IO – On the 25th of January 2019 Afterhours Books held the book launch of a de luxe edition of Irma Lengkong’s globetrotting adventures across Europe with her basset hound, Bobo Gajahmada and an exhibition of paintings of Bobo by renowned artist Hanafi at the Grand Kemang Hotel in South Jakarta. The book is a collector’s item with a special Bobo
case in the form of a small dog-sized suitcase. Many of Jakarta’s beau monde were in attendance from the likes of Sukmawati Soekarnoputri and Sandiago Uno’s brother Indra Uno to award winning author Laksmi Pamuntjak and even German Raden Saleh expert Werner Kraus.
Irma Lengkong is officially Indonesian and unofficially a global nomad. Her father was originally from Menado and served at various Indonesian embassies at the trade section. Consequently, Irma has been travelling since she was a child. Later she studied abroad and then married an Englishman which meant: more travel. So, travelling has become second nature to her. It’s part of her culture and who she is.
After her marriage Irma frequently travelled with her children but then the worst event of her life took place: her husband contracted cancer and passed away. On his death bed Irma promised him that she would take the children to England and raise them there so that they would also get to know his culture and she would place them into boarding school – something very hard for an Indonesian mother to do – but she is a very loyal lady. Fortunately, Irma found a boarding school only an hour from London so that she could see them on weekends. Then she remarried a very nice Swede named Magnus who was also living in London. Life continued and eventually the wanderlust came upon this gypsy spirited lady as it usually does – but who to travel with? Her husband was often away on work as were the children.
So, Magnus had a very good idea: he bought Irma a basset hound to accompany her on her travels and what Irma found was unconditional love. “I have learned throughout my relationship with Bobo my basset hound what it is like to give and receive love without expecting something in return,” says Irma. “We give our pets daily feedings and do not expect them to thank us nor do we expect them to reciprocate….we do it out of our love for them. Bobo would snuggle up to me several times a day when he wants to have a cuddle and I would do this willingly without expecting him to cuddle me back. This is another form of unconditional love. I hug him countless times and shower him with compliments and loving words and I do not expect him to understand what I am saying, let alone hope for him to love me back. But he does, in his own ways.”
Bobo was born on the 1st of December in 2014 with the strange name (for a little boy-dog) of Sallybrook Heartbeat in, as Irma puts it “the serene town of Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire.” A name change was obviously called for. His name she decided was: Bobo – named after her aunt’s German Shepherd – the first dog she ever knew. Then Irma added Gajahmada: a 14th century warrior prime minister of the ancient Javanese kingdom of Majapahit. His adopted mum is after all Indonesian. The name she felt would help the tiny puppy quickly grow strong.
And so, began Irma’s travels with Bobo Gajahmada through the UK and then the European Union. Irma’s favourite memory of travels in the UK is one in the Lake District where there was a lake with a special beach where dogs could bath. It was full of dogs and Bobo had a magnificent time. Irma felt a special camaraderie with all the other dogs and their owners. Meanwhile, for travels through the European Union Bobo needed his vaccinations all in order, a micro-chip imbedded under his skin and also a European Union passport which was all nicely taken care of – and away they went gallivanting through Europe.
Brexit poses a new dilemma for Bobo and his adopted mum. If Brexit goes through Bobo’s EU passport will no longer be valid. Irma would have to arrange a UK passport for the dog and then he would have to apply for a Schengen visa. “Sigh … just like me!” declared Irma, “and each time it will take three months!” Enough to put a serious spanner into any plans for travelling back and forth to Europe throughout the year.
When Bobo received an invitation to join the “dogs against Brexit” demonstration he was thrilled. The so-called “Wooferendum” (bark against Brexit) demanded that the humans be given another referendum to vote on Brexit. A thousand dogs and their owners showed up and marched to the British parliament in October of last year. Some wore EU flags wrapped around them. Many carried placards with political statements such as “Brexit’s barking mad” and at doggy pee stations along the way dogs were encouraged to pee on photographs of Brexit campaigners Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Bobo Gajahmada was apparently deeply disappointed when his mother was unable to take him to the demonstration.
For those of you dear readers, who are not familiar with basset hounds they are a noble breed with an illustrious history. Indeed, they are a French canine breed of aristocrats who hunted for rabbits and hares with kings and noblemen and became especially popular under the reign of Emperor Napoleon III who owned basset hounds, Ravageot and Ravagode, which he allowed Emmanuel Fremiet, the leading animal sculptor of his day, to sculpture and display as bronzes at the Paris Salon in 1853. The basset hound reached international fame ten years later at the 1863 Paris Dog Show. It is even said that Napoleon Bonaparte himself also had basset hounds. As for the noble Marquis de Lafayette of whom school children in America learn the words, “Forgive us, God, if we forget, the sacred sword of Lafayette!” – he helped America fight for its liberty and came to George Washington’s rescue at a time of deep despair. And what did he bring as oleh-oleh (gift) with him for the great George Washington? Yes indeed, he brought basset hounds!
Irma’s travels with Bobo led her to create a website: www.globehoppingwithirma.com in which she tells her readers about her travel experiences. She offers advice about where to go with children, with friends and with pets. In it, Irma writes, “It is designed for those like myself, who want to travel abroad, visit as many cities as possible in one country and see as many sights as you can in one city. All in one go.”
The site led to Irma wanting to do a book about travels and then a book about travels with Bobo. The book Irma decided should have photographs in it of Bobo paintings by her favourite artist Hanafi. Irma is a great fan and friend of renowned Indonesian abstract artist Hanafi from whom she bought several paintings in the past. Hanafi studied painting at the Indonesian School of Fine Arts in Yogyakarta and moved to Jakarta in the 1990s. His father was in the military and his mother was a dressmaker. They were a very religious or santri family. He is known for his abstract paintings which have been likened to abstract mindscapes. Hanafi has not only exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Jakarta but also at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Museum of Girona in Spain as well as in Canada, Japan and Singapore. He has participated in over 80 art exhibitions.
Hanafi began by painting in the realist style, then turned to Impressionism which he felt gave him more freedom with form and feeling and by 2002 when he was exhibiting in Barcelona he had turned to the abstract. “In art we do not just want to convey information but also express the longings of our soul,” explained Hanafi but in painting Bobo Gajahmada Hanafi returned to realism.
When Irma came to him with her project to do a book and have him paint her deeply beloved dog, coming from a santri family who are usually averse to dogs, Hanafi had first to place himself into the right frame of mind. After thinking about it he began to see the whole project as a creative challenge. The modern world he realized brings very individual private spaces and he felt challenged to widen the boundaries of his concept of the relationship between man and animal. He saw himself not merely as an illustrator of the book but as a narrator of Bobo and their journey through Holland, Belgium and France. He began by trying to borrow Bobo’s eyes and seeing this complicated thing called life from Bobo’s perspective. “Bobo sees things from the bottom half. Not faces but feet. In my compositions I have left a lot of empty spaces so that I and the viewer can focus on Bobo This difference in perspective also leads to a different life question. Bobo’s question is always, ‘So where to next?’ Whereas peoples’ question is usually ‘Where are you from?’. That is where we can learn from Bobo. In art there is no such thing as loss. There is only the discovery of new things.” And that surely is the essence of all true journeys… (Tamalia Alisjahbana)