Twenty-eight years in the making, the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) monument finally stands tall over Bali, not only the tallest statue in Indonesia but also arguably the biggest one in the world.

Interview by Yani Lauwoie

Located in GWK Cultural Park in Ungasan, Badung, Bali, the copper and brass statue portrays the Hindu god Vishnu riding the great Garuda as his trusted companion. With its pedestal base, the monument reaches a staggering height of 121m – about the same as a 29-storey skyscraper – and is an impressive 65m wide. To put it in perspective, it dwarfs the Statue of Liberty by almost 30m in height, and is three times its width. Given its impressive height and width, Nyoman proudly declares, “It’s the biggest statue in the world.”

The GWK monument was inaugurated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in September 2018 and is inarguably one of the most prominent landmarks of Bali. The process of its creation, conceived with the former Indonesian Minister of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications Joop Ave, has been a testing and emotional journey for renowned Balinese-born, Bandung-based sculptor and designer Nyoman Nuarta.

The artist has had to face many challenges: protests from Balinese groups concerned about the huge size, the statue’s head catching on fire and difficulties obtaining project funding. But none of these dispirited Nyoman. He didn’t stop until the project was finished and became the pride of Bali.

“My team and I were so moved when we put the last module on the statue. It was exactly on Indonesian Independence Day, August 17, 2018,” says Nyoman, an alumnus of the Department of Fine Arts at the Bandung Institute of Technology in West Java.

Despite being happy with what he has accomplished, the owner of Studio Nyoman Nuarta and NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung admits that there is something missing since the statue moved to Bali. “For the last 28 years, the statue was sitting in NuArt Sculpture Park and now it’s gone. I’m not the only one who misses it my staff do, too,” says the winner of the Indonesian Proclamation Monument competition (1979) and Padma Award (Padma Shri category) by the President of India (2018).

The process of creating the statue involved up to 1,000 people over the years, from artists to technicians. The painstaking work involved bringing together 24 segments formed from 754 modules. The work was wind-tunnel tested in Melbourne and Toronto as well as at the Indonesian Center for Research in Science and Technology, to ensure that it could withstand major geological and meteorological events.

“Not long after we set the GWK in place, there was an earthquake in Bali. Everyone was worried and called me, but nothing happened to the statue; it stood tall and unmoved,” Nyoman explains. A sculptor for more than 45 years, Nyoman is also the artist behind Surabaya’s Jalesveva Jayamahe Monument and the Arjuna Wijaya in Jakarta. He always works from the heart and is inspired in diverse ways.

“I get inspiration from everything. Making statues is my way of expressing how I feel,” he explains. For instance, one statue in NuArt Sculpture Park has been his personal way to express his disappointment with whaling.

After making around 300 statues to date, Nyoman has no intention of stopping. “I don’t know the meaning of retirement. Unless I am physically unable, I plan to keep creating art,” he says.

Currently, Nyoman is busy preparing a solo exhibition that will be held in Beijing in October. Although it is a task to ensure his statues are not damaged during transportation, the grandfather of six has managed to hold exhibitions in the United States, Australia, Singapore, France, Japan, India, the Philippines, Switzerland and Italy.

“The buyers mostly come from the private sector,” Nyoman reveals, adding that appreciation of sculpted art is much better now than when he started his career.

“But as artists, we need to be mentally strong, because not everyone understands our work. We certainly don’t give up just because we get negative feedback. During my career, I have faced many challenges, but I keep going. And I’m thankful because I have a family who fully support me.”

Closing our interview, Nyoman shares why he travels with Garuda Indonesia. “I love flying with Garuda Indonesia because it gives me a feeling of comfort and security,” he says.