Meeting Ni Wayan Murni
The Times, Lombok, July – August 2007
Meeting Ni Wayan Murni. I arrived early for my meeting with Ni Wayan Murni. Ni Wayan Murni tells us four things. ‘Ni’ that she is female, ‘Wayan’ that she is the first-born, ‘Murni’ that she has been given the name ‘pure’ and ‘Ni Wayan Murni’ that she is Balinese. (She is known as Murni to her friends.) That is quite a lot of information in a name. My name is John Braine, which doesn’t tell you anything. Sex: male. Status: single. Occupation: photo-journalist. Home: San Francisco.
It was in the Slanted Door in San Francisco that I almost met Murni. The Slanted Door is a great Asian restaurant frequented by lovers of beauty in all its forms, dealers and collectors, and foodies. I had been invited by friends for lunch and arrived late. Murni had just left. Another missed opportunity. I knew that Murni had had a very successful exhibition at the Arts of Pacific Asia Show at Fort Mason the previous month and was keen to meet her.
It was the first time that a real Balinese collector had exhibited at the show and it caused quite a stir. She’s been collecting all kinds of Asian arts for at least thirty years, many of which are no longer made, and are very rare. She brought textiles from all over the archipelago and interesting tribal jewelry and objects, which she has collected personally over the years on her travels around the region.
I was really annoyed to have let an opportunity like this slip through my fingers, but fate intervened when my cell phone rang a month later. ‘Can you go to Bali to photograph the ten day Galungan celebrations? Your ticket’s ready. You should base yourself in Ubud. We recommend you stay at Murni’s Villas.’
So it was with great anticipation that I went down the small flight of steps to the Lounge Bar of Murni’s restaurant in Ubud, in the cultural heart of Bali, to meet this famous lady. She was surrounded by beautiful muted textiles, red, reddish-brown, dark blue and black violet, explaining to a couple of Belgian tourists that these were the most spectacular textiles ever produced in Bali and arguably the whole of Southeast Asia. They were rare geringsing textiles from the small village of Tenganan in east Bali, which contained sacred energy.
The Belgian ladies got two each and left to have a look at Murni’s shop where other treasures from Bali and elsewhere tempted them. I was now able to chat to Murni alone over a couple of cocktails and take photographs of her in her landmark restaurant. She explained her pioneering career starting the first real restaurant in Ubud over thirty years ago, still a favourite, where she created dishes unheard of in Ubud and which nobody knew how to spell, all the while collecting Balinese and Asian antiques, which no-one was interested in, opening the first proper gallery of antiques and tribal art in the village, and then getting into the tourist accommodation business culminating in the spectacular Murni’s Villas and her latest venture of exhibiting abroad.
They say that if you want something done you should ask a busy person. If all that was not enough, she has acted as a consultant to a new 500-page book on Bali called Secrets of Bali by Jonathan Copeland and another book is on the stocks. Does she relax? Well, yes. She walks an hour every day, plays badminton three times a week, swims in a jaw-dropping, beautiful pool at Murni’s Villas and gives her two dogs, a dalmation called Toby and a golden labrador called Darling, a run for their money. And I haven’t even begun to mention the massive cultural obligations and duties of just being Balinese.
As I was finishing my second Pina Colada a runner from Sumbawa arrived fresh from the boat with local treasures for her perusal. I get the impression that this is a daily occurrence. Murni explains that she has to spend some time with him before he goes off to see other dealers. She likes to get the pick of the crop. She told me where the best shots were to be had for my photo assignment of the Galungan celebrations and we made arrangement to meet in the Slanted Door in February 2008. As she gracefully moved on to her next meeting I promised not be late and thanked her for giving me an insight into her life in Bali.
I can certainly recommend Murni’s Warung in Ubud for great food and great Pina Colodas in the Lounge Bar. You never know, you may be really lucky and meet Murni. Her shop, Murni’s Warung Shop, is a treasure trove and Murni’s Villas is the place to stay.
Meeting Ni Wayan Murni
John Braine, Photo Journalist