Bali, Indonesia – bringing together the work of one of Bali’s most accomplished artists was a job cut out for a detective. It took years of investigation that involved digging through archives at museums in Europe and the U.S. and tracking down private collections equally scattered.
“It’s just tracking step by step, following the pieces of the puzzle,” said Soemantri Widagdo, the chief curator at Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum, host to an extraordinary exhibition of art by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, much of which has not been seen in his birthplace of Ubud on Bali for generations.
It showcases mostly pre-World War II drawings that made their way overseas in the hands of art collectors like Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, and Gregory Bateson, a British anthropologist and social scientist. In doing so, it tells the story of a man who reinvented himself late in life and helped to spread tales about Balinese culture far beyond the island’s beaches and rice paddies.
The artist known simply as Lempad was already well respected in Bali as a renaissance creator-–crossing into architecture, sculpture and cremation towers-–something known in Bali culture as an undagi. When he began sketching, he was already in his 60s, and most of his work was created for Westerners, not a local audience.
Most of the collection at the museum comes from the archives of the American Museum of Natural History and the U.S. Library of Congress. A 424-page book of more than 560 drawings was also produced to coincide with the exhibition and launched at its opening in late September.