by Amir Sidharta
(from the Jakarta Post)
Continuity and Change has been a theme has often been used in the discussion of Indonesian art. As early as 1967, Claire Holt wrote about Indonesian Art in the context of continuities and change. More recently, the 1990 publication of Modern Indonesian Art, prepared in conjunction with the Festival of Indonesia, discussed "Three Generations of Tradition and Change." Many other scholars have also used the same theme in their presentations of Balinese art. The Contemporary Balinese Art exhibit, currently on show at the National Museum in Jakarta in conjunction with the larger Contemporary Art of the Non-aligned Countries exhibiton, is also rather boringly entitled "Continuity and Change".
In the past, exhibitions and publications on Balinese art have been conceived by curators associated with one particular gallery, and the Suteja Neka has been the driving force in terms of promoting Balinese art both locally as well as internationally. The Art of Bali exhibit at the East-West Center in Honolulu in 1988, the Paintings of Bali show at the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel in 1988-89 displayed works of the Neka collections.
The From Ritual to Romance exhibit at Singapore's National Museum last year presented works from collections from Singapore, but the major bulk of the exhibit came from the Neka collections.
In addition were works from the collection of Jusuf Wanandi- a major patron of Neka's venture. Other galleries such as the Agung Rai Gallery and Rudana Gallery have also represented Bali abroad. Meanwhile, newer galleries such as Nyoman Sumertha's Gallery have emerged in the international scene.
By contrast, in the Bali exhibit currently on show, principal curator Dr. A. A. M. Djelantik, was capable of using a variety of different sources. Dr. Djelantik is a special instructor of aesthetics at the STSI Denpasar and author of the Oxford University publication of Balinese Painting, published in 1986. The works exhibited in this show is not limited to one particular gallery, but researched and collected from several galleries, including the major galleries of Neka, Agung Rai, and Rudana, as well as from the collections of the Bali Art Center, private collections and Jakarta's National Museum. The exhibit is co-curated by Drs. Tubagus Sukmana of the National Museum.
Nothing is particularly new or outstanding in terms of interpretive element of the exhibit. However, having access to the best collections in the country, the curator has managed to stage a more comprehensive view of Balinese art, compared to other exhibitions that have been held in the past. The painting section of the exhibit is divided into seven stylistic categories:
However, there no clear spatial distinction has been made to differentiate the different styles. Hence at certain points the division is obvious, but at others, it is intentionally left to be rather ambiguous. The show begins with a discussion of the traditional "wayang" style of Kamasan, not as a unified entity, but showing different styles and media. The first painting, Mandagiri, is a depiction covering four rows of wooden planks. Then, the more familiar Kamasan paintings by Mangku Mura are presented. After the viewers have seen the Balinese examples, a Javanese Panji fragment from the Museum Nasional is shown as a possible origin of the Balinese wayang style. Finally, another typical Kamasan painting by Nyoman Mandra concludes this section.
Opposite the Kamasan Style paintings, paintings of the Pita Maha Style are displayed. These include impressive works by well-known painters such as Ida Bagus Made, Dew Putu BedilI Gusti Ketut Kobot, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Works by lesser known artists, such as Nyoman Leper, Nyoman Menur were taken from the collections of the National Museum and the Bali Art Center.Some works seem to have come from Agung Rai's most recent acquisitions of Balinese paintings of dating between 1940 and 1960. An anonymous work about the Abduction of Sita is of particular interest.
On the reverse side of the panel, is what the curator calls Post Pita Maha, which includes the famed Batuan miniatures of I Made Budi and I Wayan Bendi. "Birds in foliage" works typical of the Pengosekan Community of Artists are shown in another section. While most of the paintings indeed show that the influence of community is prevalent, variations on the theme also exist. While most of the paintings came from the collection of Rudana, one work of the same theme but notably different in technique comes from the collection of painter Chusin Setiadikara.
