SOULFUL SOIREE

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Published on March 22, 2015 with No Comments

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Just one day out of the year, Bali turns away from the beaches to focus on books… and more.

Words SURIANI ARIFF
Images 2013 UWRF

Ubud has been described as an “artistic hub floating in a sea of rice paddies” and that’s pretty close to the truth. Set in the green hills of Bali about an hour from the capital of Denpasar, Ubud is first and foremost a town of artisans and artists, but it has also slowly evolved into a hub for wellness, yoga, healthy living, fine eating and more.

For the past ten years, Ubud has become the focus for a different kind of crowd. Literary luminaries congregate each year to Bali’s cultural heartland for its annual Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival. While the festival was born in response to the Bali bombings of 2000 – conceived by Janet DeNeefe – it has now become so much more. Today, the event not only celebrates extraordinary stories and amplifies brave voices; it also tackles global issues and big ideas.

Amid long table literary lunches, there will be in-depth conversations, such as with American-in-exile and poet Kosal Khiev on how he survived the prison system. Elsewhere, leading thinkers and writers, in the likes of Tim Cope (On the Trail of Genghis Khan) and scientist and Australian of the Year Tim Flannery will also share the stage with Ubud gallerist great, Agung Rai, and architect Made Wijaya. It’s a heady mix of Who’s Who in the literary and arts and, with Ubud’s stunning backdrop of paddy fields and calm serenity, no one ever leaves here uninspired.

In many ways, having the festival in Ubud only underscores the area’s long-time practice of nurturing local talents. First discovered in the 8th century, Ubud was a centre of natural medicine and healing. The name ‘Ubud’ originated from ‘ubat’, ancient Balinese for ‘medicine’. The city’s great flowering of Balinese culture took place in the 12th century, encouraged by Ubud’s aristocratic families. But it wasn’t until the 1930s, encouraged by the royal family, foreign artists began taking up presence in the town, including Walter Spies and Rudolph Bonnet. They paved the way for more travellers to come to Ubud while still maintaining the area’s integrity as the centre of Balinese art and culture.

The festival’s roster of workshops, talks, book launches, music and dance performances, arts programmes and activities all celebrate the area’s traditional arts and culture. The breathtaking venues that host many of the festival’s programmes do not happen by chance. DeNeefe has been meticulous in her selection in order to showcase to the world what Ubud has to offer.

Aspiring writers will not run short of inspiration when they attend the writer’s retreat at the soulful Honeymoon Guesthouse – its artisan beauty and leafy grounds providing the perfect antidote for the sluggish mind. Taman Baca, a reading ground, offers a break from the literary action. But no one can fault you if you decide to prolong your sojourn lazing under the coconut trees that offer a stunning view of Mount Agung, Bali’s lofty volcano. Elsewhere, the home of the late Catalan artist Antonio Blanco will once again open to guests as it did last year for the final night’s party. Once a fixture on Ubud’s art scene, the lush gardens still fascinate, as do Blanco’s 300 works housed in the museum.

Sunny days, balmy nights, open-air venues and lush tropical views all make Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in Bali one of the foremost literary events in the calendar. Taking place on October 1-5, 2014, this year’s literary feast will see 150 writers from across Indonesia and all corners of the globe celebrating knowledge and the arts, education, wisdom and science.

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Bali 4x weekly.

 

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