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Bali Hammocks

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Handmade Hammock

Nothing says tropical holiday quite like a hand-woven hammock which evokes thoughts of bleached white beaches, dream-filled siestas, sea-breeze cocktails and star-gazing nights.  

There’s something magical about being suspended in mid-air; the hammock’s gentle swaying calms your thoughts, settles your heartbeat, and lulls you into reverie or slumber. That’s true whether you’re beachside in Koh Samui or nested in a goose down comforter someplace cold, daydreaming about a good hammock swing.

And yet, unlike Central and South America, Asia has no hammock-making tradition. That is set to change now, thanks to the persistence of Daniel Elber, whose non-profit Future for Children has been changing the lives of the poorest communities in the drought-prone mountain slopes of eastern Bali. 

BALI HAMMOCKS  

Daniel was looking for new ways to provide a sustainable livelihood for the women of Muntigunung, whose sole source of income was begging in Bali’s more prosperous tourist areas. Could their basket-weaving skills be re-imagined for making hammocks, he wondered?

That’s how one master hammock-maker Walter Cruz from El Salvador —the ‘Land of the Hammocks’ (and considered to produce the best in the world) spent three months in the remote village of Kulkul, teaching his ancestral craft to 35 mountain women. And while they had no common language — he spoke Spanish and they a Balinese dialect — what they now share is an uncommon ability to craft absolutely stunning hammocks.

Muntigunung now makes a range of high-end hand-woven hammocks that are arguably the best in Asia. Top of the range is the Agung, which has twin spreaders of elaborately carved camphor-wood, is embellished with crocheted lace, and can incorporate customised lettering (such as a house or person’s name) — statement-making perfection for upmarket rental villas or private residences.

Lighter and less expensive is the chongos-tassle-decorated Muntigunung, which is as stylish but, without the spreaders, will even go into your hand luggage. If you prefer a more upright seating position to lying supine, the chair hammock will appeal — it looks as good in a living room as by the pool.

There are also custom hammocks and chair hammocks, and anyone with a tiny tot in the family will find the baby hammock irresistible. These incredibly comfortable artisan hammocks are so much more than an alternative seating choice or lifestyle accessory. Each is an individual work of art,

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Open Studios at Phuket Art Village

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girl at phuket art village

A colourful and quirky artists’ enclave hidden away in the southern neighbourhood of Rawai, the Phuket Art Village is a hippy chic collection of working art studios; home to some of the island’s most outstanding local artists. Both eclectic and charming, the Phuket Art Village oozes artistic flair.

Home to a group of unique studios that were built by their artists (and are in many instances lived in) the Phuket Art Village functions as a creative space for both the artists in residence and the local community… travellers included.

phuket art village

As well as selling their wares on-site, the artists host painting classes, sculpture workshops, environmental awareness seminars and jam sessions. A visit to the village makes a good outing for art-lovers and groups of all ages including families (contact the venue in advance to find out about scheduled art workshops and shadow puppet shows for your kids).

There are several studios and galleries to explore within the village. Most are open daily, although hours vary depending on the season. Here we introduce two of the artists you might meet:

niran art gallery

Niran Art Gallery

A slight, kind and softly-spoken man originally from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, artist Niran Chanhom relocated to Phuket several years ago because of his love for the sea. And it is the sea that has become his greatest inspiration.

painting at niran art gallery in phuket

Driftwood in all shapes and sizes collected from Phuket’s various beaches are the beating heart of many of his creations. His artistic flair is perhaps best captured in his life-size wooden sculptures of fish and other marine life. These driftwood sea creatures are not only beautiful, but also reflect Niran’s hopes of protecting the ocean.

phuket art village

While making art from driftwood will always be his favourite medium, in recent years Niran has evolved his craft and taken to large canvases – often depicting a lonely fisherman with his fishing pole or catch of the day – to let his creativity explode. His abstract paintings are both bright and colourful and introduce new characters to his artistic line-up. Niran’s latest works are a series of mismatched faces and a few smaller pieces that highlight the bond between mother and child.

phuket art gallery

A visit to Niran’s art gallery in Phuket is an opportunity to admire his work and get up close and personal with the artist himself.

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Balinese art of monster-making

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nyepi ogoh ogoh bali art

Nyepi is the first day of the Saka lunar calendar, a sacred occasion in Bali when people stay indoors for quiet reflection. For many visitors in Bali during this time of year, the message is strong and simple, for respecting ‘Silent Day’ is mandatory: stay in, turn off the lights and be quiet. From dawn until dawn, the island completely shuts down, including the airport. Only pecalang (neighbourhood security) go out in public, whilst everyone else takes time for personal reflection at home.

What more is there to know about the annual Nyepi holy day in Bali, and what do the papier-mâché monsters in the streets have to do with it?

Arts are integral to Balinese culture, and the Balinese have a long history as accomplished woodworkers, stone sculptors, gold- and silversmiths, and textile- and basket-weavers, as well as being ingenious horticulturalists. Balinese artisan crafts, ceremonial customs, daily offerings, performance arts, masks, costumes, adornments and agricultural traditions are all ways of life which honour the values of Balinese Hindu ideology; at the crux a divine balance between people, God and nature.

