Gde Raka Yudhi Pratama is the artist and craftsman behind Srimelanting Art, a Balinese-style decorator extraordinaire group based in Sayan. On a sunny afternoon, we visited him at his workplace—engaging in a pleasant conversation, discovering how ngayah or helping his fellow villagers through decoration is what started it all.
Away from the Sayan main road is the residence of Gde Raka Yudhi Pratama in Banjar Pande. Transitioning from the traffic noise to the tranquility of a Balinese village setting, we eventually traced the sounds of hammers, drills, and wood getting torn apart, which welcomed us as we entered Raka’s workplace.
The place was bustling with fellow workers hailing from his village, disassembling materials like wood and bamboo from previous events to be repurposed for future creations. Our attention was drawn to two big Balinese figures adorned in traditional attire and sneakers—some decoration remnants from PICA Fest 2023, a clothing festival in which they recently participated.
Raka sat on a bale bengong, a Balinese pavilion made to relax or just like the name “bengong”, to daydream.
“I am planning to change the name bale bengong to bale kreatif…because we actually create something,” said Raka while working on two tiger heads, adding air clay to the terracotta heads.
Iced teas and cendol or rice jelly drink accompany our conversation under the sun while Balinese pop songs such as Sing Main Main by Bagus Wirata are heard blasting with the constant sound of hard work. With ease, Raka humbly explained his craft through Srimelanting Art.
What is Srimelanting Art currently working on?
We usually create decorations for all kinds of events, but we are currently preparing for weddings during this time of the year, both here in Sayan and one in Serangan.
Including the gate decoration that we often see in Balinese weddings?
Yes, it is called plengkuran in our village here in Sayan, but the name can differ in other villages, such as gayor. It consists of gemendung that resembles a gate. It can also be decorated with traditional masks that symbolize males and females.
The story behind Srimelanting Art?
It was created in 2017 when we got together to do ngayah, which means helping our fellow villagers. We help their weddings by creating decorations for them. From that point on, people got to know us and began searching for our services.
Our art creations are different; I believe that's what has made us known to the public. We started creating decorations for friends of our friends, including an Instagram celebrity who posted our work, which eventually went viral!
In 2018, we expanded to event decorations beyond weddings, with our first project being Sanfest in Sanur. While Penestanan is famous for paintings and Sindu is known for carving, I want my banjar to be renowned as a place that specializes in creating decorations.
As we talk, Raka continues his work on the two tiger heads, adding clay and shaping it with his hands. We noticed that Styrofoam was used in the decorations.
You also used Styrofoam?
Yes, it's necessary if we want to reuse the decorations. Traditionally, a part of the banana tree is used for making decorations, but it tends to deteriorate quickly. Since we often reuse or repurpose decorations after events, Styrofoam serves as a base material for some creations. The client sometimes keeps the decoration, but that's a rare occurrence.
Do you design all the creations for Srimelanting Art?
Yes, I design everything myself by drawing before we create it. I used to study painting at the university, and now I work on installations, which also involve painting in their creation.
Well, there's ego in which I want to be different in terms of creating a decoration. There's also an obstacle in terms of finances, but we still carry on. Ade nak liu maan nu kuangan, irage bedik maan mu ngidang ngedum is a Balinese phrase that means there are people with a large income who want more, thinking it's not enough. However, there are also those who give more although their income is not that large.
"Do you ever get tired or bored with what you do?
No, I enjoy it because it's like playing... you can ask anyone here, this is our playground. After the work is done, we go melali or sightseeing because we take the decorations to all kinds of places across the island, including cool hotels, where we also meet new people along the way.
Is there anything you and Srimelanting Art aim to achieve in the future?
I want to bring Balinese decoration to the world. For instance, if there's a wedding or event in Paris, they would use our style of décor. Balinese-style decoration might already be used there, but it's not done by people from Bali. It doesn't have to be me, as long as it's done by Balinese artisans.
Besides working, what do you do in your free time?
I usually eat with my family, either nearby in Sayan or maybe seafood in Kedonganan near Jimbaran. You can also find my favorite warung babi guling, that sells pork rice in Banjar Sapat, Tegallang. It's called Bu Desak and it opens in the morning, usually selling out before 8 am. But in the end, I think my wife's cooking is the best! Haha.
"What about hanging out?
Yes, very much! I like to go to places where they sell tuak, a traditional alcoholic drink. They sell it in their own houses or in warung, which are like traditional discotheques! I prefer to drink with strangers or new people outside my village; it's delightful. If I hang out with fellow friends or villagers here, we'd probably end up talking about work! So, yeah, sometimes it's better to drink in a new environment, haha.
Any favorite places in Bali?
I love the far eastern part of Tegallalang where the air is fresh and the road is quiet, with beautiful village scenery that can be seen everywhere. Many carvers and farmers live there… I often talk with them and have eventually become friends.
Sometimes in the morning, when there’s plenty things on my mind, I go there. At 6 am, after I play with my children, I roam around on my motorcycle to Tegallalang, stopping by to talk or just enjoy the place until 10 am or 11 am before heading to work. I guess that's healing for me.
Raka Yudi Pratama
written by Rama Indirawan
photos by Andikadana