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Mimpi Bali Dreaming Bali – Images from our past  

by on Saturday, 7 June 20084 Comments | 10,976 views

Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni has been searching for old Balinese photographs in museums, archives and private collections throughout Europe and Indonesia. His collection clearly reveals to us the evolution of photography in Bali. This evolution is inseparable from the development of its tool: the camera. In fact, in the wake of the 20th century, the mobility of the camera and its technical progress (celluloid’s negative replaced the glass ones) allowed photographers to capture moments of real life. Previous this era, objects or persons posed for hours in the studio.

The contribution of photography in making Bali renowned in the world was immense.

Thephotographs taken by the German Doctor Gregor Krause, published in 1920, portraying young Balinese women whose chest was customary unclothed, or the one showcased at the Paris Colonial Exhibition in 1931, considered by the Dutch Government as the most evocative image of its outpost, played a great role in the arising of tourism. These images stimulated influx of visitors and tourists seeking for the untamed, from all around the world, to Bali. In 1924, weekly cruises on Dutch ships from the major ports of Indonesia began to transport tourists to the northern shores of Bali. In 1928, the Dutch opened the Bali Hotel (now called the Inna Bali on Jl. Veteran, Denpasar), a decade later almost three flights a week landed near Denpasar.

It is essential to underline that Gregor Krause’s photographs were not merely about Balinese maidens and about young bare men bathing. His interest and his cultural knowledge pertaining to the Balinese people and lifestyle were extensive. He snapped many photographs of the inhabitants in their daily surroundings, which provide us today glimpses of the past life in Bali.

Visitors, like the anthropologists Bateson and Mead, Clifford Geertz, Fred B. Eiseman and his wife, as well as the artists Miguel Covarrubias (author of The Island of Bali, first published in 1937), Le Mayeur, Blanco or Arthur Fleischmann had strong ambitions to explore the unadulterated life of our island.

The well-known painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur, an eccentric member of the Belgium royal family born in Brussels in 1880, ended up in Bali in 1930s following the footsteps of the painter Paul Gauguin, in search for the ‘primitive’. In Bali, Le Mayeur mostly depicted the great Legong dancer Ni Pollok, with whom he married afterwards, meanwhile, the extravagant Spanish artist Antonio Blanco, born in the Philippines, landed on the island later in 1952. Blanco settled in Ubud and married Ni Ronji a famed Balinese dancer. Ubud became, through his work, one of the most celebrated artistic location in the world. Photographers such as, among others, Gotthard Schuh, Thilly Weissenborn, Hugo Adolf Bernatzik, Nikola Dragulic, Josef Breitenbach, Philip Hanson Hiss or J. Welter, also deeply aimed to capture the true spirit of Bali.

They came and they stayed, some for a short time, some for years. Even if nowadays some consider their works and assessments a slightly romanticized depiction of the past, their contribution was crucial in introducing Bali to the world.

The famous Swiss photographer Gotthard Schuh spent a year in the Dutch East Indies, from 1938 to 1939, just before the Japanese occupation. His stunning black and white images are works of art. Indeed, he succeeded in capturing Bali through his lens. His book of photographs, the Inseln der Götter: Java, Sumatra, Bali was published in Amsterdam in 1943. During the same period, the sculptor Arthur Fleischmann was in Bali as well. He took many photographs that illustrate the daily life of the Balinese people. He has done this with the same intimacy he had for his own art: carving and the results are impressive.

August Thienemann was a biologist. He was specialized in limnology*. Thienemann is best known for his contributions to the field of Lake Typology. We assume he came to Bali in 1935 to study the hydrological setting of the island. He received, for this occasion, the first ‘Tropical’ Leica camera’s prototype. On his way to the lakes, he took many photographs of landscapes and volcanoes and he immortalized many aspects of the Balinese daily life in casual contexts, which deserve to be seen.

In this exhibition are displayed many images taken by unknown photographers. We have chosen to include them as they are an interesting documentation and testimonial of Bali’s past. Some were taken with the intention to be sold to tourists as postcards. Others, more formal, served the purpose of heightening the identity of the Balinese dignitaries.

It was interesting to discover that a young Balinese man who worked at the Bali Hotel in the late 1930s as a “room boy” used his extra money to commission, at the local photo studio, pictures of his friends and he dressed in stylish Indo-European attire; sometimes he included backdrops of European buildings. The photographic depiction he was interested in was significantly different, and almost the opposite of, what the foreigners were trying to catch the intrinsic Bali. Today, in contrast to 70 or 80 years ago, the visions of both the Balinese and the foreigners stand much closer and they both aim their lenses towards the same direction: “The Exotic Bali.”

Presently, the Balinese, male and female alike, are confronted with the drastic contrast between modernity and tradition. We generally assume that these two values do not easily homologate. However, the ability to intertwine the two is innate to the Balinese people. This fusion is regarded as characteristic.

These images are a rich and powerful documentation of our common past, which underlies in today’s society. They may have the power to awaken a more substantial recognition of our past, which is the root of our present identity. Through this process, not only do we discover about the past Balinese way of life, but we also get in touch with a new perspective of our own selves. While many consider this process as an extinction of the tradition, other considers it a transformation.

This exhibition is an opportunity to take in the small details and to be introduced to the dynamics of life and what can be described aspolosnya Bali” or “the pureness of Bali”, that may have become more difficult to identify, to experience and to savor in our present life of material comforts.

The photographs exhibited were unearthed from museums, storerooms, archives and private collections, from some forgotten photo albums or shoeboxes, by Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni whose wish is to bring back to Bali parts of our past captured through the lenses of the photographers and taken abroad.

For some of us, it still is, the “way of living” of our parents, our grandparents, or great-grand parents. There may still be similar images in our home, hidden away or stored, waiting to be unveiled. If you happen to come upon one, feel free to contact Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni who is a great “connoisseur” and expert of photography.

This exhibition is the result of the passionate collaboration between Arti Foundation , Quidzy Gallery and Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni

Reprints of the exhibited works are on sale and the proceeds will be allocated for forthcoming exhibitions, similar to this one, opened to the general public of Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia, as well as in foreign countries.

*Limnology is the division of hydrology that studies inland waters (running and standing waters, both fresh and saline), including their biological, physical, chemical, geological and hydrological aspects. It includes the study of both natural and man-made lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, wetlands and ground waters.

An exhibition of old photographs taken in Bali between 1886 and 1952, organized by Arti Foundation in collaboration with Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni and Quidzy Gallery.

Highlighted during the 30th Bali Art Festival, in Denpasar (Bali).

From Saturday, June 14 to July 12, 2008.

Open to the public daily from 9 am to 10pm. (Free entrance)

Where: Arti Foundation, Art Center

Address: Jalan Nusa Indah, Denpasar

For information call 081 338 92 98 88


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