These days any events like the Beruit explosion trigger memories for the Bali Bombings for me. There were two explosions at Legian on the night of October 12, 2002. I heard them from Ubud yet through all the noise emanating from 26 kilometers away, I could only discern one continuous rumbling.
Footage of the Beruit explosion
Difficulty in assessing the death toll
I don’t know what to make of this yet. What I do know, from past experience is that the current death toll over 70 and the current details on injuries, over 4000, will be quite inaccurate. Such a forceful explosion will have a much greater death toll as some of the injured unfortunately pass away. There is also the morbid problem of body counts. With such an explosion these are problematic. In my current collection of short stories, I address this issue in a story A Morning by the River in which two people with firsthand knowledge of the Bali Bombings compare notes. Of course, I haven’t written this piece to highlight my story but as a reminder that we face a grim anniversary tomorrow.
I was 11 years old, in 1958, when my parents took me to see the exhibition of the Hiroshima Panels. The Panels reveal the impact of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on people. This experience has shaped my life both in my opposition to all forms of nuclear armaments but also as a guide to the impact of bombs on the human body.
Eight works on rice paper
The Hiroshima Panels, eight works on rice paper depicting the impact of the Hiroshima bomb on the lives of ordinary people, were a watershed in attitudes towards the Japanese people. Iri and Toshikio Maruki who both lost family members in the bombing created the panels as a first-hand record of the bomb’s impact. With shattered infrastructure, and while ministering to the needs of survivors, they worked in a small studio, with the simplest of materials creating works of profound significance. Four years and eight hundred sketches later their first 6ftx24ft panel was complete. Seven more panels followed before the Hiroshima Panels were ready for exhibition. In their small studio, it was impossible to assemble a complete panel they could only guess at the final effect.
Comments at the time
The Australian Women’s Weekly reviewer of the time observed that while their choice of materials – Indian ink, vermillion, and rice paper – was largely due to their poverty, there was no poverty in the conception of their work.
In the exhibition brochure, Vance Palmer wrote, “These eight Hiroshima panels have come out of a deep emotion that has been restrained and shaped by the discipline of art. And so they do not merely affect the nerves but awaken basic feelings – pity, love, compassion, and a sense of the oneness of human beings in the face of suffering. Finally, they compel those who see them to vow that such diabolic visitations shall not occur again.”
The Panels were a sensation. In Adelaide 10 000 people viewed the Panels in less than four days, the biggest crowds ever attending an art show. Just five days after the exhibition opened at the NSW Art Gallery, police were called as 15 000 visitors crammed the gallery overflowing into a jostling crowd outside.
Reassessing the Hiroshima panels after the Bali Bombing
Working in the morgue at Sanglah Hospital after the Bali Bombings was a traumatic experience. Conditions in the morgue were appalling. In one sense I was relieved that I had encountered death and images of death before, but nothing on this scale. Standing amidst the stench of charred and uncovered bodies my mind ran back to 1958 the year my parents took me to see the Hiroshima Panels, the closest thing I had ever seen to this. Searching for an abstraction, a distraction that might offer some relief from this hell, I wondered. Was one purpose of art, to map the edges of human experience, to provide an emotional or a spiritual map? I was grateful that the Maruki’s, confronting their own tragedy, dealing with their own trauma, had allowed me to come to the place before, to remotely sense it, to be forewarned.