Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978)
“Talini” Hilisimeatano, Nias 1930
Signed lower right and titled and dated upper right
Black chalk on paper, H. 43.5 x W. 30.5 cm
A mesmerizing portrait of a Nias warrior wearing the Kalabubu neck ring worn by courageous fighters and the typical Nias young warrior’s gold ear ornaments. Nias society developed a culture of almost perpetual war, defending themselves against their neighbours and slave raiders from nearby Aceh. Young men were brought up to become fierce warriors, and training started at a young age. As a result, Nias had brilliant fighters, builders, and blacksmiths. Only after several failures the Dutch finally in 1914 were able to establish complete control of the island and spread Protestant Christianity across the island, taking or destroying many of the fine, and nowadays highly sought-after, ancestor sculptures.
Bonnet, who had long wanted to go to Asia, finally arrived in Bali in 1927, after meeting Nieuwenkamp in Rome, who stimulated him to go. After seeing a Balinese dance, he decided to stay there. But before settling down definitively in Bali, he joined his friend Jaap Kunst in March 1930 for a visit to Nias, where Kunst was studied the indigenous music. Impressed by the unspoilt island, he stayed there for almost a year, living with a Nias servant and making many drawings of the people of South Nias. What shocked him, however, was how the Christian mission, in his opinion, was destroying the culture of Nias.
Talini is depicted with a certain dignity and affection, which one remembers when in love, daydreaming about someone. Bonnet depicted Talini in this exact way, which differs very much from the formal portraits of women by his hand. It won’t come as a bolt from the blue that Bonnet was homosexual, or at least not heterosexual, which is only briefly addressed in the literature.
He went to Bali because it was presented as a paradise, with men and women (traditionally dressed) walking around bare-breasted. Untrue rumours about sexual freedom, true rumours about the beautiful Balinese people, and promises of idyllic life made artists pick Bali. Many artists working in Bali were gay or bisexual. Because they were the impressive white man, Balinese boys or girls let themselves be portrayed by them, or more, without asking questions. The Balinese weren’t prudish or pigeon-holing people (which was exaggerated and part of their sexualization and, to some extent, abuse).
It shouldn’t be a side note that Bonnet was gay. Hetero painters made paintings of women in the most uncomfortable poses on sofas for ages through their adoring male gaze, which can now be found in Museums. In his way, Bonnet was able to create the most beautiful male portraits through his own adoring gaze.