Artivist, observes and reports on developments in the Bali and Indonesian art scenes
Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art, an ongoing presentation in Bali of installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects by 34 Balinese artists and communities has opened to the delight, as well as the scrutiny, of many in the Balinese and Indonesian art worlds.
The highly anticipated exhibition that opened on May 25 at the AB•BC (Art Bali•Bali Collection) Building, Nusa Dua, is the first of a landmark three-part annual exhibition series that endeavors to define the historic development of the Balinese visual arts. The AB•BC Building, a purpose-built, international-standard presentation space established by the Indonesian Agency of Creative Economy (BEKRAF), was opened in October 2018 after two years of planning.
Balinese art was one of the key Indonesian cultural icons promoted in global markets during the Suharto government's development of mass tourism in the 1970s. Its unique historic and artistic distinctions have been, however, overshadowed by its commodification, which began in the 1930s during the first wave of foreign tourists to visit the island. Balinese art has remained largely unappreciated while being maligned as touristy folk art.
The importance of presenting an international-standard exhibition to a global and local audience on Bali, explaining the distinct development and essence of Balinese art, cannot be overstated. The enormous task bestowed upon respected curator Rifky Effendy from Bandung, West Java, was to capture this as a type of chronological reading so it may be easily comprehended.
Effendy’s curatorial text states, “Through this exhibition, we can highlight various aesthetic and artistic achievements of Balinese artists, both [those] who are still residing on the island and those who live outside it. It is an attempt to examine and narrate the practice of creating fine arts in Bali without subscribing to those conventional methods based on categorization, paradigm, art history, or any other ‘constraining’ means.”
An essential communicative facet of this exhibition is the accompanying wall texts written by local and international academics, collectors, curators and experts presented alongside some of the works explaining certain stylistic developments, along with the impact of influential art collectives, individuals and events. The significance of studying the paintings, along with reading these texts, must be emphasized as a guide to help in the understanding of such an enormous and distinctive art history.
One of the great challenges faced by Effendy, who has been assisted by renowned scholars, experts and artists like Agung Rai, Jean Couteau, Hardiman Adiwinata, Edmondo Zanolini, I Made Aswino Aji, Satya Cipta, I Wayan Sujana Suklu and Soemantri Widagdo, was to obtain master artworks from the definitive 1930 to 1945 era of the influential Pitamaha artist’s collective and earlier Classical works from institutions and private art collections.
The enormous time and energy required to do this, therefore, made it impossible to begin this three-part series at the chronological start of its development. Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art, begins its visual description from 1950.
Excellent examples of how Balinese art has evolved aesthetically post-1950s may be seen in Mother Earth’s Love, 2018, by Ketut Budiana, who took Balinese painting on his own innovative path by transforming the philosophies behind the Balinese religious and folk tales into a unique visual language. All forms depicted within this gold- and Chinese-ink-on-canvas composition are in a continual the process of change – transforming from the ether into the tiniest of vapors that eventually change into denser physical matter (Budiana’s figures) and then complete the eternal cycle and return back into the invisible.
The second signature style of the most critically acclaimed genre of Balinese painting – the Batuan School – is featured in the works by Made Budi and Wayan Bendi. The original style, developed in the 1930s, is relatively free of outside influences. It involved religious and folk tale themes and others close to the heart and mind of the people’s daily lives. Often dark and frightening, including magic, power and ritual, they were expressed in black ink tones on paper.
Meanwhile, the Miniaturist School of the 1970s created by artists Jata, Rajin and Murtika, Budi’s modern themes under the influence of American photographer Leonard Lueras, introduced beach scenes and surfing.
Bendi went further and introduced politics and his enormous Untitled, 2013, stretches nearly 10 meters across, a composition encompassing a universal perspective, reflecting a modern, bustling Bali with multi-ethnic and religious peoples, tourists and transformational technologies side-by-side with scenes of the traditional Bali.
The pioneer of Balinese painting within the modern Western framework was I Nyoman Tusan (1933 to 2003) who was the first to study modern art (1945 to 1962) at Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB), West Java and later in Belgium. Cili Uang Kepeng,1995, by the intellectual, lecturer and official typifies his modern approach to Balinese ritual objects.
I Nyoman Gunarsa (1949 to 2017) also made important contributions to the modern expressions of Balinese iconography taking the static and rigid wayang (puppet) figurations of the Classical paintings and transforming them into dynamic forms with his modern action style of painting. Unfortunately, his displayed works are not his strongest.
Contemporary art sensibilities mixed with Balinese philosophies, symbols and iconography when landmark works were made in the 1970s by the pioneers of the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) collective – Made Wianta, Nyoman Erawan and Made Djirna. Works from this era were not included, but more recent works are.
A complete alternative in the aesthetics of the exhibition is Djirna’s commanding installation of more than 2,000 faces carved in pumice stone, Wajah Wajah Mengambang (Floating Faces), 2019, which takes observers into different experiential dimensions.
Others recent artists who should be mentioned for their achievements within the development of aesthetics are Gede Mahendra Yasa and Putu Wirantawan. Gugusan Energi Alam Batin 6.14.4.019, 2019, is a fascinating and eye-catching installation of pencil and pen sketches by Wirantawan.
Balinese painting from the Classical and the newer, more westernized styles that appeared in the 1930s (the Batuan, Ubud and Sanur Schools being the foremost) is characterized by its storytelling function with the aesthetic features of a graphics-drawing based style of art with the space of the canvas fully occupied by the layering of patternations. The big shift away from this has been to a modern, non-narrative, non-patterned color-based abstract style of painting where abstraction represents Hindu symbolism.
The powerful and beautiful mixed media works by Wayan Sika, one among an installation of nine paintings The Essence of the Void, 2019, measuring 600 by 360 centimeters, and the smaller No Ego, 2019, along with two magnificent pulsating compositions by Wayan Karja, both entitled Cosmic Energy, 2019, are very important inclusions and highlight the important shift that has not been clearly underlined in the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition may be somewhat a misnomer and one may wonder what the criteria was that determined how the participants were selected, especially some of the younger artists and the art communities.
Because of the vast scope of content, the presentation would benefit from, upon entry, instructions on how to read the exhibition.
Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art is a beautiful presentation celebrating this fascinating art form that opens the door to the next eagerly awaited 2020 exhibition. Continuing through until July 14, it is essential viewing for those who wish to know more.
Balinese Masters : Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art
Open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
AB•BC (Art Bali • Bali Collection) Building
Nusa Dua, Bali
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.