Bali: A Journey Through its Unchanging Art

The island of Bali, which is located under the equator in the Indonesian Archipelago, is one of the most fascinating and popular tourist destinations in Asia. Since the first decade of the 20th century, tourists have given it several titles, including “Island of Gods,” “Island of a Thousand Temples,” “The Last Paradise,” and “Island of Artists.”

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The spirit of creativity permeates all aspects of Balinese culture, from the cultivation of steeply-terracing rice fields to the elaborate temple gifts of flowers and delicacies presented to the gods on festive occasions. Dancing, playing the gamelan, painting, and carving is as commonplace as going to the office, working in the fields, or caring for animals.

The ancient inhabitants of the Indonesian Archipelago practiced animism and ancestor veneration. However, by 600 AD, Indian ideas and beliefs had begun to permeate throughout Southeast Asia. Both Buddhism and Hinduism were influential on the islands of Java and Sumatra. In the 16th century, when Islam seized control of Java, many Hindu rulers, their supporters, and artisans fled to Bali. On Bali, they formed principalities.

The earliest art of Bali goes back to this pre-Hindu era and includes highly ornamental metal works, as well as basketry and weaving. During the Hindu era, the patrons of Bali’s indigenous arts were the princes and their families, who were also supported by the religion’s guiding rites. As the political and religious hubs of the island, the palaces and temples were also centers of the arts.

A prince would decorate his pavilions with the most intricately carved wood panels, paintings, silky fabrics, and golden umbrellas, and he would be entertained with gamelan music, dances, and poetry Kawi language songs. The rich ornamentation and dances within the temples were a religious counterpart to the splendor of the court. Thus, both the courts and the temples have received equal artistic excellence.

This combination of beauty and ceremony explains why the arts of Bali have persisted for so long. Through temple festivities, rituals demanded a constant renewal of contact with the divine. People contributed their artistic abilities to the planning of these events. New gifts must be made, new shrines must be built, new stone and wood sculptures must be carved, and new dances, songs, and plays must be developed and rehearsed. This kept sculptors and masons continually busy with the creation of new statues and the restoration of ancient ones.

There are no terms in Balinese for “art” or “artist.” Historically, there was no need for such definitions. Art was never viewed as a deliberate creation for its own sake. Rather, it was viewed as a communal responsibility to make things attractive. And this was always done for a specific reason: to serve society and religion via the creation of beauty. Thus, as a “figure-maker” or “picture-maker” in addition to being a farmer or trader, he was sought out when his talents were required. He never signed his work nor was compensated for his efforts. His main objective was to help the community. As was the case in ancient times, the bulk of Bali’s painters are highly talented artisans who learned their profession by mastering the traditional forms passed down from their ancestors.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Dutch colonized Bali, ushering in a new era for the island. Western education, modern technology, periodicals, and a regular tourist trade introduced many Balinese to a new world, which was represented in the arts. Craftsmen began treating their work as art for art’s sake, experimenting with new styles, topics, and media for the first time. With the entrance of Western influence, the old style’s strict norms were no longer obligatory. Rather than depicting tales from the great Hindu epics, some Balinese painters began to show images from daily life and nature in their artwork. The contemporary art community has two criteria: (a) a work of art must be lauded by fellow Balinese, or (b) it must appeal to the international market and be sold.

Museum Bali in Denpasar provides a noteworthy overview of Balinese art from prehistoric times through the early 20th century, as well as current artworks. The Denpasar Werdi Budaya Arts Center displays and sells local handicrafts and hand-woven textiles. Tohpati for exquisite batiks. Click for gold and silver creations. Mas for outstanding woodcarvings. Ubud is the cultural epicenter of Bali, home to the most outstanding artists. The traditional paintings and silverwork of Klungkung.

If you are interested in the arts, do not hesitate to plan your Bali vacation on this wonderful island. It also features beautiful beaches, hotels, spectacular views of nature, pleasant locals, and delicious food. Go online and look for hotels in Bali, or contact a trustworthy travel company.

Greetings, readers, and my sincere gratitude to you all.

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