Saturday, November 29, 2014

Balinese Painting – Langse[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.

Traditional Balinese paintings are usually referred in terms of three different grades of paintings based according to the level and standard of finishing: kasar - meaning a coarse finish; sedang - a middling finish; and halus – a fine finish. Kasar paintings are those which are sold after the main application of color is finished, without any final overdrawing in black. Since it is the initial pen drawing that involves the greatest skill, these paintings sometimes possess considerable vigor, despite being cheap, small and lacking a suitable finish. More recently kasar work is of poor standard and is really only suitable for the tourist trade.

Market in Ubud (Bali).

Today’s post will focus on the langse (curtain) form, but before we do we need to discuss the mythological and post-mythological stories that underpin Balinese paintings.

Balinese Stories[1]
The stories which Balinese painters illustrate exists in many different variations and forms – oral versions vary from place to place around the island, depending on knowledge and social respective of the story teller. Different stories of the one event may co-exist. For example, different versions of the one story tends to be associated with different forms; whether it is performed in the wayang kulit (shadow plays) or in dance dramas or operas.

Graphics for Tunas Mekar’s presentation of Wayang Kulit: The Ancient Shadow Plays of Bali in 1998.
Photograph Courtesy of H. Vömel.

The stories that are associated with Balinese paintings are stories as told to A. Forge[1] by the painters and by other men considered culturally knowledgeable from the Kamasan village complex and its immediate area. The version of the stories that the painters illustrate may differ from existing versions in other forms of the arts such as written versions. Nevertheless, paintings that contain writings tend to be close to the relevant text for obvious reasons, whereas those devoid of text may alter a scene or two for example by including the wives of dead heroes (who are not mentioned in the text as being present) but by using such an artistic license the painters hope to convey a forlorn “loss” more effectively.

Death of Wirata’s Sons (ider-ider). Note: Wives are present.

The stories that are illustrated in the paintings can be divided into two groups: mythological and post mythological paintings. The division is justified since there is a definite difference in content between the two groups.

Mythological Stories
This group focuses on the formation of the world and the emergence of the first great human kingdoms. This group further sub-divides into three sections: (i) The Adiparwa stories; (ii) Ramayana and associated stories; (iii) the Bharatayuddha and associated stories. All of these stories originate from Indian prototypes, although parts are further elaborated, others omitted and many modifications have taken place. For example, in the Javanese and Balinese versions, the Adiparwa stories contains the creation stories, whilst the Bharatayuddha stories have been paired down to only be concerned with the battle between the Pandawas and Korawas. Other stories concerned with the characters of the Bharatayudda, such as Arjuna Wiwaha, have been elaborated into separate stories. The other great Indian epic, the Ramayana, has focused on the main story line, while other separate stories elaborate on some of the characters.

Ramayana Story. Ravana, the ten-headed king of the evil demons, continually pursues the destruction of dharma or social and moral order in the world. The gods persuade Vishnu to reincarnate himself as a man to defeat Ravana. Vishnu is now born as Rama, son of Dasartha. The epic centers on the life and adventures of Rama and Sita his wife (the daughter of goddess Earth).

Four very important characters who occur in all painted versions of the mythological stories, and who do not occur either in the literary versions of the stories or in the “post” mythological stories, are the four parekan (or servants). Any major character of the “good” or “right” side will be accompanied by Twalen, who was formerly a god, and his brother Morda, while those of the "bad" or “left” side are accompanied by Delem and Sangut. Any confrontation between good and evil will have fights between these two pair of servants – they form a counterpoint to, and commentary on, the doings of their masters.


Post-Mythological Stories
Post-mythological stories portray events seen in Balinese as comparatively recent, when compared to mythological stories. The stories in this group are more diverse, covering the adventures of romantic heroes, past kingdoms, folk heroes and struggles between the forces of white and black magic – good and evil expressed to a domestic audience. Though some have Indian prototypes, most stem from actual life in Javanese and Balinese kingdoms. In all these stories, the gods in a sense may control events, but they no longer intervene in a physical sense.

Prince Panji Mask.

