Kamasan Classic Puppet Painting Style
Kamasan is a Balinese village located in the regency of Klungkung that is renowned for the diversity of arts and crafts produced there. Skilled artisans’ turn out goods made from bamboo, wood, iron and even discarded bullet shells left over from the Japanese occupation of the island during WW II.
The level of talent and creativity in this particular village is quite remarkable and it is estimated that at least 80 percent of the community makes a living from the handicraft industry. However, Kamasan is not solely dependant on tourism as a large portion of the goods made are for the local Balinese as religious paraphernalia for temple ceremonies and Hindu rituals.
The most important cultural craft to develop in this village is the classic puppet painting style, which is also called Kamasan. This form of art was allegedly established hundreds of years ago, long before the production of crafts became a primary source of income. As far back as the 16th century, the kingdom of Klungkung was highly appreciative of local arts and the community went to great lengths to preserve certain traditions. It was during this period that wood became a popular medium for classic puppet paintings.
When Western artists began arriving in Bali during the 1920’s due to a successful tourism promotion campaign by the Dutch colonialists, the Kamasan art style was also noticed. Foreign painters Rudolph Bonnet and his colleague Walter Spies first introduced modern fine art to Bali. Together with a Prince from Ubud, the pair also established the Pita Maha group that gave Balinese art a new direction. These two artists also played a significant role to further develop the artistic painting style of classical puppets.
It was suggested to the artists of Kamasan village to create different handicrafts and ornaments that would showcase their works. A collection of decorative jewellery boxes, fans and other trinkets were produced and displayed abroad during the 1950’s. Those first innovative pieces were warmly received by European audiences, which enabled the craft of hand-painted puppet figures upon souvenir tokens to continue until present date.
One of the specialties of Kamasan art is the naturally sourced pigments used for the paints. A black outline is first drawn in Chinese ink and then gradually filled in with several primary colours. Shades of blue are achieved with a blend of indigo leaves, yellow is from ochre oxide, brown and orange from iron oxide, while white is derived from pieces of bone, horn and calcium from ashes.
Kamasan artworks are dominated the epic Hindu tale of Mahabharata, which is a complex saga with messages of morality and ethics. The story tells of the conflict of five brothers and their struggle to maintain their reign over an ancient Hindu kingdom. One of the finest examples of this unique art form can be seen on the elevated ceiling of Bale Kerta Gosa or the Hall of Justice that is located in the quaint town of Klungkung in East Bali.