Balinese art is an essential aspect of the island's culture. Bali's rich historical and cultural journeys have given depth and breadth to its art, now spread in every corner of the island. It's no surprise that Bali, home to many skillful artists, is considered to be the art centre of Indonesia and one of the go-to destinations for art enthusiasts.
History of Balinese Art
The origins of Balinese art, also known as Hindu-Javanese art dates back to the early A.D. In the beginning, the Hindu-Buddhist culture adopted from the Indians played a heavy influence the island’s history, along with the Chinese culture. Then, in the 14thCentury, when the island was ruled under the Majapahit empire, it was introduced to the Javanese culture. But instead of adopting the Javanese culture as a whole, Bali incorporated it into their local culture – developing what we know as the Hindu-Javanese art. One of the prominent artworks from this era is the Kamasan painting. It visually narrates Hindu-Javanese epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Balinese art in this era was still heavily dictated by religion, meaning they were only created for religious purposes. Unlike today’s art, the artists were not in control of the artworks nor could they take credit for their creations. Priests and selected elites were mainly in control of what were to be created and shown in the artworks.
When the Islamic influence started to reign into Indonesia in the 16th century, Bali strongly held its ground and maintained their Hindu-Javanese culture. During this era, Hindu nobles, artists and priests went to Bali and enriched the island with new waves of Javanese culture – in order to protect the island from adopting the new influence.
The arrival of western artists in Bali during the 19th century caused the local art to adopt a more modern style. Balinese artists started experimenting with new materials and were encouraged to begin self-expression and originality – which were previously oppressed by the religious establishment. This resulted in an explosion of original artworks from Balinese artists, telling stories of life in Bali as opposed to religious epics. From this point onwards, Balinese art exponentially grew towards modernity, yet still firmly maintaining its traditional culture.
Type of Balinese Art
Balinese art mainly consists of two types of artworks, painting and wood carving – with painting as the more prominent type. Bali became a haven for painters, as many local and overseas painters travelled to and resided in the island. Originally, painting took place on walls of temples for religious and ceremonial purposes. Eventually, it evolved into the magnificent Balinese painting we know today. Ubud, Sanur and Butuan are the three towns in Bali that have become the centre of Balinese paintings. Distinctive traits can be seen in paintings from each of the three areas.
Now, countless of galleries in Bali showcase phenomenal works from the continually growing local art community. Some paintings are even displayed in temples and museums across the world. The oldest painting from the 15th century is a lotus painting with Ganesha’s figure and is now preserved at Pura Besakih, and some 19th-century paintings are displayed in several museums in Bali.
Wood carvings also have a lengthy history in Balinese art. Floral, landscape and traditional symbols are the main elements carved into wooden sculptures and furniture.
Mas village, known for their elaborate wood carving technique that uses a single tree trunk for each artwork, has become the base for wood carving in Bali and is the main producer of masks for traditional dances. These masks are skilfully made - adorned with hair, prominent fangs, and bulbous eyes. Nowadays, along with paintings, wood carving are the staple Balinese collectibles for tourists visiting from all over the world.