Balinese customs preceding Nyepi are all about maintaining this trinity, known as the Tri Hita Karana, by cleansing, warding off all evil forces and giving selfless offerings before the start of the new year.

The great task of ridding the island of a year’s worth of evils is taken care of by giant ogoh-ogoh statues of mythological witches, grotesque demons or modern anti-heroes.

Just one of the many essential rituals surrounding Nyepi, the ogoh-ogoh are paraded around by their creators in raucous processions late into the night on the eve of Nyepi. They scare away or encapsulate bad entities, then get set on fire at the cemetery to burn to complete non-existence.

Despite their short lifespans, ogoh-ogoh can be elaborate monstrosities with impressive construction and attention to detail. A popular and visually stunning trend is to create artworks which appear to hover in thin air or connect multiple figures in a dynamic pose. In each of Bali’s thousands of banjars (community organizations), young adults begin making an ogoh-ogoh weeks or even months in advance of Nyepi.

Many adults can’t resist joining in this artistic tradition. Local Bali tattoo artist and graphic designer Putu Marmar Herayukti is one of them. For the ogoh-ogoh parade preceding Hari Raya Nyepi 1940 (17 March 2018),

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Bali Souvenirs Worth Buying

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Textiles outside a Bali souvenir shop

Bali holiday agendas can quickly fill up trying to satisfy everyone’s expectations – I want relaxation, you want adventure and our kids need to upload impressive new images on Instagram. Let’s do this!  In-villa spa therapist: check, romantic dinner: check, snorkelling trip: check, WIFI: check – and at the end of a satisfying stay, everyone wants the same thing: Souvenirs. 

Picking up gifts and treating yourself to something exotic is part of a good tourist experience. This is especially true in Bali, where there is a great selection of things to buy – genuine leather bags, wallets and sun hats are priced at a good value, but are not only found in this locale. Souvenirs which scream “I <3 Bali” are indeed popular buys, like key chains, pens, T-shirts and even tattoos of Mt. Agung. Although they’re all Island of the Gods exclusives, those aren’t the quality goods I recommend to my guests. 

My idea of the best Bali souvenirs are goods made from local materials that represent Balinese culture and traditions of artistic expression. The ornately carved statues, exotic Batik patterns, beautifully adorned temples and carefully handcrafted everyday items are what make Bali so special and memorable. Well, not all of these fit nicely into a suitcase.

So which asli (real) products from Bali are beautiful, useful items you can easily carry with you to be reminded of Bali for years to come? 

With a bit of effort, you can take home keepsakes that are true to their origins. This list of souvenirs worth buying has pictures to inspire your shopping wish list and tips about where to go to find Bali’s treasure without a time-consuming hunt. 

Patung Kayu  (Wood Carvings)

Wood Barong mask Bali souvenir

BARONG MASK – OASE, JL. BASANGKASA 5 AND JL. LEGIAN KAJA 462, SEMINYAK, BALI

Barong masks are a prevailing Bali souvenir. Barong is Bali’s guardian spirit, and masks worn to play Barong and Rangda in the traditional dance about good and evil are sacred. Nothing is more representative of Balinese art and culture than a hand-carved Barong mask made from local wood.

Painted wood figures from Bali

PATUNG KAYU – BATIK ETCETERA, JL. BASANGKASA 5, SEMINYAK, BALI

Matching wood figures seated together to bring good luck and fertility to couples.

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Musings With A Master Forger

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I have never met a criminal before, let alone engaging in a conversation with one. But John Myatt, the man behind what Scotland Yard called “the biggest art fraud of the 20th century” is charming and likeable. 

Together with John Drewe, Myatt was behind bars for selling more than 200 forgeries of famous 19th and 20th-century painters such as Monet, Picasso and Braque between 1986 and 1994. After his release, the arresting officer commissioned him to paint his family portrait and convinced him to return to his easel. Not long after that, he was making a legitimate living from his art.

Sitting comfortably in the grand living room in The Pala of Pandawa Cliff Estate, we chatted.

One man’s interest in painting brought John Myatt to the island of the Gods. “Anthony’s (Pandawa Cliff Estate’s owner) son Hanson wanted a professional art teacher. Anthony told Hanson it would be great if he can go out and find someone,” said John. Like what most youngsters do to find inspiration, Hanson found John on the largest global video-sharing website, YouTube.

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Hanson and Clarisha (his fiance) took the private tuition and are aspiring artists – each with very distinguished styles. In describing his only two students in Bali, John said, “Hanson is very intuitive while Clarisha is very visual. Both of them are very eager to learn and have the right attitude.” John was also more focused on developing them as artists, rather than trying to stick another layer on what they already do.

The day before our chat, John ventured to Ubud and visited ARMA (Agung Rai Museum Art). “Agung Rai was in the garden, talking to us. We had a superb chat. I don’t know how he managed to do what he has done. I thought his work was stunning. Absolutely stunning. The details of the paintings are phenomenal and they just blew me away. Anthony actually bought some of his works from ARMA for the villa,” said John. He fixed his eyes at a pair of Balinese paintings which were hanging on the white walls behind us.

Not limited to those paintings only, just before entering the living room, guests will find an art gallery / hallway where Hanson’s painting creations are displayed – a reflection of the family’s passion for art.

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