by Michelle Chin
In the last ten years this island has been written about, filmed, photographed,
and gushed over to an extent which would justify nausea. I went there half-unwillingly,
for I expected a complete "bali-hoo", picturesque and faked to a Hollywood
standard; I left there wholly unwillingly, convinced that I had seen the nearest
approach to Utopia that I am ever to see. (Geoffrey Gorer, Bali and Angkor,
Or Looking at Life and Death, 1936: 42-43)
Why is Bali is so fascinating? (Is Bali actually so fascinating?) Was Bali ever
a paradise, or was it paradise created for the needs of a foreign (and later,
domestic) tourist market? These issues have been discussed in great detail in
books such as Adrian Vickers Bali, A Paradise Created (Periplus Editions,
1989) and Timothy Lindseys The Romance of Ktut Tantri and Indonesia
(Oxford University Press, 1997).
If Bali is indeed paradise created, then where better to look than the world of
film, including Hollywood, where dreams become reality. If we look briefly at
the history of Western films about Bali made in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, a
picture emerges of the concept of Bali as paradise created in the 20th century.
The remote little island only became news to the rest of the Western world
with the advent, a few years ago, of a series of documentary films of Bali with
a strong emphasis on sex appeal. These films were a revelation and now everybody
knows that Balinese girls have beautiful bodies and that the islanders lead a
musical-comedy sort of life full of weird, picturesque rites. The title of one
of these films, Goona-goona, the Balinese term for "magic", became at
the time newyorkese for sex allure. The newly discovered "last paradise"
became the contemporary substitute for the nineteenth-century romantic conception
of primitive Utopia, until then the exclusive monopoly of Tahiti and other South
Sea islands. And lately travel agencies have used the alluring name of Bali to
attract hordes of tourists for their round-the-world cruises that make a one-day
stop on the island.
(Miguel Covarrubias, Island of Bali, 1937)
Actual organised tourism came to Bali in the 1920's. By 1930 up to 100 visitors
a month were arriving, mostly by sea. Their ecstatic reports were so positive
that by 1940 this figure had increased to about 250 per month, not including the
passengers on the various cruise ships that advertised a day or two in Bali as
the highlight of their winter schedules.
The Dutch Steamship Line, K.P.M., initiated the first tourist passages to Bali
on its cargo ships and several enterprising characters were quick to take advantage
of these developments. A Persian-Armenian, M.J. Minas, was the first to realise
the tourist potential. He introduced moving pictures to the villages, travelling
with a portable projector, and he established the first movie theatre in Buleleng.
Minas started picking up passengers off the K.P.M. ships in about 1920. An American
adventurer, Andre Roosevelt, arrived in Bali in 1924 and joined Minas, bringing
American Express and Thomas Cook patronage with him. Andre Roosevelt undertook
in the 1920s to develop the tourist market, although this did not deter him from
suggesting measures to preserve the integrity of Balinese society and its culture:
Having leisure, my friend Spies and I started a scheme which would tend to
slow down the invading forces from the West and keep the Balinese in their happy,
contented ways for a few decades longer
.. We want to make of Bali a national
or international park, with special laws to maintain it as such.
(in Hickman Powell, The Last Paradise, 1930: xiv-xvi)
Bali Movies in the 1920s and 1930s
Goona-Goona was most likely the movie which inspired K'tut Tantri, author
of Revolt in Paradise, and later famous as Surabaya Sue, to travel to Bali
It was a rainy afternoon and, walking down Hollywood Boulevard, I stopped before
a small theatre showing a foreign film and on the spur of the moment, decided
to go in. The film was entitled Bali, the Last Paradise. I became entranced. The
picture was aglow with an agrarian pattern of peace, contentment, beauty and love.
Yes, I had found my life. I recognised the place where I wished to be.
(K'tut Tantri, Revolt in Paradise, 1960)
The film was very successful and actually started an American craze for all things
Balinese. In New York high society goona-goona, a Malay and Javanese term
for love magic, was turned into a popular phrase. Goona-Goona can be credited
with linking sex and magic in the popular image of Bali.
Bali Movies in the 1950s
The Bali scene of the 1920s and 1930s was an escape from Europe and America, from
the values of the West to a spiritually deeper and richer world. In the post-war
era Bali was one of the balms to soothe a traumatised world. In this era of renewed
interest in both the East and the Pacific, Broadway hits like The King and
I and South Pacific gained enormous popularity first on stage and subsequently
on screen. The 1950s version of these ideal places was even further removed from
reality than the 1930s images. Broadway and Hollywood produced images that would
try to recapture the lost world of the pre-war era. In doing this, they actually
created something that never was.
