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Art of Bali  

by on Thursday, 15 November 2007No Comment | 1,437 views

“Balinese art is an indispensable part of Balinese religion, culture and life.”

“Art is identical with religion, art creativity is a performance of the religious teaching” this quotation indicates the unity of art and religion in Bali. It is hard to differentiate between art and religion without deep understanding on art and religion of Bali. Since every ceremony contains art performance in it and every art performance is loaded with the values and teachings of religion. The unity of art and religion ensures that the art be constantly practiced and become part of Balinese life.


Balinese life is surrounded by art from earliest childhood, ever-present everywhere and every time. Everyone down to the simplest peasant can be both an artist and an aesthetically conscious art critic. A field-laborer might chide a clumsy instrument maker for a job poorly done, and even a young food stall seller from a humble family is skilled practitioner of Bali classical dance.

Balinese art is not made to last, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and weather ravage the stone carvings and the shrines; humidity wilts paper and rots cloth paintings; ants perforate wooden sculptures, all of which must be refurbish constantly. All this rebuilding, renovating, and replacing assumes that the island’s unparalleled concentration on ephemeral folk art continually evolves and perpetuates itself.

The History of Balinese Art

As early as 300b.c. coastal inhabitants created metal bells lances spiral shaped rings bronze implements bracelets and magnificent woven textiles although physical remnants of this culture are few much of the spirit of these first Balinese has been passed down and is visible today in textile patterns sculptural the native Bali Aga of the highlands still ad here to pre Hindu practices

An example of a motif of pure native origin as the lovely cili figure of a girl shaped like an hourglass seen everywhere in palm leaf ornaments for temples on cakes standing in rice fields and even made out of Chinese coins sewn together the mysterious cili is thought to derive from the island original rice deity Dewi sri

As early as the 5th century Bali was ruled by Javanese princes every political event and disturbance that occurred on java had a ripple effect on the political life of bali and the art history of bali reflects the development of art in the mother country.

Java’s golden age of monumental art A.D. 600-800 finds its counterpart in the evolution of Balinese art besides edicts written on old bronze plates (prasastis) other physical remains of this classical period are found today in the vicinity of Pejeng and Bedulu the area between the two rivers Petanu and Pakerisan which has a always been amazingly rich in antiquities the most impressive examples of java’s classic influence on bali are the nine magnificent cut rock tombs of Gunung Kawi near Tampak Siring completed around A.D. 1080, which are strikingly similar to East Javanese monumental architecture from that period.

Early in 15th century, the Majapahit Empire of East Java collapsed, priests, poet, artists, sculptors, and painters fled to Bali, bringing with them the earthy spirit of Majapahit. This influx accounts today for the extent to which classical Javanese romantic legends (the Panji and Tantri) have penetrated Balinese literature.

The Balinese natives adopted those Hindu practices, arts, and deities that suited their taste and rejected the rest, giving today’s distinctive art forms. Each noble house constituted a political and religious hub where the best orchestras practiced and where the finest weavers, sculptors, architects, blacksmiths, dancers, and actors lived and worked as privileged wards of the ruling princes.

These specialized artisans were paid in ritual gifts, relieved of a certain social duties, or awarded tax exemptions and rice fields. Today, many of these privileged relationships remain in effect, the descendants living from the produce of the same fields, still carrying on their ancestors’ handicraft of fine art.

The conquest of Bali by Dutch put this flourishing artists’ utopia to an end. The art began to walk out of the noble house and touch the villages. As a colony of Netherlands East Indies Empire, Bali underwent a great political reorganization and most of the prices could no longer afford to patronize the arts and Balinese art became a true art of the people.

Art also became less decorative, representational, and formalized. Influenced by incoming European artists in the 1920s, Balinese artists for the first time dated and signed their paintings. They began to experiment with new styles, techniques, theme, and media. They set up sales organizations and the most outstanding of them received recognition overseas.

The 1930s were known as the “classical” period of modern Balinese art, when many of the finest and most innovative pieces of the 20th century were produced. Samples of these marvelous works can be seen today in the Neka Museum, Neka Gallery, Agung Rai Gallery, and in the famed Puri Lukisan Ubud.

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