Black Hand Gang: Idealism and the Struggles of Graphic Print Studio

Ubud seems to have its own charm within the dynamic and business of Dewata Island’s tourism. Tradition and nature blends and unites in this town. In the midst of Ubud’s rising business, the town is still a top destination for visitors seeking peace and tranquility. Famously, Elizabeth Gilbert visited Ubud in the film Eat, Pray, Love (2010) as part of her journey to find herself. Ubud offers a variety of destinations for tourists, like historical and cultural sites, culinary spots, yoga and meditation hubs, and, of course, art destinations. In the matter of the arts, exploration in Ubud is now no longer limited to the traditional style.

Along Jalan Raya Mas, amongst the row of buildings with a candi bentar at its entrance, stands an anomaly with the facade of a black ship container. Between the two black containers sits a two-storey building. On the ground floor, a few silk screen frames are stacked not far from the entrance. Print works pepper the walls of the building. Someone stands busy pulling a screen while another is in the middle of rolling up and packing away their printed artwork. This is how the days pass at Black Hand Gang (BHG).

BHG arrived at Ubud as a graphic print studio and a creative hub established back in 2020, in the thick of the pandemic period. In conversation with Lina Nata Kurnia as the General Manager and Rinaldo Hartanto as the Studio Manager, BHG sees how there are still not many graphic print studios in Indonesia, especially in Bali. Meaning that the studios that exist are limited to personal studios, community studios, or campuses. In the context of Ubud, in the midst of rich tradition, BHG parses that the arts in Ubud are dominated by painting and sculpting. Compared to these two mainstream artistic principles, the printmaking discipline, especially in the contemporary style, is still relatively absent.

In maintaining the studio’s sustainability, from a commercial perspective, BHG produces and sells works from collaborations with many artists both from within and beyond Indonesian borders. Those who have worked with BHG include Agus Suwage, Arahmaiani, Darbotz, Eddie Hara, Kanoko Takaya, Mella Jaarsma, Sir Dandy, and Uji “Hahan” Handoko. These works were printed by BHG using the screen print method. According to Lina, there is no specific technique emphasized by BHG. In her view, the screen print method is chosen as the “door” for the general public to familiarize themselves further with the graphic print studio.


Overall, BHG facilitates a variety of graphic print techniques. Aside from screen printing, Rinaldo explained BHG also hosts intaglio print techniques like etching, photo intaglio, and drypoint, relief print techniques like linocut and woodcut, planographic print techniques like monotypes and lithographies, and image transfers like cyanotypes. Rinaldo opined that manual prints have more value. “Each print is different from any other because it’s produced manually. As it is printed manually, there will always be that human touch and human error. That’s what makes it interesting and not flat and perfect like digital prints,” Rinaldo explained.

The effort to open and intensely introduce the graphic printmaking practice in BHG’s first year has somewhat borne fruit in Lina’s view. In her opinion, more and more printmaking artists have gone on to establish their own studios. Moreover, Lina feels that printmaking works are more present than ever at art events and the fine art market in general. On the other hand, Lina still sees many hurdles in distributing and selling print works to the general public. She stated, “ Fortunately, we’re located in Bali. I mean, you never get the same people twice in Bali. People come and go. Our neighbors, like Australian tourists, have more of an understanding of prints. We would suddenly get a few visitors at the studio who collect and buy [art prints]. That’s what really helps us.”

Lina also has her own view regarding this trend in collecting works based on her experience at BHG. She has observed that Indonesian audiences tend to choose works based on the artist because they are quite familiar with the names of Indonesian artists. Meanwhile, buyers from outside emphasize the work, without paying much attention to the name of the artist. “So they come, like [the artwork], and they buy it,” she explained. “But, Indonesian buyers tend to ask, “Do you guys still have this print by Om Eddie [Hara]?’ So they’re really specific.”

Furthermore, BHG’s effort in sustaining the studio got them doing commission projects. In this matter, BHG accepts work or the production of printed works from Indonesian and foreign artists. According to Lina, the screen printing technique is still a favorite for Indonesian artists. Meanwhile, foreign artists actually came with requests for internal printing techniques. Uniquely, commission projects also come from hotel or restaurant owners in Bali. Lina explained that Bali as a tourist destination means that accommodation and dining businesses continue to emerge. She said that BHG often received commission projects from business owners to provide printed works to decorate those places.

In line with its intention to be open to the public, BHG also initiated various workshops, such as cyanotype printing, botanical monotype, linocut, screen, photo intaglio, and etching. According to Rinaldo, in terms of demographics, 80% of their participants are foreigners and 20% are locals. Specifically, Rinaldo also noted that local participants were primarily people from Jakarta and Surabaya who already knew about BHG through social media. “Most Jakartan [visitors] are younger people. We get a lot of people between 25 to 35 years old. But our foreign visitors are really diverse. We’d get backpackers all the way to pensioners. Yesterday even, we had a whole family. The father, mother, and two kids wanted to try learning more about print,” Rinal added.

Opening during a difficult pandemic has forged BHG to continue to move forward and develop its studio amidst any existing challenges. Born and raised in Bali, BHG truly understands how to support a studio by responding to all of Bali's characters and dynamics. BHG proves that idealism is built through strategy and the ability to respond to space and the market. For all its efforts to maintain sustainability, BHG has colored the graphic and contemporary art print discipline in both Indonesia and Bali.

About the Author

Daud Sihombing

Daud Sihombing has been writing professionally for the past 9 years. This fervent alternative publishing enthusiast prefers his quaint little town over the hustle and bustle of the city and doesn't let sleep stop him from watching every single AS Roma match.