In the Hollywood of the pre-war era the Indies were regarded as one part of the
South Seas islands, and were most memorably featured as the place where the gigantic
gorilla King Kong was found in the film of the same name. In the 1930s Primitive
art and culture were at the heart of both intellectual and popular interest, featuring
in the art of Picasso and the Surrealists as well as the dances of Josephine Baker.
One aspect of this interest in Primitivism was the emphasis on the sexual and
magical aspects of Bali. By the 1950s Hollywood was replacing them with more idyllic
Directed by Harry Tugend for Paramount Pictures in 1952, and starring Bob Hope
and Bing Crosby, The Road to Bali is the ultimate amalgam of images of
Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Under the guise of humour the movie managed to
include cannibals, wild animals and a giant squid, as well as Humphrey Bogart
and Katharine Hepburn pulling The African Queen. The plot, had Hope and
Crosby fleeing from a pair of 'matrimony-minded girls' in Australia to 'a South
Sea island' (Bali), where they met Dorothy Lamour playing a beautiful princess
and island adventurer who was seeking sunken treasure. Lamour's famous sarongs
were combined with various bits of apparel from Thailand, India and other parts
Directed by Joshua Logan for Twentieth Century Fox in 1958, the 'Bali Hai' of
South Pacific had nothing directly to do with the people who lived in Bali
in the 1930s, but everything to do with Bali's image. When searching for an island
which would be the ultimate encapsulation of all the ideals of the era, the name
Bali came readily to mind. Little matter that the island shown as Bali Hai was
not in the right ocean, the name and the soothing sea-breeze-like notes of the
hit song were enough. Hollywood, never worried about geographical niceties, made
Bali the paradise of paradises by combining all the ideals of the South Seas into
Bali TEMPTATION / BALI YANG MENGGODA, exhibition of contemporary
Balinese artists at Galeri Langgeng, June 2004
What are the preoccupations of the 15 artists participating in the exhibition
at Galeri Langgeng in June 2004? How do these artists cope with their Balinese-ness?
Do they even consider that they were born in paradise or that their
home island can be described as Island of the Gods? Is their Balinese
identity important to them? Is it important to those who collect art? While the
(short) time restrictions did not allow me to talk to each of the artists one
by one, I will nevertheless make a few points and ask a few questions, and then
it will be time for the Balinese artists to speak up and let their (Balinese)
voices be heard! Notorious (at least in Jogja) for disliking art discussions in
general, the Balinese as a group have been written about by (non-Balinese) Indonesians
and foreigners for far too long. I hope that soon there will be more Balinese
who write about Balinese artists and their preoccupations, or alternatively we
might even stop talking about the Balinese artists as a group and look at them
as individuals placed within the big picture of Indonesian and international art.
After all, while we often read about contemporary art in Jogjakarta, or artists
who were educated in Bandung, we (fortunately) do not read too often about Javanese
artists or Sumatran artists in generalised terms.
Of the 15 artists participating in this exhibition, 12 were educated at ISI/Indonesian
Institute of Art, Yogyakarta. Regarding the eductaion and art training of the
remaining three artists, Made Supena is a graduate of the Study program for Art
and Design, University Udayana, Denpasar; Ketut Susena studied for some time at
ISI Denpasar; and Dewa Putu Mokoh was trained in the traditional manner, having
studied Balinese wayang style painting with his uncles I Gusti Ketut Kobot
and I Gusti Made Baret, before eventually developing his own signature style of
contemporary (Balinese) painting.
Eight of the artists currently live in Bali and 7 of them live in Jogja, although
the latter 7 move back and forth between Bali and Jogja regularly. In some ways,
the group of artists participating in this exhibition can be said to themselves
exhibit either a Jogja-centric or Bali-centric lifestyle or approach to art in
general. Clearly, those artists who studied in academies in Jogja or Bali have
been influenced by the trends and practices occurring in the wider context of
contemporary Indonesian art.
Quite apart from the question of whether Bali is a paradise or not, or whether
the artists themselves or others are fascinated by the idea of Bali, it may be
safe to assume that all 15 artists are preoccupied with the big issues of life:
God, Nature, Man. We can quite safely assume that these artists are thinking about
their relationship to God (or some greater power), the environment or nature,
and their relationship to society, their place in the community just as
non-Balinese must do if we wish to live our lives in a harmonious manner. The
Balinese (artists) are preoccupied with the various issues of everyday life, including
love and sex, rituals and ceremonies, games and entertainments, nature, society
and community, politics and economy, death, disease and disasters just
as we are. The mystery of God, the beauty of nature, the ugliness of man
all of these issues, themes and subjects appear in their art work.
