Gotong Royong! Are You With Me?

To ensure Bali’s cultural survival, we are well advised to follow Joko Widodo’s request to help each other and work together (gotong royong).

Deadlines are tricky things. As CoVid19 conditions change each day, a writer can’t know on March 26 what people on April 8 will be facing. This month’s Mala is a call to get with the program, help Bali survive, and be part of the force assuring Bali’s culture in years to come. I truly hope I am being redundant, that no one needs to be told how to deal with the pandemic.

Flattening the curve in China, Singapore, and Hongkong has demonstrated that every last person following a government’s strictest edicts is extraordinarily effective. Being only “out for number one”, resistive of authority in general, or being apathetic and fatalistic, are destructive at this time.

If ever there was a time to shed the lone rebel fantasy and embrace the Asian village mindset, this is it. Reader, kindly leave Indonesia by any means, if you are not prepared to obey Jokowi’s plea to work from home, study from home, and pray from home. No amount of finger pointing that some local is getting away with it, will justify your own selfishness at this time.

You’ve heard it before: anyone not part of the solution is part of the problem. When it is so ridiculously easy to be part of the solution, those ignoring social distancing and hygiene may as well be holding a sign saying, “helping spread virus.”

This whole situation calls for every foreigner to be doubly obedient and careful, to stay sequestered and practice excellent hygiene per the references below. Without such solidarity, Indonesians will justifiably blame foreigners for CoVid19. Do all you can to dispel rumor, and that starts by not forming crowds, by using a mask (a bandanna will do), and by practicing handwashing. A simple Om Swastiastu (wai hands gesture) serves just as beautifully as a hug. Remember, you know germ theory. And don’t pretend this island was built for you alone. The fabric of Bali is the group dynamic; self-importance is a clash, to say the least.

So while you are shut in and ordering Bali Direct sauerkraut, enjoying distance learning, holding online play-readings, gardening, and de-cluttering (clever suggestions given me by my readers), enjoy the knowledge that you actively assure that Bali will retain its great artists, its kind hosts, its caretakers and culture. Flouting the directions of this country’s president, ignoring the banjar’s health announcements, using your visa extension as an excuse to gad about the island like a moronic lout, and denying all the facts you’ve learned from the sources you are privileged to connect with, is the demise of Bali.
Let’s have some goals and ideas about what we can all look forward to, if we now play by the rules and Bali emerges from the global pandemic with health and culture intact.

When it’s safe to get out, consider getting over to Museum Macan in Jakarta. The pride of Jakarta’s art lovers, it’s a world class art destination, walking distance to good budget hotels. Make a weekend of it. They are part of the #MuseumFromHome global movement, so warm up now by visiting @museummacan on social media. Phone up a friend to strategize a future visit.
Pencil in ArtJog, the lively, city-wide happening in July/August, when all Jogjakarta honors its brightest young artists. Worth a week, this is also a great time to take in the bucket-list glory of Borobudur.

Once we can gather in groups, ask your banjar about booking a local dance or music ensemble. It will not break the bank to have rindik players soothingly welcome your guests for a dinner, yet it greatly bolsters your village arts economy.

Take future guests to galleries like TiTian Art Space in Nyuh Kuning, near Ubud, or John Hardy in Seminyak. Check out artist collectives like Lodtunduh’s Semar Kuning Cooperative. Music lovers will enjoy meeting visiting musicians at Omah Apik’s Fascinating Rhythm nights. Plan to explore cultural spots you’ve missed before, as they reopen.

Resolve to shop at the smallest level of retailers you can dream up. Stop to visit artisans, perhaps for some Tabanan knives. Get a kebaya sewn by your nearest dressmaker. In the pasar, pick out the oldest lady selling produce. Spread money around in a way that is not wasteful.

Shall we plan now for a better future, with routines and practices putting first the health of all living things? Now that we see how mankind can actually halt air and water pollution, our power is magnificently obvious. Get plans down on paper, tape to wall, and prepare! Because we are proving now that a culture and a people are really worth changing for.



By Renee Melchert Thorpe

Spreading art news? Make comments and suggestions by email:

Copyright © 2020 MALA Art & Culture
You can read all past articles of MALA Art & Culture at