Art from Bali and Indonesia
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1925-1935
Beautiful and unique woodcarving by I GEREMBOEANG,
representing the moment between life and death.
Important piece of artwork for the history and development of woodcarving on Bali.
In 2008 sold by ToboArt to the "TROPENMUSEUM" - Amsterdam,
where it is now on permanent display. (
link)


 

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1930-1940
Wooden bookends made on Bali.


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1930-1940
Wooden coloured statue of a female priest ("Pedanda Isteri").

ART AND LIFE IN BALI (a summary of an article by Dr F.C.E. Knight in the Geographical Magazine 1939)
The need for self expression is one of humanity's deepest instincts. In our industrialized western world this self expression is largely frustrated, mostly because the greater part of our activities are linked with a vast economic machine working for aims beyond our own control.

So most of us turn lamely to sports and hobbies; some find satisfaction in a political or social cause; a very few dedicate their lives to arts.

Have we nothing to learn from the Balinese who, having created a communal basis for their economic existence, find in the collective cultivation of the endlessly rich field of art a satisfactory substitute for our hystirical mass sports, religious revivalism, and Gadarene-swine-like movements behind a politica leader?

Perhaps no spot on earth, in these days of travel films and tourist cruise advertisements, is more extensively publicized than the island of Bali. Yet of all those to whom its name is familiar, only a handful are aware of the inner life that goes on behind the facade of colourful dancers elabourate temples that is presented to them. So let us, in the hackneyed phrase, 'say farewell to the colourful isle of Bali, and try to discern the real life of its people.

In relation to Bali, a place about which it is particular dangerous to generalize, we may safely employ an expression used by a writer in the GEOGRAPHICAL MAGAZINE with regard to the former condition of BURMA - namely, that it is an art-integration, a place where the various arts are 'aspects of the same sort of rythms' , composing an integral and balanced picture.

But in applying this expression to Bali, it is necessary that we should examine a little more closely the meaning of the word 'art'. The dictionary gives as one difinition; "human skill as opposed to nature". this may be an adequate definition for Europeans, but does it apply when, looking at the sculptures and paintings of the Balinese, listening to their music and watching their dances, we discover that they have no such word as 'art' or 'artist' in their language? On getting to know the woodcarvers and stonemasons, the painters and musicians, one finds out that they are quite ordinary beings who work in the ricefields and pursue their art in their spare time. To them painting is just an expression of an inward state, and needs no special qualification such as the skill which forms an essential part of the European conception. artists in Europe are such 'artificial' people that they even have their own quarters to live in, such as Chelsea and the quarter Latin. So when we begin to analyse Balinese art , we must do away with any preconceived opinions and seek to fathom the reasons for this difference.

Artistic activities in Bali, like all others, centre on the villlage community. This is easy understood from an economic point of view, for no mone family could could organize and carry out alone the irrigation of the surrounding paddyfields. Actually the group of villagers responsible for the drawing up and execution of the necessary schemes resembles our local water-boards and they are strictly obeyed, as there is not enough water to allow the sawahs to be flooded haphazardly. Then again the building of a tempel or the renewal of a carved gate is of concern of the whole village. In the same way orchestras and dance groups depend on the vilage community to make up the numbers which could not be provided by the individual family. These bands are a matter of great pride to the village and the fame of a good group will spread over the whole of Bali.

Dancers, musicians, sculptors and painters are such matter-of-course members of the village , that supposing one man is carving a temple gate, his rice fields will be cultivated by his neighbour. greed and the internal struggle for possessing more than one's neighbour do not exist. All the land belongs to the gods and is only being lent to the mortals for cultivation.

Art in Bali is alive and anonymous, be it painting, sculpture music or dancing. The latter is not so anonymous as other arts, for teachers do exist and when they become famous, like Mario who invented the Kebyar dance, village communities try to get this teacher to train their dancers. Teachers like Mario do not have to work in the rice fields but can devote all their time to teaching.

The style of painting as well as carving is for ever changing, perhaps partly because nature is so unstinting in her gifts that some of this wealth seems to fire the imagination to ever more exquisite designs; but also because most sculptures are done in a very soft sandstone so that temple gates and other figures never last more than about thirtiy years, and, as there are nearly a thoudand temples, renewals are indeed frequent.

It is really unfair to look at any sculpture in a museum ot ethnology, for it has lost its 'raison d'etre' the minute it has left its birthplace. The grinning monsters that abound in Bali were conceived at night, for the dark is peopled with werewolves and witches, and even other decorative motives have no resemblance to living persons since the Balinese do not think of themselves as subjects for realist reproduction. Living as they do united with Nature, their phantasy does not reproduce living people or events, as in Europe, but rraches far beyond the boundery of direct experience.

The Dutch were wise not to set upplantations as in Java, for that would have upset the perfect balance which characterize the balinese; be it the perfect balance between the spiritual and physical life, or the balance in art. This exists not only within a given branch of art, as in dancing, where no special dance dominates over the rest,but also in daily life; For example in relation to children and animals. The Balinese would never chides his child, for it would be a crime to hurt his little soul; and if you watch a father playing with his child or fondling his fighting-cock, or if you admire the bathing-place with separate compartments for men, women and horses, you will begin to understand his spritual make up.

We in the West have got so far away from instinctive and emotional reactions and stress so much the intellectual factor that we either look down on the native as a poor nigger or study him from a anthropological point of view, thereby faling to grasp the unique phenomenon of human beings living in natural surroundings which they do not try to subject. A good example is the cultivation of land in Bali; The soil of Bali is extraordinarily fertile; and instead of seeking to exploit it, the Balinese have adapted their econonomic life to the balance of rythm and nature. In the very pattern of their rice-fields , skillfully terraced, so that tropical rains shall replenish and not tear away the soil from which ,man has removed its covering of vegetation, one may perceive the the harmonious flow that marks all natural things. This profusion of nature strikes sympathetic cords in their souls and finds expression in the abundance and perfection of their culture.

The Balinese gods play a paramount role in every day life and it is no exaggeration to say that a good third of Balinese's waking hours is spend preparing for or taking part in some religious ceremony. The religion is a curious combination of pre-Hinduistic stone worship mixed with Hinduism and buddhism. There are many more hindi priests than Buddhists, the former being the servants of god, while the latter's duties consist on the whole in the appeasement of evil spirits.

The priests are consulted to find the right day for certtain caeremonies, like toothfiling , temple purification, or even the simple event ofsowing a paddy field. Also priests are consulted as to the desirability of performing certain plays or dances.

In examining the relationship bewteen religion, dances and plays, it is important to appreciate the outlook of the Balinese upon his surroundings. The world around him is peopled with strange phantoms, all fundamentally evil. They are the spirits of uncremated human beings and of all the different diseases, each of which has its own peculiar shape. All these evil spirits which surround the native and crowd in on him during the dark have to be kept somehow in check, and the Balinese have decided to solve the problem by propitiating and sometimes deceiving them. A good example can be seen at a Balinese cremation ceremony; during the transport of the cremation tower to the cremation site , the cremation tower must be turned several times to shake off possible bad spirits.

 

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1930
Wooden statue of a priest and his servant in the shape of a monkey.


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1920-1930
Mother and child. Wooden sculpture made on Bali.


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1920-1930
Balinese woman with 3 birds. Wooden sculpture made on Bali in the thirties.


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1930-1940
Bookends of praying men.

 
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