Indonesia Expat
Art of the Indies

Plasticology ? Saving Bali, One Artwork at a Time

Tourism has impacted on the traditional Balinese way of life and changed the dynamics of this idyllic island and still the expansion of villas and hotels continues. A huge tourism development program is now being proposed for Benoa Bay — the project would include the conversion of a large mangrove conservation site and strains are already being placed on Bali’s water infrastructure. Binge-drinking tourists spill onto the beaches and bars of Kuta and Seminyak and violence and crimes are increasing in these areas. Recent figures reveal that one Australian dies every nine days in Bali — therefore raising awareness about responsible, sustainable tourism is vital for this small island’s survival.  Yet who is brave enough to approach this delicate subject?

Balinese artist and environmentalist Made Bayak Muliana made a bold entrance at Ubud Writer’s and Reader’s Festival this October — with a plastic bag replacing his traditional headwear, he presented at a Pecha Kucha event (in which speakers are invited to share their passion to the audience with 20 images for 20 seconds each). Tipping a bag of rubbish onto the floor, Made explicitly showed us the problem: plastic. Although the tourism industry has undoubtedly shaped Bali, for better or worse, plastic is now threatening to shape Bali’s eco-systems — cluttering up its streets, rivers and seas. I recently interviewed Made and found out more about his art exhibition Plasticology — a fusion of ‘plastic’ and ‘ecology’ — this art project used plastic waste to create artworks including paintings of traditional Balinese scenes, sculptures, video and installations to raise awareness about these issues to the public.

Made Bayak Muliana playing music at his exhibition

“In one of my exhibitions in Sanur I heavily criticized the mass tourism of Bali, which has converted our farm land into concrete accommodation and the greedy investment that has ruined our nature. People replied that artists are just spawning comments but not doing anything towards the cause, so I answered using Plasticology, which might not be a big solution, but at least I started it.

“We live in Bali, and Bali is one of the windows to see the world for me, and when the window is not cleaned from its dust, it’s hard to see outside. I am not anti-development, but it’s about how to balance it out. The government has a vital role so that the tourism industry has more positive traits and is beneficial for the society, instead of the massive exploitation and rapid transformation of land into tourism facilities.”

Even at university, Made was concerned about the heavy usage of plastic on his island. “During my years in the Institute of Art (ISI) in Denpasar, we had a subject which challenged the students to create an out/indoor art installation. I created an installation called ‘Plastiliticum’ to use an archeological term. In my mind, the inheritance from our era, when being excavated by future archeologists, will be our trails of plastic. The biggest footprint of this millennium is plastic waste.”

At Ubud Writer’s and Reader’s Festival, Made presented at various events, including a children’s program and a talk about environmental issues in Indonesia. At one exhibition, outfits with waste, including a dress made out of beer bottle lids, were also on display. “I bring Plasticology to schools and communities to be presented and give out workshop material. Plasticology is aimed to build collective awareness so that the public can care more about the environment, especially in Bali nowadays. In Bali, the lack of waste management and control is further exacerbated by the ignorant behaviour of the people toward this issue. And as a result, we have plastic waste all over Bali,” added Made.

“I think it would be important for the government to regulate the usage of plastic bags and plastic containers. Since Bali is heavily visited by thousands and thousands of tourists per year, the garbage mounds on the island increase, which flood to the cliffs and rivers and drainage and then, during the rainy season, flow down to the ocean. So, it’s a situation in which tourism is encouraging the beauty of nature and culture but at the same time ruining it. Kind of suicidal for me.”

Even the locals of Bali are following suit — their daily offerings, which included organic materials such as banana leaves and flowers, are now being replaced with modern-day items such as plastic plates. “We are changing this habit into plastic which is only compostable after hundreds of years. Another issue is the mindset of the people who keep throwing their waste around thinking that someone else will clean it for them,” said Made.

These offerings end up swept into the rivers and seas — therefore educating the locals of Bali is also important. Made is one of the teachers of Sanggar Anak Tangguh — a community project which provides education to children in Sukawati, Gianyar, using creative projects to ignite their imagination and curiosity. With a holistic approach to education, the foundation immerses the children into nature by visiting the rice paddies, local rivers and Ketewel beach, reminding children of the need to protect the environment.

Artwork by Made Bayak Muliana

Other organizations in Bali are also cropping up with the aim of addressing the problems associated with waste — R.O.L.E Foundation is an NGO which aims to alleviate poverty and ensure environmental sustainability by providing training, education and eco-tourism. Their program ‘Waste to Wonder’ in Sawangan, South Bali is a successful government-sponsored waste management system in which organic waste is collected and used to produce compost for ROLE’s gardens.

As well as providing jobs, this program has discouraged locals from burning their plastic waste.

A new hostel, Farmer’s Yard, has opened up in Canggu, Bali this year with the aim of ‘putting an end to careless tourism’ — their vision is to promote sustainable tourism based on a community model — guests are encouraged to cook local food together, compost their waste and to help in the permaculture garden. It seems, despite the obstacles, there is hope and many people are taking a bold stand and finally talking about, well, rubbish.

Further Information:

Made’s Projects:

Farmer’s Yard Hostel:

R.O.L.E Foundation:

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