Two of the artists in the exhibition present works dealing with the issues of
love and sex. Dewa Putu Mokoh (born 1934)
is particularly noted for his humorous depictions of sexuality, love and peeping
toms or tricksy hands a hand emerges to squeeze a girls
nipple or a naughty hand quietly and deftly pulls off a girls sarong as
she sleeps, unaware that the boy/man is privately enjoying her beauty. Having
painted in the neo-traditional Ubud and Pengosekan styles up to about 1989, Mokoh
then developed his own signature style after collaborating with an Italian artist
friend, Mondo. Dewa Putu Mokoh is fascinated with everyday life: childbirth, love,
sex, childrens games, religious ceremonies, news reports that he sees on
television all become material for his paintings. Although his subject
matter is often depicted in what appears to be a simple, child-like manner, his
paintings are created in the painstaking and time-consuming method he learnt from
his uncles Kobot and Bret: first doing a pencil sketch, then applying the ink
outlines and shadings and finally he applies the various colours.
The only sculptor participating in this show, Gusti Made Wirta has focussed on
the issues of sexuality and physical love for some years, having created a series
of work depicting the phallus in both realistic and abstract styles.
Nyoman Erawan (born 1958) is a painter, installation artist and performance artist
who has created several art performance extravaganzas. His craft-like
paintings often incorporate the traditional motifs of Balinese architecture, textiles
and images of ritual garbage the leftover bits and pieces that
one sees at the completion of any Balinese religious ceremony. Erawan documents
the (Balinese) world around him: he is perhaps more of a craftsman in his approach
to art. His subject matter creates conflicting impressions and images: personal
purification as public entertainment; sacred paraphernalia and religious shrines
relocated to secular spaces; traditional motifs and symbols depicted with modern
materials. Erawan recycles and documents the imagery of traditional Bali in modern
space and time. Of all the artists exhibiting in this exhibition, perhaps it is
the work of Nyoman Erawan that most strongly retains its Balinese look,
whether the Balinese-ness that we see is a religious symbol, ritual object, or
the artists own (Balinese) face.
Made Budhiana (born 1959) has
long been noted for his abstract expressionist style (or, according to Dr Oei
Hong Djien: semi abstrak ekspressionisme). Budhiana has been an important
figure in the Indonesian art scene since the mid-1980s: he was twice awarded the
prestigious Pratisara Affandi Adhi Karya by ISI Yogyakarta in 1985 and
1986, and his style has influenced many of the younger generation of artists in
Jogja and Bali including Made Sukadana, Entang Wiharso, Nyoman Sukari, Made Sumadiyasa
and Putu Sutawijaya who nevertheless went on to develop their own individual styles.
Budhiana paints from gut instinct, like a child, not rationalising and conceptualising.
He expresses whatever is within him at the time, often reflecting his environment
and surroundings whether he is in the studio surrounded by friends and listening
to a particular type of music, or outdoors in nature where he responds to the
natural phenomena of wind, cloud, weather conditions, mountains, cliffs, beaches
and ocean, sun, stars, moon and so on. He often paints outdoors in crowded spaces
with lots of people milling around, such as at the market, on the beach, on the
streets of the city or in a temple. In his paintings on canvas he often completely
fills the space: while leaving little of the space untouched, he creates negative
space with the daring use of white. Budhianas works on paper are usually
more sparsely composed, showing great skill in the application or inclusion of
negative space. All of his work reflects spontaneous mood and intuitive feeling,
unhesitating strength of line, and striking combinations of pure, unmixed colours.
His work is liar tapi rapi - wild and thoughtfully composed at the
Of the artists influenced by Made Budhianas abstract expressionist style,
Nyoman Sukari (born 1968), has since the
early 1990s shown great imagination and strength in his wild paintings
depicting mythological figures such as Barong, Rangda, naga serpents, warriors
and heroes. His paintings are magical, expressive outpourings onto canvas, created
with broad brush strokes and mainly dark tones.
Sukaris painting technique is similar to that of Djoko Pekik in that he
uses his canvas as his palette, applying his oil paint onto canvas using the wet-on-wet
method, a Chinese brush technique. In general he uses only a few basic colours:
black, red, blue. He may pick up three colours at a time, and instead of mixing
and blending them on his artists palette, he applies the brush directly
onto the canvas so that the three colours run simultaneously in one brush stroke.
The blending is done by going over the same stroke once or twice while the oil
is still wet, and he also allows some of the oil to drip down the canvas, creating
textural variation to the work as a whole. The resulting colours and drip effects
are amazingly lively. With this technique, Sukari is able to create layers of
colours coming through each stroke. There is rhythm, movement and translucence
at the same time.
Using the wet-on-wet technique, a painting can be completed very quickly because
there is no need to wait for a layer of oil to dry before the next stroke is applied.
However, it should be noted that with this particular technique - in combination
with the required spontaneous outburst of emotion and expression - there may be
times when a painting simply does not work. At those times, the artist will have
to reject or discard the painting and start again on a fresh piece of canvas because
this method of painting leaves little room for error and no room for correction.
