While living on a series of islands – Singapore, NYC, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Bali – Stephen Black wrote books, presented TED talks and took part in the Asian art world. In Manhattan, in the mid-1980s, he performed with a band and began making art. In Japan, he immersed himself in the world of butoh, ran a small gallery and watched the economic bubble grow and burst. On the Isle St. Louis in Paris, he learned how to change diapers. In Hong Kong, during the Handover years, he ran an art space and produced videos for Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies and CNN. In Singapore, Stephen learned about user-generated content, 3D game making and how to produce eBooks. In Java, he researched the neighborhoods where the President of the United States spent part of his childhood. Now on Bali, Stephen is completing his fifth book, Bali Wave Ghost.
Why have you chosen Bali as a place to live?
I first came to Bali to do photographic work on a book project for a hotel. I met a woman and – long story short – moved here. I completed one book and plunged into a new one called Bali Wave Ghost, the story of a relationship set against the picturesque, spiritual side of Bali, as well as relating some its darker aspects. The loveliness of Sanur, surfing, ceremonies, the warungs and theatrical ceremonies are contrasted with drug abuse, Kerobokan Prison, Kuta nightlife, environmental tragedies and the unusual negativity of some expats.
What do you like best and least about Bali?
There are still many pockets of tranquility on Bali, places that seem to exemplify the orderly flow of the universe as well as the role of humans within that flow. I’m not talking about the “postcard places” like the island’s mountains, beaches and rice terraces. I’m talking about the side streets and neighborhoods. Local scenes define my idea of Bali: parents on motorbikes driving their kids to school, the dogs that treat the road as their living room, the mysterious men and women who carry scythes as they slowly walk or peddle bicycles. I like least the plastic refuse everywhere, the “party island” shallowness and the disrespect for the environment and fellow human beings.
What is a typical day like for you?
Before sunrise, I usually walk or ride a motorbike to our local Sindhu market in Sanur. I enjoy the journey as much as the market itself, which is both urgent and casual. The venders know they have about three hours to maximize their earnings. The customers know that the best offerings are the first to disappear. Most of the customers are women and they can be territorial! Back home, where I sit in front of the computer all day, my kitchen is so small that cooking is often a frustrating experience, so at Sindhu I drink my morning jamu, coffee and then eat breakfast, usually nasi kuning.
What art projects have you been involved in?
I recently co-produced SPOKEN, a combination of virtual reality, visual art, social media and creative writing. The virtual part can be seen at www.gallery.sg. Eugene Soh, a Singaporean artist, built the gallery and handled the technical side. I curated a diverse collection of very interesting artists and writers; some famous, some not. The project is online until February, but the creative writing side will continue to develop after that. I also have recently discovered the Kupu Kupu Art Space in Ubud. I’ve contributed some work for their fund-raising activities and am looking forward to becoming more involved.
What is the Voice of Pieces you gave me all about?
The Voice of Pieces is an art prank project. I collect pieces of paper, join them together and create signed and numbered editions, which are then distributed anonymously. Voice of Pieces is, among other things, a comment on how artworks are usually very dependent upon context and marketing. Nearly every gallery in Sanur has found a Voice of Pieces artwork in its mailbox or jammed beneath its doorway. I imagine that most of them have been thrown away, which is great!
Why did you choose Bali as a setting for your book Bali Wave Ghost?
Though I’m writing about Bali, I’m also using the island as a symbol for Asia. The effects of Dutch and Japanese colonialism interest me, as do the present day Russian and Chinese tourists. I will never understand Bali completely, but I can write about what I have seen as well as create fictional characters that represent certain situations. Actually, BWG is as much about the people of Bali than anything else. Relationships, dreams, funny situations, cultural differences…
What do you think of Eat Pray Love?
Eat Pray Love is a masterpiece of the genre referred to as chick lit. In terms of style, it? follows the classic three-act structure: a woman in New York is devastated by a divorce, the woman seeks redemption in Italy and India and finally the woman finds love in Bali. It has made many people aware of Ubud. It seems that some of the Balinese people have benefited from the exposure generated by the book and that is a good thing. Tourists come and with tourism come opportunities for those who are ambitious.
How does EPL compare with BWG?
EPL is like having an afternoon espresso in an air-conditioned Ubud cafe. BWG is like having a cup of Sulawesi from the coffee guy who sets up his rickety table at night in the parking lot near the Circle K on Jl.? Danau Poso. One test reader called BWG “Eat Pray Love on steroids.” Both books contemplate relationships and the search for identity. EPL is a woman’s travel memoir; BWG is a romantic dark comedy full of lyrical descriptions. A big publisher commissioned EPL. BWG is a personal obsession, a labor of love, an artwork. Finally, I am quite serious when I say that La Bruschetta in Sanur has pizza that is just as good as, if not better than the pizza eaten in Naples by Elizabeth Gilbert/Julia Roberts.
Contact Stephen Black:
For anyone interested in being considered for Siapa,
please contact: <email@example.com>
Copyright 2014 Bill Dalton
You can read all past articles of Siapa at