Arts and Crafts in Bali
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Bali abounds in enigmas. It is frequently remarked that, for a culture so abundantly blessed with creativity, it is extraordinary that the Balinese language contains no word for 'Art'. This curious oversight may reflect the universality of artistic endeavor in Balinese society. That which in the West is taken as an expression of personal creative genius, in Bali is subjugated for the common good as part of a community's united efforts to entertain and gratify the gods. The innovative mask shown here was created by Ida Bagus Sutarja of Mas, a highly repected priest and carver, for his own delight. In a break from traditional themes, the mask is used as a 3-dimensional canavas for images of birds, a personal passion of his.
Traditionally, the creation of objects d'art, together with music and dance, has formed an integral part of Balinese religious life, being designed solely for the delight of deities. Only within the past eighty years has a commercial art market developed to supply the demand of visiting tourists.
Nowhere, perhaps, is this more clearly seen than in painting. Admittedly the Balinese climate is not conducive to the preservation of such artwork, but its appears that before the arrival of European artists in the 1920s most paintings were intended as transitory creations destined to destroyed by fire in cremation ceremonies.
A conspicuous exception are the painted ceiling panels of the Kerta Gosa, or royal high court pavilion in Klungkung. Painted in a style reminiscent of the traditional shadow puppets, or wayan kulit, these graphically illustrate the punishments malefactors may expect from the demons inhabiting the nether regions.
The landscape shown here is a typical example of a popular genre created to supply the tourist market. Meticulously detailed, it was painted by a young rice farmer in his spare time, using brushes of just two or three bristles.
More durable than paintings are carvings in stone and wood. The soft paras rock, formed from compacted volcanic ash and widely quarried, has long been used to create the abundant carvings that universally decorate Balinese temples. However, earthquakes and weather exact a heavy toll, and such decorations must periodically be replaced. The extraordinary creative skills of Bali's masons is mirrored in the genius of her wood carvers. Prostituted today to the mass tourist trade, the traditional craft of mask-carving is still perpetuated by a few families who have for generations supplied the sacred masks required for religious ceremonies and temple dance and drama.
The performing arts, like carving and painting, are deeply rooted in the Bali-Hindu religion. In particular they serve as the principle vehicle of instruction in passing moral precepts and concepts of social obligation and responsibility from one generation to another.
Inseparable from dance and drama is the necessary musical accompaniment, played on instruments of ancient design in compositions of extraordinary complexity. Unsupported by any written record, the entire repertoire of music and dance is passed from generation to generation through repetition and memorisation. To master the these musical traditions requires long training and dedicated practice. Today this rich heritage is being undermined by the universal blight of television, which distracts the young each evening.
A Gallery of Balinese Arts and Crafts
[Still under construction - explanatory captions have still to be added]
All photography on this site © JAL Cooke 2003
About the BCP
The Bali Children’s Project is a tax-exempt non-profit charitable foundation registered in the state of California and in Indonesia (EIN 26-0021623)