By Jakarta Globe
There are many talented female Balinese artists who successfully complete academic art training. But it remains very rare for one to go on to become a successful artist, much less on e with an international profile. Ni Nyoman Sani is one of the few who have achieved this distinction.
“It is difficult for women to make a career in the fine arts,” she said recently. “However, I have been able to dedicate myself to self-expression, in addition to cultural and family commitments.”
A student at the government-run Indonesian Institute of Art Denpasar (ISI) from 1996 to 2000, Sani first explored abstract expressionism then moved toward a figurative semi-abstract style. At one point, she painted dark images of suffering female forms. In 2000, she began to soften her themes and started to develop the stylized and elongated female compositions that mark her current work.
Born in Sanur on Aug. 10, 1975, Sani enjoyed drawing and painting from an early age. She developed a passion for designing clothes in junior high school. In time, fashion and painting would be combined with a love for photography and poetry. She overcame parental objections to a career in the arts and now her paintings have taken their place in the Indonesian art world, where she has created a niche of her own.
Sani credits much of her success to the support of her husband, artist Ketut Sugantika, whom she met at ISI in 1996. They now live and work in the village of Singapadu, Gianyar with their two young children.
“I find art, photography and fashion compliment each other. I like designing clothes and am very interested in the cycles of fashion,” Sani said. “Initially, I drew women in traditional clothes, but now I draw and paint modern models.”
Her large, semi-abstract oil canvases may be bold and bright or simply rendered in black and white, with the incomplete subjects and their bodies or gowns flowing off the canvas. Sani’s focus is not on details but on the graceful, feminine form, beautifully adorned. The observer is drawn in by oversized, dark and mysterious eyes that seem to conceal the subject’s emotions.
“Balinese women work very hard for their families and communities, without complaining or arguing,” Sani explained. “I am fascinated by women and love to learn more about their character. This is why I choose to only paint women.”
Even before her formal studies at ISI, Sani was exhibiting in group shows. Her accomplishments include 13 solo exhibitions shown around the world including Bali, Jakarta, Singapore, Holland, Italy, Germany and Australia since 2001. She has also presented two photo exhibits and three fashion shows. In 2000, she was a finalist for the Phillip Morris Art Prize in Jakarta.
A predominant feature of Sani’s work is a strong negative space created by juxtaposing the subject against a neutral background. While this emphasizes the flowing curves of the figure, it also adds a powerful element of balance to the overall composition.
To the artist, the negative spaces convey an important message: “Women need their own personal space to be respected. We need our space to think, to be expressive and to establish ourselves.”
Sani’s photographic portraits of Balinese women, both older women in traditional dress and young modern models, seek to capture aspects of essential femininity, from joyous exuberance to intimate and vulnerable moods.
“The Adventure of My Soul,” Sani’s most recent multi-layered solo exhibition, held in April at the Bentara Budaya Cultural Center in Bali, was a celebration of the feminine creative spirit. The event featured her paintings, photographs and poetry displayed on the walls, as well as poetry readings, a modern dance performance and a fashion show. Local models, trained by Sani, paraded her creations in a dramatic catwalk show.
“Bali is a very patriarchal society,” Sani said, reflecting on her work. “I feel that slowly more equality between the sexes is beginning to appear. I am not a feminist and do not hold strong feminist views. However, I believe it is necessary for all individuals to become more open by lowering the guard on their ego to reveal more of their inner selves.”
Sani’s creative expressions reflect the sovereignty and liberation of women and she dares to break through the barriers dividing the disciplines of fashion design and fine art. Sani encourages other women to follow their dreams by setting an example of courage, optimism and hard work. She stands as a fine role model for Balinese women, especially the younger generation.