Egg painting resurrects Bali community
Apr 25, 2014

A symbol of new life for the youth of Batuan village

Humble eggs have served as a symbol of new life for thousands of years. This Sunday, eggs will again play their part in that story for Christians, with the giving of Easter eggs to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On the predominantly Hindu island of Bali, eggs have also offered new life to the youth of Batuan village. In a tree-lined and quiet hamlet, egg painter and junior high school teacher I Wayan Sadra has been encouraging locals to learn the art of egg painting to increase their incomes and exercise their creativity.

One of these students is Kadek Suartama, who began visiting Sadra’s studio more than 20 years ago.

“I started learning to paint eggs from Pak Sadra when I was just 8 years old. I would come here every day after school. There are a lot of reasons I started learning this art. I was happy doing this and it was cool to learn to paint. Another factor was that I could make pocket money,” says Kadek who sits cross-legged while working on a fragile duck egg that has been blown, washed and sanded to a fine surface in preparation for decorating.

Egg painting changed his expectations and gave him a real chance at life.

“We were a poor family so I wanted to do something to earn a bit of money after school so I would not have to ask my parents for things. Pak Sadra taught me this skill freely, as he did my brother. My brother is now a teacher and I put myself through the Indonesian Arts Institute in Denpasar. It was because of egg painting that I was brave enough to try for a scholarship there, which I received,” says Kadek, who now works full time as a highly skilled egg painter.

His earnings from the work that he loves enabled him to marry recently.

“The scholarship, my work here, all this is due to Pak Sadra. He is a very good man,” says Kadek surrounded by hundreds of exquisitely painted eggs that are exported around the world.

While Sadra has given to his community through egg painting, it was the eggs that saved him. Now 52 years of age, the former portrait artist says "if it had not been for his discovery of egg painting, his life would have been very different."

“I trained as a painter on canvas, paper, hardboard, all the mediums for painting. But due to competition from low-quality art shops, I could not survive as an artist. Where I would only use fine art materials, my competition was using house paint — I was a fine artist, I could not make art using poor materials,” says Sadra, who in 1995 was invited to compete making Christmas trees with painted-egg decorations for the Four Seasons Hotel.

“We won the competition. I had produced lots of brightly colored eggs and so on the following year, I painted the eggs for the competition and won again. By 1997 we were greatly improving our techniques and understanding of this very difficult medium,” says
Sadra who has since worked to share his knowledge and good fortune with his community.

“I have a principle that we need to live in our community as one. So through that we share our good fortune. Maybe there is a connection with that philosophy and Easter,” says Sadra, a gentle man with a ready smile.

“In that principle I invite street kids to come here and learn to paint eggs rather than running around the streets. I give lessons for free and the kids make a bit of money selling their eggs. With that pocket money they can put it toward school or to buy jajan [Balinese sweets]. Once the kids are making eggs to a high level they can sell their work for good income and through that they can plan to go to senior high school or university,” says Sadra who crafts eggs with an Easter theme for hotel orders each year and gives egg-painting exhibitions also during the Easter festivities.

The positive impact Sadra is having on his community through his skill sharing is evident in 11-year-old Krisna who began learning the art when she was just seven years of age.

“I like doing this because I like to draw. I come most days after school,” says the young girl sitting in the shade of a pavilion with a couple of other egg-painting friends, a delicate duck egg held in tissue in her hands as she paints it with complex fine lines in black ink.

“I am already selling my eggs. I don’t spend the money I make — I am saving it all for my future. I want to be a painter when I grow up, so I can say that this opportunity from Pak Sadra is a gift for my future,” says Krisna of the eggs that offer her a good life and of the generosity of the man whose life was also resurrected by the humble egg.