Using the wet-on-wet technique, the artist must adopt a go-for-broke
Several of the other artists participating in this exhibition show a preference
for the abstract expressionist style of painting. Made Sukadana (born 1966) created
paintings of abstracted faces in the early 1990s, and Sukari-esque abstract expressionist
paintings in the late 1990s Sukadana has often used subject matter inspired by
Javanese wayang and Balinese mythology. Putu Sutawijaya (born 1971) is
interested in music, dance, movement, meditation, contemplation. His paintings
are characterised by strong lines and spontaneous brush strokes; his figures are
painted or drawn with rhythmic motion and minimal colour. Androgynous
human figures are represented in motion - dancing, flying, floating - or otherwise
completely still in a pose of serene contemplation. Made Sumadiyasa (born 1971)
uses a painting technique similar to the one described above for Nyoman Sukari.
Sumadiyasa is noted for his own brand of abstract expressionism, and
has recently included figurative elements such as animals into his paintings.
Made Mahendra Mangku (born 1972)
also belongs to the category of artists displaying a preference for the abstract
expressionist style. His use of soft shadings of colour convey an atmosphere of
meditative unreality. From one shade to another, he slowly transforms a colour
into its opposite. Sensitively applied nuances of colour create a feeling of spiritual
calm in most of his paintings. Mahendra Mangku confronts and explores colour,
using its hues and tones as a means to express the state of his soul. Even though
he uses symbols, he does so in a delicate and extremely personal way, expressing
his inner self through the magic of colour.
Made Supena (born 1970) is another Balinese
artist who is skilled in his use of colour. He generally applies strong, wide
bands of unmixed colour to the canvas and then adds abstracted, expressive gestures
and imagery to part of the painting. For his abstract landscapes, he finds his
source of inspiration in the beauty of nature that he sees all around him in land,
sea, sky. He states that he does not try to make nature abstract, he is trying
to express what he feels about nature. Ketut
Susena (born 1969) creates oil paintings of pure abstract landscapes with
striking use of colour. Mountains, lakes, underground streams, forests, cliffs,
sea and sky are depicted with large fields of colour and strong brush strokes,
creating simultaneously a dreamy feeling and clear awareness of the beauty of
nature. Not all is beautiful though in the paradise created by Susena
he often paints the deforested hills and fields where illegal logging has
occurred. Hailing from West Bali, he is acutely aware of the potential dangers
to the environment. He optimistically hopes that there will new planting and new
growth in the future.
Several of the younger artists included in this exhibition show a preference for
the abstract figurative style which has been popular in Jogjakarta since the innovative
painting style of Nyoman Masriadi appeared on the scene. Wayan Sudarna Putra (born
1976) studied the neo-traditional Ubud painting technique in Bali before continuing
his studies at ISI Yogyakarta. His figurative paintings of the late 1990s and
early 2000s were an offshoot inspired by the Masriadi style, but recently he has
developed a quieter photo-realist style painted in black and white, often focussing
on multiple images of the human torso shown in profile from neck to thigh. Made
Aswino Aji (born 1977) also paints in an abstract figurative style with subject
matter focusing on the darker side of human psychological states such as depression,
paranoia, fear, terror and trauma. His daring use of colour results in his paintings
being particularly attractive. Made Suarimbawa
Dalbo (born 1977) created a series of paintings on the subject of caste in
Bali for his graduation exhibition at ISI Yogyakarta. His paintings may appear
to be more abstract than figurative, but there is generally a human form or at
least part of a distorted human form to be seen in his work. His colours tend
to be earthy and warm, with striking applications of red, black, blue, yellow
Wayan Danu (born 1972) has created his own
signature style which challenges artists, art teachers and art lovers in their
notions of what is a painting? His lecturers at ISI Yogyakarta were
baffled as to whether his paintings could be classified as paintings.
Can his paintings be described as semi-installation works? Or, as one (Palembang/ISI-educated)
artist asked recently, How many dimensions are there in Wayan Danus
paintings - 2 or 3? (We finally settled on 2.5). Danus subject matter
is often considered to be scary, but in fact his themes are taken
from the everyday issues of power, greed, lust, anger, dishonesty, corruption,
dissatisfaction with the government these are issues of the common garden
variety in that we all have to deal with these problems on a daily basis. If Danus
paintings are scary then it means that everyday life in the modern
world is scary. But the presence of these problems does not mean that
we should curl up into a ball, hide in a corner or avoid facing these issues.
After all, none of us are lucky enough to be living in paradise.
Michelle Chin is a writer,
translator and curator. email: email@example.com
[published in exhibition catalogue Bali Temptation, exhibition held
at Galeri Langgeng, Magelang, June 2004