A lot of expats have come and gone over the years. Most choose to return to their home countries but a few hardy souls do spend their twilight years here - ultimately to end up pushing up rice paddies rather than daisies. Not that it really matters of course. What’s in a plant after all?
The number of expats probably peaked in the Suharto boom years, yet nothing approaching the numbers in neighboring Singapore or Malaysia. And back in the ‘60s expats in Indonesia were probably rarer than the Javanese rhino (only 300 are now left incidentally – rhinos that is – not expats). But who was the first expat in postcolonial Indonesia? Who trailblazed the way, clearing away the tropical undergrowth and setting down the basic rules for what is de rigueur expat behavior in this part of the world?
Well, I’ve always wondered about the answer to that question, and was therefore interested to see that a painting by Antonio Blanco was sold in Jakarta by auction for the cool sum of Rp430 million - more on this later :)
I didn’t know much about Blanco until there was a fascinating Indonesian TV drama on his life a few years ago. Basically, Antonio Blanco came over here in the 1920s, and was so allured by the charms of the local female populace (some things never do change!) that he ended up marrying a rather lovely Balinese dancer named Ni Ronji, and pretty much spent the rest of his life painting beautiful Balinese women.
At the same time, Blanco was also a real maverick and styled himself as the Salvador Dali of Bali:
And unlike most expats today he didn’t live in a chaotic city like Jakarta but in a “palatial hilltop house with a thatched bamboo roof, stone carvings, gilded statues and lush gardens”.
No wonder he remained here.
Oh and his painting that has just sold for Rp430 million? Well it certainly wouldn’t be appreciated by the Ministry of “Information”. But strangely enough the Indonesian authorities DID approve the auction and did NOT object to any of the raunchy items of art being sold there (one of them by legendary Indonesian painter Affandi). But even so I’ve censored Antonio Blanco’s painting (just to be on the safe side). See the uncensored version here.
The 27-by-41 centimeter (11-by-16 inch) ``Odalisque,'' which had a presale high estimate of 120 million rupiah, was the star lot in a 3.5 billion rupiah sale of art by Sidharta Auctioneers. The painting shows a voluptuous lady with a rye smile (what has she been up to I wonder?) Don’t worry if you didn’t manage to purchase the painting – there are plenty of similar paintings on sale in Bali’s markets!