While growing up in Singapore, I saw quite a bit of South East Asia, in particular Indonesia. Always seeking out an authentic experience off the beaten tourist track, my parents took us to a Ghandian ashram in what is now the sleepy tourist village of Candi Dasa on the south east coast of Bali. It was run by an inspirational lady, Ibu Oka, who was full of amazing stories she told in Dutch or English, depending who was still at the table after dinner. She hosted university professors, politicians and other adventurous people in thatched seaside cottages with vegetarian meals taken together at a long table on the lawn under palm trees and the milky way.
During our first stay when I was 7, the volunteer girls living and serving in the ashram did a dance performance for us. I was mesmerised by the elegance of the sarongs, sashes and flowers they wore. So then every time we stayed there, some of the girls spent the afternoons teaching my sister and I how to dance part of the Panyembrahma while some of the men practiced playing the gamelan. Balinese dance attire has been a source of inspiration to me ever since.
The beautiful, intricate and gold printed Balinese dance ensembles are complemented with intricately carved leather accessories and head dresses decorated with flowers. Dancers start learning the delicate gestures and beguiling eye movements from a very young age and their art, to the sound of the gamelan orchestra is an experience not to be missed.
I begged my parents to get me one of the gold floral dance tiaras that ladies were hawking at markets. I still have it. Last month, exploring Bali as an accessories designer, I decided to seek out craftsmen who make these intricate buffalo leather dance accessories that still inspire me today.
Dancers wear a badong beaded collar, ampok-ampok leather belt with two extensions, arm cuffs and simping leather shoulder piece. The crown is someitmes also made of leather. They are carefully hand carved with thin sharp tools, painted in gold and decorated with tiny mirrors and faux jewels, then lined in red cotton.
I visited a small road side workshop where the leather was carved from paper patterns with sharp tools, painted in gold and decorated with tiny mirrors and faux jewels. Finally they are lined with red cotton and fashioned into head dresses.
In preparation for the dance, the head dresses are finished with pillars of white and yellow plumerias accented with pink hibiscus. Stunning.