Saturday, June 28, 2014

Balinese Paintings – Ceiling Paintings[1-2]

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Balinese paintings fall into five categories: flags and banners; (ii) ceiling paintings; (iii) ider-ider (cloth painting in a horizontal strip format); (iv) langse (form of a cloth painting used as a curtain) and, (v) tabing (kind of cloth painting in a rectangular format hung on walls) – Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV.

Balinese paintings formed highly prestigious and sought-after decorations for festivals in all kinds of temples (pura). These paintings have very specific uses. Hence they would be displayed only on set occasions and moreover, for a limited time. They were not intended to be art objects in themselves for deep contemplation, but rather were viewed in a more holistic sense as being part of a whole complex, which they decorated. Offerings and the actions of priest and congregation, which were the main focus of attention, often obscured them. They were usually painted on cloth or bark cloth and when not on display were folded and stored into baskets. The fact that they were stored for most of the time assisted in preserving them, although repeated folding over many years would cause damage to the painted surface.

Today post is on another in the series on Balinese paintings but this time featuring - ceiling paintings.

Ceiling painting. Painters from the village complex of Kamasan painted cloth panels.
Courtesy of reference[1].

The Artists (in this series on Balinese paintings)
Today there is only one community of traditional painters still in practice and they form part of the Kamasan village complex. Kamasan is composed of four separate villages that together comprise Gelgel. For over 300 years Gelgel was the seat of the senior raja (i.e. King) of Bali - the Dewa Agung. After the revolt early in the 19th Century the raja abandoned Gelgel and built a new palace two miles north in Klungkung, but many of the specialists who provided services for the court stayed within the Gelgel complex.

The last Dewa Agung Jambe II in 1908. He lost his life in the so-called puputan of Klungkung Palace on 28th April 1908 during the Dutch intervention in Bali (1908). This was a ritually laden suicidal attack by the dynasty and their retainers against a well-armed detachment of Dutch colonial troops. In the end, almost two hundred Balinese were killed by Dutch bullets in the uprising.

The painters of Kamasan village complex were concentrated in two of the eight wards of that village, namely, Banjar Sangging and Banjar Pande Mas. The word Sangging refers directly to the act of painting and Pande Mas means literally goldsmith. These wards accurately describe the occupations of the specialists who live there. Both wards have their own administration structure, but they share a temple – the Pura Bale Batur.

Pura Bale Batur Temple – Kamasan.

Households in both wards practice painting and goldsmithing. This tendency to impart knowledge and to restrict taught skills to family groups is rife throughout Balinese society.

Kerta Gosa is a building that is part of the building complex of the Semarapura Palace. It was built around 1686 by the first holder of the throne of the kingdom of Klungkung - Ida I Dewa Agung Jambe. Initially, the paintings that decorated the ceiling were made of cloth. In 1930 the cloth was replaced by plasterboard and re-painted.

In painting, boys and girls from a young age play an important role in the coloring process and so marriage to outsiders posed a double threat – that of losing a skilled sister or gaining an unskilled wife. Hence, almost all marriages were originally restricted to people from those two wards.

Mangku Muriati, now in her 40s, was encouraged to become an artist by her father, an accomplished Kamasan painter, Mangku Mura. As a child she helped her father in coloring his paintings and assisting him in his studio.

In 1973 there were approximately 30 to 40 households in Kamasan that made a substantial part of their income from the production of paintings. In addition there were many other individuals who would take some part in the production process when and if opportunity occurred. By 1977, when tourist sales of paintings substantially increased, the number of households dependant on paintings increased by a third. Moreover, almost any mature woman from Banjar Snagging and Banjar Pande Mas as well as some of the men would sell paintings and other art objects.

Kamasan artist Ni Made Suciarmi in her gallery-studio in Banjar Sangging. Born in 1932, she is one of the oldest artists working in Kamasan today. Her artworks are exhibited in the Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women in Ubud, Bali.