The painting entitled Flora Fauna, shows a crisp, posterlike depiction of birds in a colorful natural environment. Painted by I Made Supartha of Singapadu (a village about six kilometers from the Artist Community of Pengosekan), it is likely that the work was perhaps influenced by the Pengosekan artists, especially in terms of genre. However, it is clear that the artist has managed to steer the idyllic Pengosekan technique to a bolder direction.
The exhibition continues with a presentation of works by the Young Artists of Penestanan, including the paintings of Cakra, Ngurah K.K., and Soki. In the middle of the paintings, a painting by Arie Smit, father of the Young Artists' "movement", is also displayed to show the inspiration behind the works of the Penestanan artists.
As we turn the corner, works by Tagen and Pugur from the National Museum collection and a charming little vignette by Nodia present a more expressive style. It is unclear where exactly the two artists come from, but Ubud is inscribed on their paintings to designate of the vicinity in which they work. These two Ubud artists reduce human figures into minimally defined blocks of color, without even any indication of eyes and mouth. Albeit less refined, these works seem to have a more emotional energy than the other typical works of the Young Artists.
Painter Nodia, whose inscription indicates his origins at Tanah Lot, might also have been influenced by the Penestanan artists. While the forms he uses are even more simple compared to Tagen and Pugur, his work is even wilder in composition and color.
The most impressive works, however, are placed at the very end of the hall. I Gusti Made Deblog's Envoy Hanuman, presents the monkey general Hanuman running amok at Alengka, after he delivers Rama's message to King Rahvana. Rather than placing Hanuman in an idealized graphic composition, Deblog has chosen to set him in a local Balinese surrounding, complete with the pura and shrines around it, shaded by a large banyan tree. Standing over the corpse of a dead giant, the long strands of the banyan tree's hanging roots (?) and spears made of bamboo scattered chaotically all around him obstruct his movements.
Next to it, is a grotesque painting of the struggle between Black and White by I Wayan Miarta. This wild work shows two figures entangled in a totally chaotic environment of animals and insects. Out of one figure, pours out a cacophony of insects. Roaches, fish and other creatures fill the entire space of the painting. This artist's works may have influenced Ketut Budiana - another painter of grotesque subject matters. Budiana's works are displayed next to Miarta's although the former is categorized as an academic.
The works of academic painters such as Nyoman Gunarsa, Made Wianta, Nyoman Tusan, and Nyoman Erawan are placed in the back of the Museum's northrern wing along with works of sculpture. By so doing, the academic works are spatially and perhaps also interpretively separated from the more traditional works.
Collected from several different galleries and collections, the exhibit is much more comprehensive than other exhibits of Balinese art. It presents substantial diversity within the preconceived categories. To be sure, the exhibit also has many weaknesses. While it is able to present Arie Smit's paintings to show his influence on the Young Artists, none of Bonnet's work, not to mention Walter Spies's, is presented as the source of inspiration of the Pita Maha artists. In many instances, dates are not included in the labels, making it impossible for the viewers to determine which painting come first. It is also hard to figure out who influenced who in the show.
The lack of dates has also enabled the curators to get away with placing works dating from the 1960s to 1994 in the category of Pita Maha, which actually dates back to the 1940s. It is hence clear that there are still some problems with the classification of the artworks. When did Pita Maha end, and then why was the term Post Pita Maha used? Why is Young Artist distinuished from Community Artist? In fact, isn't Penestanan also a community?
Should the distinction be according to region: Ubud, Batuan, Pengosekan, Penestanan, and so forth, as has been done in many other exhibits? If held in conjunction with a major art exhibit of the Non-aligned Countries - the exhibit was meant to present certain works of Balinese art that has developed in total non-alignment to any other artistic trends, much more effort still needs to be placed in its preparation. However, just like the main exhibit of Contemporary art, there still seems to be a great need to be inclusive in this sensitive community, and for now we can only remain patient and eagerly wait for even better shows about Balinese art.
The Contemporary Balinese Art exhibit, "Continuity and Change" was held
from November 1994 to June 30, 1995 at the National Museum, Central Jakarta.