lima, Monsieur Kashinath and Ezekile Messou.
Breguet remembers his first surprise encounter with Ni Tanjung, while taking a walk through the fields with his wife, Lise. 'I have continued to follow her [Ni Tanjung's] work and tried to communicate with her, although she only speaks incoherent Balinese, when she speaks at all. However, her work is fascinating and deserves to be recognized internationally.'
Not much is known about Ni Tanjung's childhood. Born into poverty, she has never learned to read or write. Ni Tanjung married Ni Nyoman Kembang and bore four children. After the death of one of her daughters, she became deranged and began to spontaneously work on installations, first made from stones, and now mainly paper cuttings.
Since her husband's death, Ni Tanjung hardly communicates with the outside world. The elderly woman likes to look at people with the help of a small mirror, thus avoiding their direct gaze. It also helps her to detect good or evil.
Ni Tanjung's work features groups of gods and ancestors who, according to Balinese belief, visit the living during certain rituals. Ni Tanjung appears to live in a sort of a continual trance making altars to them.
Ni Tanjung is now weak, but enjoys electricity and running water as a result of her artistic work. While she knows how to weave and make complex offerings, dance the rejang and sing in arja operas, Ni Tanjung is currently less active.
While the artist sings and chants as she works, she can no longer dance in her diminished physical state.
Before Breguet, Balinese painter Made Budhiana paid Ni Tanjung a visit, bringing her acrylic paints for her stones, first white, then other colors. He also brought scissors to cut shapes and a special instrument to cut metal canisters.
After Breguet ' and after Jean Couteau wrote several articles about the artist ' Ni Tanjung began to attract interest.
Around 2006, Kartika Affandi, the daughter of famed Indonesian painter Affandi, took an installation of Ni Tanjung to be reassembled in her future women's museum in Yogyakarta.
With the little money she made, Ni Tanjung moved and settled at her daughter's house in the village of Saren Kauh.
Breguet continued to visit Ni Tanjung regularly, according to Couteau, bringing sundries such as medicine and household implements as the artist launched herself into paper cuttings, which she assembled and drew so as to represent, again, some 'assembly of ancestral gods'.
Each time Breguet visited ' usually once a month ' he brought her paper, gave her some money, and she gave him paper installations in exchange. 'quite informally and naturally', according to Couteau.
When Breguet returns to Switzerland each year, he has someone visit her to help and to collect the strange paper installations she was continuing to churn out. The result is an important collection that Breguet sent to the Art Brut Collection in Lausanne, where he had connections. The curator acknowledged Ni Tanjung as one of the main art brut artists in the world and opened the exhibition.
Ni Tanjung continued to produce prolifically until a recent illness, not paying attention to the buzz caused by the 'discovery' of her talent.
The honor paid Ni Tanjung in the joint show in Lausanne is not understood by the 'artist' herself.
However, the recognition of Ni Tanjung is important for another reason, according to Couteau. 'Art brut,' he says 'is not recognized as it should be in Indonesia, as it is now increasingly throughout the world.'
' Photos courtesy of Georges Breguet and jean Couteau