The story of the painter and the depths of despair and the light of faith in the family fighting tirelessly to save a life. The life that was a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a leader and a friend. This story of Myuran Sukumaran you have heard many times already. His is a story that will always inspire us, we will never grow tired of telling it. It’s in our hearts to stay.
But there is another story. An untold story of precious cargo and the person who cared for it.
During the last two months of his life, Myuran painted with indefatigable energy. Nearer to the end, his last request was that he be allowed to paint as much as he possibly could. The result of this was an amazing number of paintings, most of which have been posted online and seen on various news channels. And while the media was busy with updates of this tragedy as it unfolded, the paintings were being moved to a hotel in Cilacap, the port near ‘execution island’.
Tuesday, April 28. This was the last day for the immediate family and 5 from the extended family to visit Myu. And as the 8 scheduled for execution spent the evening before together learning songs, praying, and sharing pizza with the guards, Myu kept on painting. These paintings made their way to the hotel and were placed in a meeting room.
Those of us waiting at the hotel sat in another meeting room. On the edge of our seats, around a little table in a tiny meeting room. Empty coffee mugs, water bottles, half eaten plates of food, chocolate wrappers. They just seemed to be strewn everywhere. Christie Buckingham was coming and going and each time with a “Someone please keep an eye on my bag, my passport’s in there”. That phrase became a comical bond between us all. And eventually when she’d get up to leave we’d say in unison “we’ll watch your bag, your passport’s in there.”
A few of us documented the paintings and signatures with our cameras. A heavy and solemn scene with us quietly kneeling, adjusting the paintings, turning them with care to photograph the words on the back. The order in which they were painted told the chilling tale of a man about to be killed, his last 72 hours, and his incredible and fullest opening to his spirituality. He was at peace. And there it all was, in this little meeting room in a hotel, his story told in paintings.
We were eventually moved to different location, away from the media, as we waited for the family arrive. The paintings stayed behind, oil can take months to dry. Tina Bailey was, as far as I am concerned, the only person who could really take on the task of caring for these paintings. The final works of a man so dearly loved and adored.
Myu had invited Tina to come teach art classes in the prison in 2012. Drawing, painting, color theory classes for Myu and the other artists in the program. In her words she was more of a guide for Myu. And I know they had a very close friendship, as well. Tina was Myus first choice for spiritual council for his execution. We had such beautiful conversations about the depth of that during our flight and long drive to the port. For various reasons she was not the person to be allowed to return to the island that fateful night. But the job that was waiting for her was equally as deep and poignant. As she was the person who handled the last tangible items that his family, as well as the world, would cherish.
Tina got in a van with one of the hotel drivers, who was determined to help her find everything on her list, and went out in search of an art supply or shipping company where she could buy the supplies needed to pack the works of his art and heart. Cilacap isn’t exactly bustling with foreigners, especially ones with such impressive language skills as Tina. From her story it sounded like a lot of people got a big surprise and a big kick out of the lady from Georgia and her fluent Bahasa Indonesia. Returning with the best materials she could locate, and praising the helpful driver, she walked me through her plan. My memory of standing in the room with the paintings, just the two of us, documenting the most recent ones, paint all over her hands from the fresh paintings done just hours before, is a memory I do not yet have words for to describe the feelings we shared.
She stayed behind, with her friend Michael, for what seemed to be an endless amount of time, preparing the paintings that she felt could be moved. Building spacers out of styro foam, a tiny knife and some ineffective tape. The paintings that were too wet to move were put into a safe storage room for a couple of weeks. She told me later that she felt such peace and gratitude for those hours, being so close to him and to his work.
What I saw was a family with so much love for her and such a level of trust in her, that there was never a question of ‘what about the paintings? Who is taking care of them? How we will get them home?’
None of that. Tina handled this task of devotion and love with so much grace that it allowed a grieving family to do just that, grieve. She allowed for them to not worry or wonder about the precious and treasured items that would be Myus legacy.
I know she will read this and smile, get a little teary, and in her heart she knows, as I do, that she was meant to be there for that role. And at the same time she might shrug her shoulders a little bit and say “someone had to do it” or something equally as humble.
To my friend Tina, we have gone through something together that few people can understand. Thank you. And Michael, You went above and beyond in an incomprehensible situation. Few people could step up the way you did. Thank you.
Tine Baileylives in Bali with her husband Jonathan where they co-founded the Narwastu Art Community. She continues to teach art and dance classes at the prison in Kerobokan every week, creating an environment that offers growth for creative development and experimentation.