As we see the world changing before our eyes, an independent, not-for-profit foundation in Ubud, Bali, Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati, is embracing the change caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic with its newest digital initiative, KEMBALI 2020: A Rebuild Bali Festival (KEMBALI20).

The Foundation is known for one of the world’s leading literary and arts events Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) and Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event Ubud Food Festival (UFF). KEMBALI20 presented the best of the two Festivals in a new and exciting virtual experience from 29 October–8 November 2020.

From Amsterdam to Adelaide, Dubai to Delhi, Philippines to Pekalongan, and dozens of cities in between, over 120 speakers joined KEMBALI20 to share extraordinary stories, diverse voices, and brave ideas in virtual panel discussions, performances, workshops, film screenings, book launches, and cooking challenges.

As Janet DeNeefe, KEMBALI20 Founder and Director said, “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have changed and things have changed permanently. In this extraordinary year, we have reimagined UWRF and combined it together with UFF and we are presenting something more meaningful, more diverse, than ever before. I’m proud to show you, and to launch, this Festival in this most unusual year.”

Just like its offline events in the past, this year’s celebration was packed with international guests including Academy Award-winning musician, composer, and producer David Byrne, bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan, Booker nominee Avni Doshi, international chef and pioneer in sustainable fishing Bart van Olphen, distinguished Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill, and Haitian-American writer and MacArthur fellow Edwidge Danticat.

They were joined by Nobel Peace laureate and former President of East Timor Jose Ramos Horta, celebrated food journalist and writer James Oseland, Eritrean rising poet, storyteller, and activist Manal Younus, leading voice in Israeli literature and cinema Etgar Keret, and consultant for the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance and Leaders: Asia Pacific Program Maya Soetoro-Ng.

As Indonesia’s leading platform for showcasing its writers and artists to the world, the Festival is honored to welcome former Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti, prominent actor and film producer Nicholas Saputra, Indonesia’s current most internationally renowned author Eka Kurniawan, critically acclaimed writer Dee Lestari, leading Indonesian architect Andra Matin, award-winning author Intan Paramaditha, and celebrated Indonesia’s first Muslim female stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf.

“KEMBALI20 is a virtual playground, unique, new, imaginative, is itself a testament to the fact that we can mount a response to the pandemic that we can get over the challenge and find new ways to do things,” commented Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia Gary Quinlan. “It is not a Festival just about revitalizing, rebuilding Bali, it is actually a Festival about hoping to rebuild all of us, all our lives, all our communities in this difficult time.”

Audiences learned how creativity, traditions, culture, and art is vital in facing global challenges theough 60 donation-based Main Program sessions comprising panels and one-on-one interviews. Sessions such as A Creative Response and Writing in Times of Crisis highlight the significance of the creative industry and its social impact during the pandemic.

Events outside the Main Program were also packed with ample inspiration. In Our Mothers’ Land, journalist Febriana Firdaus travels to meet women who have risen to lead social movements, facing violence, imprisonment, and judgement from conservative societies as they fight for their rights.

While Leila S. Chudori’s The Sea Speaks His Name Book Launch event shares the stirring story of a momentous period in Indonesian history. An artist-anthropologist from Ubud, Dewa Ayu Eka Putri, also presented a tribute to the legendary poet and writer, the late Sapardi Djoko Damono, who died after a quite long illness last July.

Stories from the Field, The Foundation’s first documentary-series production of the year, features five short movies that share and celebrate the resilience and adaptation of Balinese during the pandemic. With local filmmaker Wayan Martino, the series will showcase Bali beyond the beaches and rice paddies as we know it

The Lifetime Achievement Award, an initiative started by the Foundation as an appreciation for the world of Indonesian literature, is given annually to great figures who have dedicated their lives to developing Indonesian literature through their writings and works.

This time, the honor wss given to Toeti Heraty, Indonesia’s renowned poet, philosopher, and human rights activist. Born in Bandung on 27 November 1933, Toeti has been named the only woman amongst the leading contemporary poets of Indonesia and is considered the first generation of feminist thinkers.

“KEMBALI20’s aspiration to connect various communities of literature, art, culture and culinary lovers in all corners of the world, ignites the spirit that Bali can rise again,” said Vice Governor of Bali Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati. “Hopefully the inspirational and uplifting stories shared by KEMBALI20 can be the first steps in making this world a better place.”

We truly appreciate the people who have made time and put so much effort into making such a positive event that will hopefully bring Bali back to its feet. Always support local business and stay healthy, and we’ll see you next time.