Balinese Masters: Aesthetic Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art DNA, an ongoing presentation in Bali of installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects by 34 Balinese artists and communities opened to the enjoyment, as well as the examination, of many in the worlds of Balinese and Indonesian art.
The long-awaited exhibition which opened on May 25 at the AB • BC (Art Bali • Bali Collection) building, Nusa Dua, is the first in a series of annual three-part exhibitions that strives to define the historical development of Balinese visual arts. . The AB • BC building, a presentation space with international standards specially designed by the Indonesian Creative Economy Agency (BEKRAF), opened in October 2018 after two years of planning.
Balinese art was one of the main Indonesian cultural icons promoted to world markets during the development of mass tourism by the Suharto government in the 1970s. Its unique historical and artistic accolades were, however, overshadowed by its commodification, which has started in the 1930s when the first wave of foreign tourists visited the island. Balinese art has remained largely unknown while being decried as popular tourist art.
The importance of presenting an international level exhibition to a global and local audience in Bali, explaining the distinct development and essence of Balinese art, cannot be overstated. The enormous task given to respected curator Rifky Effendy of Bandung, West Java, was to grasp this as a type of chronological reading so that it could be easily understood.
The text of Effendy’s curatorial office states: “Through this exhibition, we can highlight various aesthetic and artistic achievements of Balinese artists, both [those] who still reside on the island and those who live outside. It is an attempt to examine and narrate the practice of creating fine art in Bali without subscribing to these conventional methods based on categorization, paradigm, art history, or any other “compelling” means. .
An essential communicative facet of this exhibition is the accompanying wall texts written by scholars, collectors, curators and local and international experts presented alongside some of the works explaining certain stylistic developments, as well as the impact of influential art collectives, individuals and events. The importance of studying paintings, as well as reading these texts, should be emphasized as a guide to help understand such a huge and distinctive art history.
One of the great challenges faced by Effendy, who was assisted by renowned academics, 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 works of art of the definitive era from 1930 to 1945 from the influential artist collective of Pitamaha and earlier classical works from institutions and private art collections.
The enormous time and energy required to do this therefore made it impossible to start this three-part series at the chronological start of its development. Balinese Masters: Aesthetic Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art DNA, begins its visual description from 1950.
Excellent examples of how Balinese art evolved aesthetically after the 1950s can be seen in The love of Mother Earth, 2018, by Ketut Budiana, who brought Balinese painting on its own innovative path by transforming the philosophies behind Balinese religious and folk tales into a unique visual language. All of the shapes depicted in this composition of gold and India ink on canvas are in a process of continual change – transforming from the ether into the smallest of vapors which eventually transform into more dense physical matter ( figures of Budiana), then complete the eternal cycle and return to the invisible.
The second signature style of the most critically acclaimed Balinese painting genre – the Batuan school – is featured in the works of Made Budi and Wayan Bendi. The original style, developed in the 1930s, is relatively free from outside influences. It involved religious and folk tale themes and others close to the hearts and minds of people’s daily lives. Often dark and frightening, including magic, power and ritual, they were expressed in tones of black ink on paper.
Meanwhile, the 1970s Miniaturist School created by artists Jata, Rajin and Murtika, Budi’s modern themes influenced by American photographer Leonard Lueras, introduced beach scenes and surfing.
Bendi went further and introduced politics and his huge Untitled, 2013, spans almost 10 meters in diameter, a composition encompassing a universal perspective, reflecting a modern and vibrant Bali with multi-ethnic and religious peoples, tourists and transformational technologies side by side with scenes from traditional Bali.
Read also: “Balinese Masters”: an exhilarating journey through the island’s fine arts landscape
The pioneer of Balinese painting in the modern Western setting was I Nyoman Tusan (1933 to 2003) who was the first to study modern art (1945 to 1962) at the Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB), West Java and later in Belgium. Cili Uang Kepeng, 1995, by the intellectual, lecturer and civil servant, characterizes his modern approach to Balinese ritual objects.
I Nyoman Gunarsa (1949 to 2017) also made important contributions to modern expressions of Balinese iconography by taking the static and the rigid wayang (puppet) figurations of classic paintings and transform them into dynamic shapes with his modern action painting style. Unfortunately, his works on display are not his strongest.
The sensibilities of contemporary art mingled with Balinese philosophies, symbols and iconography when landmark works were produced in the 1970s by the pioneers of the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) collective – Made Wianta, Nyoman Erawan and Made Djirna. Works from this period were not included, but more recent works are.
A complete alternative in the aesthetic of the exhibition is Djirna’s imposing installation of over 2,000 faces carved in pumice stone, Wajah Wajah Mengambang (Floating Faces), 2019, which takes observers into different experiential dimensions.
Other recent artists who should be mentioned for their achievements in developing the aesthetic 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 of the classical and newer and more Western styles which appeared in the 1930s (the schools of Batuan, Ubud and Sanur being the most important) is characterized by its function of storytelling with the aesthetic characteristics of a style of art based on graphic design with the canvas space entirely occupied by the overlay of patterns. The big change from this has been towards a modern, non-narrative, patternless, color-based abstract painting style where abstraction represents Hindu symbolism.
The powerful and beautiful mixed media works of Wayan Sika, one of an installation of nine paintings The essence of emptiness, 2019, measuring 600 by 360 centimeters, and the smallest No ego, 2019, as well as two magnificent pulsating compositions by Wayan Karja, both entitled Cosmic energy, 2019, are very important inclusions and underline the important change which was not clearly pointed out in the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition is perhaps a bit abusive and one wonders what were the criteria that determined how the participants were selected, especially some of the young artists and artistic communities.
Due to the breadth of content, the presentation would benefit from instructions on how to read the exhibit upon entry.
Balinese Masters: Aesthetic Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art DNA is a beautiful presentation celebrating this fascinating art form that opens the door to the next highly anticipated 2020 exhibition. Running through July 14, this is an essential viewing for those who want to know more.
Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art
Open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
AB • BC building (Art Bali • Bali Collection)
Nusa Dua, Bali
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Jakarta Post.