A Bamboo Legacy
Tribal drapes, oversized cushions and bamboo furniture were the hallmarks of Linda Garland’s easy-breezy spaces, a style that famously won favour with the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie.
Fast-growing and durable, sustainable bamboo was to become the designer’s raison d’être, taking centre stage in her new home amidst the forests of Ubud. Eco-minded designers and environmentalists from far and wide began to flock to her 25-acre estate – the venue for the International Bamboo Conference in 1993.
Recognised as one of the most influential designers of her time by Architectural Digest, Garland was a world ambassador for bamboo. Thanks to her, what was once a ‘poor man’s wood,’ became an essential element of an internationally sought after modern-tropical style.
Her son Arief Rabik shares some thoughts on his Ubud-jungle childhood, his mother’s bamboo fixation, and his own plan to build 1000 bamboo villages.
How was your childhood growing up in the estate?
I grew up alone, a lot of the time at that house. For more than 12 hours of a day, it was me, the security guard and a nanny. I was this kind of Mowgli kid, just hanging out.
My mother used to say I knew the land like the palm of my hand. I spent a lot of time going down the rivers and finding different animals and basically living the Ubud forest life; back then it was very raw and overgrown.
Come to think about it, the most important thing about growing up in Ubud at that time was learning that genuine Balinese cultural compassion and groundedness that you get as a human. I was so connected to the way the land was worked, the way the winds blew. Every windy season, we’d take our kites out, every ceremony day, we’d get involved in the village rituals. I miss that connection with nature and community now.
The Bridge House overlooking the river is one of the estate’s most iconic features. What are your memories of that space?
It was mostly for hosting lunches… A lot of incredible and inspiring people of the planet have been at that house; from Bono to David Bowie and Mick Jagger. The oldies would be set up there at lunchtime while I took the young ‘uns up river to ride down by innertube. It was so much fun; there’d be this amazing rendezvous moment as we flew past below.
How did it feel to rub shoulders with rock stars and heads of state at home?
At the time, I didn’t really know who they were! I was in this tiny bubble as a nature kid so I had zero fear; I didn’t judge them or have any shyness towards them.
Many figures on the island – including your mother’s long-time friend, the photographer Rio Helmi – have described her as ‘larger than life’. How would you describe her?
She was a rebel from day one who didn’t want to go with the grain. At the age of 16, she was supposed to go to a convent but instead ran away to family in Spain where she fell in love with a bullfighter and decided to study bullfighting. She became one of the first female matadors out there as a teenager! She was also a DJ on a cruise ship for nine months going around the world, even though she had zero experience. In fact, she studied nothing formally, she didn’t even graduate high school, but she had an appreciation for beauty that was more holistic than most. How do you describe someone like that? Well, I suppose ‘larger than life!’
Your mother pioneered bamboo as an equally sustainable and stylish building material. Why did she love working with it so much?
In the first place, she was very practical about it – it grew so quickly, it was so strong and had great properties, it was preserved correctly. Actually, it was my father who convinced her that he could treat it and make it last forever. Some people say that he was her secret weapon for a lot of those practical, hands-on things.
Linking up with scientists and technologists, she created a bamboo preservation system called vertical soak and diffusion – it was as easy as filling up a glass of water! For the first time in Indonesia, poor people could afford to treat their bamboo because of that system.
How did your mother’s work in bamboo affect your own career aspirations?
My mother had a way to inspire people and plant incredible seeds in the process. She was an incredible career counselor… but with me I think she had a biased agenda.
For about ten years, our house was really a hub for bamboo; a lot of incredible visionaries came there for meetings. I listened to many of these and by osmosis and diffusion, I soaked up a lot as I was growing up. I was convinced, from my mother’s words, but also convinced from everyone else who came.
But from what I saw, there were a lot of visionaries but not enough technical support so I went to university and studied Environmental Sciences, specialising in Inorganic Environmental Chemistry. From the moment I chose that degree I became a lot more active in the discussion and my work has grown from there.
Tell us more about your ‘1000 Bamboo Villages’ initiative.
Essentially, it’s a national strategy putting forward bamboo as Indonesia’s restoration economy.
Due to deforestation, shifting agricultural practices and peat fires, Indonesia is the host to more than 88 million hectares of degraded land. Fast-growing bamboo offers a sustainable alternative to timber and our plan for ‘1000 Bamboo Villages’ offers a solution to restoring degraded landscapes whilst boosting the country’s economic development and improving the livelihoods of forest communities.
Each bamboo village will be 2000 hectares, producing around 70,000 clumps of bamboo. You can sustainably harvest around 21 tonnes of bamboo per day, bringing a farmer and his family to a livelihood of around IDR 10 million rupiah a month.
We’ve started in Flores with the first community-based bamboo industry village and we’re setting up to supply to three industries; laminate flooring, pulp and paper, and rayon. Even today, only China are doing these three industries and the revenue of the bamboo sector there is more than 15 billion dollars!
We’re talking my mother’s vision of the bamboo village and just changing the title… she kept it open ended as to what the village would supply to and how it would work.
Arief will be hosting BAMBU, a bamboo-inspired dinner and fundraiser to benefit 1000 Bamboo Villages on Saturday 14 April at Katamama.
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who came along. We raised more than IDR 100,000,000.
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