Presentation of the Exhibition Bali Kuno
A celebration of a by gone era…
It is through the very development of photography that images of Bali were divulgated all around the world, evoking the foreign conception of this island as an idyllic land. This went hand in hand with a growing ‘back to nature’ movement in Europe which sought to return to a simpler way of living, as a counter-reaction to the constraints on the individual which had been felt to be established by Western civilization.
Photographs illustrating the Balinese way of living were extremely successful within the foreign audience and contributed considerably to the increasing afflux of visitors to this island. This ‘photographic’ phenomenon complemented the tradition of painting which towards the 19th century and the early 20th century started to lean towards an increasing interest towards concepts of naivety, primitivism and exoticism, as well as ‘democratizing’ the means of production and consumption of images from far-away lands.
In the upcoming exhibition Bali Kuno: A Celebration of a by Gone Era, The Mansion in collaboration with Quidzy and Maurizio Rosenberg Colorni as guest speaker will present an outstanding collection of photographs from 20th century Bali. Not only are these aesthetically remarkable and a testimony to the evolution of photography as a means to replacing painting, the previously established driving representational medium, but they also constitute a unique and valuable core of historical information on old yet often still perpetuating cultural practices within the island.
Our aim is to contribute to the retrieval, re-contextualization and re-distribution of these important documents into their original historical and physical setting, bringing back to light several aspects of its ‘visual anthropology’.
Although what we see within these images is typically a record of Balinese life, each photograph also distinctly speaks of the perceptions and mis-perceptions around this culture as seen from the eyes of those who captured such scenes: namely, expatriate Europeans as well as tourists, most of which remain unknown to this day. Hence we realise the profound impact and significance of this new technological method of reproduction, enabling virtually anyone who owned a camera to convey their own vision of this so-called ‘Island of the Gods’ and in turn affecting the very customs and self-awareness of the Balinese as a people, as to provide a mirror to their own traditions. A typical example is manifested in the very popular subject matters within the corpus of old Bali photographs portraying semi-nude women. Whilst on one hand the Balinese naked breast was a pivotal point in attracting foreign visitors for the Netherlands government, on the other it was regarded by the Dutch as a demonstration of ‘savagery’ of their colonised people, an opinion which radically changed the dress customs in Indonesia where soon women started covering up with scarves in front of tourists and members of high social ranks. This also encouraged the wearing of the kebaya, a clothing item which in later years also played an important role as a symbol in defining and asserting Indonesia’s own and independent identity within nationalistic movements.
It is thus established that though visually accurate, not even a photograph can speak the whole truth of the past. Yet by providing a ‘slice’, a material ‘imprint’ of old Bali, we invite you to scrutiny as well as to celebrate the rich cultural and historical patrimony which is inherent to this island’s continuing reality.
Written by Gaia Rosenberg Colorni
August 3rd, 2009.