Ceiling Paintings
Usually the ceiling of a pavilion above the bed where the offerings are placed is decorated with some kind of cloth stretched horizontally under the roof. Plain white cloth is often used, or imported Indian cloth of floral designs. However, paintings are occasionally used and these feature subjects that can be centrally organized in order to be viewed from below. A favorite subject is Garuda (eagle), surrounded by gods – see below.

This ceiling painting - Garuda attacked by the gods of the eight directions - was painted by the artist Nyoman Dogol (1876-1965) in the 1920s. It was collected from an ancestor temple Pura Dadia in Kamasan by Anthony Forge in 1972-73.
Size: 129 x 170 cm.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Comments[1]: In the Adiparwa (i.e. story), Garuda stole amerta (i.e. water or immortality) from the gods to rescue his mother, and the gods attacked him but he escaped. In the above depiction eight gods are shown, each of the appropriate color and with the right weapon, attacking the invulnerable Garuda.

Direction is very important for the Balinese since they need to know how they are placed especially in terms of their orientation with respect to the mountain and the sea. The painting is designed so that when it is face down above the spectator, East and West are correctly located.

Each of the four principle directions – North, South, East and West - is associated with a god and with a color that the Balinese would instantly recognize. The four intermediate directions (e.g. North-East etc.) each have a god whose color should be intermediate between those gods on the principal directions. For example, Sambu in the North-East is between Vishnu, black (North) and Iswara, white (East) and his color is blue (not grey). Usually the center of the Balinese artwork is multi-colored and usually occupied by the highest Hindu god – Siwa. However, in this painting the place of Siwa is taken by the multi-colored Garuda, who is shown as invulnerable to the attacks of the gods of the eight directions, and is therefore a being of great power and so is suitable to occupy the center position. Each of the eight gods hurls the weapon appropriate to his direction at Garuda. These eight weapons, each specific to one of the eight points of the compass, are often used alone as signs of the directions, with the lotus, which is a weapon of Siwa in the center, forming a small diagram equivalent to our compass rose.

Another ceiling painting is in the form of a plindon or “earthquake" calendar – see below.

Anthony Forge inspects a plindon - earthquake calendar (1979).
Photograph: Courtesy of A. Vickers.

Ceiling Painting Plindon (Earthquake Calendar). Kamasan artist, Made Pager, early 20th Century, from the family of the artist’s descendants. Halus work (i.e. finest workmanship).
Size: 144 x 138 cm.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Comments[1]: Most plindons are to be hung on walls or as a backing for offerings. This plindon has been designed to be stretched above the raised platform on which offerings are put. The artists have painted the twelve months around the edge, and thus have left a large central area, which has been divided into nine squares, seven of which have predictions for the days of the seven-day week. The center has a god, while one corner is occupied by a generalized rakasa or detia (i.e. type of demons) and also a nimbus (i.e. bright cloud surrounding deities), presumably symbolizing the opposition between the forces of the right and left, which created and maintains the world.

Around the edge the months go anti-clockwise, each month dominated by its god. The names of the gods are included in the diagram. The scenes for each month in general illustrate written predictions. The predictions are "general" in form and so are not always bad. For example, an earthquake in the Balinese July means that “… the state of the world will be safe, the crops good and all produce cheap”. An earthquake in December however indicates”…the state of the world is bad, many are sick and many die, the chickens die and the plants wither and there will be many forced marriages”.

The layout of the above Ceiling Painting.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Pelintangan painting at rear, and Garuda and the Gods of Eight Directions on ceiling of pavilion within temple Pura Kawitan Pasek Gelgel, Banjar Sangging in Kamasan Village, Bali, October 2010.

The ceiling of the Kerta Gosa pavilion, Semarapura, Bali.
Photograph courtesy of S. Campbell.

Comments[1]: The upper panels depict scenes from the Bima Swarga story. The lower panels depict scenes from the Tantri narrative and the story of the mythical bird Garuda searching for the water of immortality. They also depict the earthquake calendar (plindon), which shows predictions for the consequences of earthquakes falling on particular months and days.

[1] A. Forge, Balinese Traditional Paintings, The Australian Museum, Sydney (1978).
[2] The Australian Museum (Sydney, NSW).

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