I Nyoman Mandra, master painter of Kamasan
The village of Kamasan, in Klungkung, Bali’s oldest kingdom, as an ancient tradition of painting with its roots in the art of the great Javanese empire of Majapahit. Kamasan is far from the usual tourist tracks, and so many visitors to Bali get the false impression that Ubud is the centre of art. The art of Kamasan is the ‘classic’ style based on the shadow theatre or wayang, and Kamasan village once included many wayang puppeteers, although few remain. For many centuries that tradition was practised by the Sangging descent group, who gave their name to the section of the village of Kamasan where present-day artists are still found. Early in the nineteenth century the Sangging descent group died out in Kamasan through lack of male heirs, but they passed on their tradition to others in the village, via the most famous artists of that era, Modara.
Despite the many developments in Balinese painting during the twentieth century, the classic art of Kamasan is continued, and it is one of Modara’s descendants, the artist I Nyoman Mandra (b.1946), who has done the most to keep Kamasan’s art true to their style of the ancestors. Mandra himself was a student of one of leading artists of the previous generation,his uncle I Nyoman Dogol, and from him he also learnt to observe the many great examples of Kamasan painting found in temples in the village. Dogol himself was one of the group of painters who worked on renewing the famous Justice Hall or Kerta Gosa of Klungkung, now sadly deteriorated due to neglect by the Klungkung local authorities.
Learning from the great artists of the past, Nyoman Mandra has produced his own pure version of the style. His work adheres to the proportions and structure laid out in traditional aesthetics, but he also adds his own unique touch to the style. His work is characterised by the highest degree of refinement, the sense of the alus in art, and he avoids many of the traditional images of violent conflict in favour of a meditative approach to the role of the Gods of Hinduism in the great Indian epic stories. His compositions have a distinctive centralising tendency and greater balance than was practiced by his forebears.
Nyoman Mandra’s strong commitment to the style of his ancestors is found not only in his own pure examples of the Kamasan style, but in his fostering of younger artists. He set up a sanggar or traditional school in which young people would be able to learn the basis of Kamasan art. His pupils have gone on to win prizes in Bali-wide festivals, and to have students of their own. The school is also the centre of other arts, including a thriving gamelan. Mandra’s work has been recognised by important cultural critics such as the late Umar Kayam, modern artists such as Made Wianta have gone to him to study the roots of Balinese art, and he has received many government honours, including from Megawati Sukarnoputri when she was President.
Professor Adrian Vickers
BA PhD, Appointed 2007
Professor of South East Asian Studies
Room 637, Brennan MacCallum Building A18
Phone: +61 2 9351 2878
Fax: +61 2 9351 2319
I have been carrying out research on Indonesia for almost thirty years, and in that period have observed the shifts in relations between Australia and Indonesia. My disciplinary background is mainly in history, anthropology and cultural studies. As well as the Indonesian language, my research has involved drawing on sources in Balinese, Kawi (Old and Middle Javanese), and Dutch.