Paintings of scenes from the set of post-mythological stories are known in Bali as Malat. They were popular with aristocrats in the 19th Century. These stories center of the Prince of Koripan, Panji, and his love for the Princess Daha, from who he is always separated and whom he always eventually regains, usually having collected several extra princesses on the way.

Artist: I Made Awan, The Frog Prince and Princess Daha.
Medium: Acrylic on paper.
Size: 30 x 25 cm.

Collections of old paintings have many Malat episodes, usually painted in langse format, but most of the contemporary Kamasan painters do not know the stories, apart from one or two standard episodes, which the painters themselves cannot interpret. Virtually no Malat paintings are done today.

Another source of paintings are folktales. The subject matter is from the popular Briyut story. Although Pan and Mem Briyut and their 18 children may have Indian ancestors, they are treated by the Balinese as being totally of local origin. They present a fine opportunity to paint scenes of Balinese everyday life and domestic affairs, often with a sense of humor.

Mem Briyut – with some of her children.

A very different, but equally important folktale painting source are the Calonarang stories. These concern the ever-present problem of keeping at bay the forces of evil, black magic and witchcraft, and the attendant misfortunes.

Dramatari magical ritual acting out stories associated with witchcraft, black magic and white magic, known as Pangiwa/Pangleyakan and Panengen.

These are oblong paintings used as a curtain to screen the bed on which offerings are placed. When actually used as a curtain, langse, they have a piece of imported cloth of equal size, sewn along the bottom edge. The printed pattern favored by the Balinese is yellow or gold floral on a red ground. They are suspended from old Chinese coins, kepeng. However, many paintings of the same shape as langse do not seem to have been used in curtains, but were probably used flat on walls, particularly in palaces.

Cloth painting, langse, cotton/rice paste/ink/paint, Kamasan, Bali, Indonesia, 1880-1920.
Comment[1]: Rectangular plain weave natural cotton cloth dipped in rice paste and painted with scenes from the Ramayana in polychrome tints. The style is clear and dynamic, with little background detail and a distinctive yellow paint probably derived from rock or vegetable dye. The scenes depicted are that of a marriage (Aijuna wiwaha), with groups of female and male figures with gods in attendance.
Size: 890 mm (h) x 2432 mm (w).
Courtesy of the Power House Museum, Sydney.

Detail of above langse.

Detail of above langse.

Malat Episode: A story of courtly romance.
Size: 88 x 180cm.
Photography Courtesy of H. Hughes.
Courtesy of Australian Museum.

Comment[1]: This Kamasan painting has been attributed to artist Nyoman Dogol and dated to the 1920s-30s. Anthony Forge collected it in 1972-73. This is a langse, an oblong painting suitable for use in a temple as a curtain, to screen the bed on which offerings are placed. The painting had been used as a curtain, because it is visible where the Chinese coins, kepeng, had been originally attached at the top and bottom of the cloth. The Chinese coins, with a hole in the center, are often used in Bali to suspend paintings.

The main scene, extending right across the bottom of the painting, shows a dance probably organized by Panji. He is shown dancing with a high minister or subsidiary raja and some queens in the top row. The third girl from the right is a princess, and probably is loved and loves Panji. On the left the orchestra (or gong) is shown in great detail, and behind are shown many more aristocratic ladies (all no doubt in love with Panji!) The presence of a Twalen like figure wearing the poleng (i.e. black and white checked cloth) is anomalous in a Malat scene and probably shows a decline in knowledge and experience of the Malat cycle - already apparent in the 1930s.

The main scene in the top part of the painting is a, wayang kulit, a performance offered by a courtier to the same raja. Panji is presumably the second man to the left of the wayang screen. The dalang (i.e. the puppeteer) is a fine ferocious looking fellow, illustrating clearly the Balinese view that such experts are powerful. The shadow-play scene being shown is from Ramayana: the confrontation between the eagle Jatayu and the Sita-abducting Rawana. Wayang Kulit performances take place at night - which in a painting convention is shown by the stars in the sky. The very prolific pudak tree behind the audience emphasizes the atmosphere of courtly love that is so pervasive in Malat stories.

Detail of above.

Ramayana – Sita’s Ordeal.
Size: 88 x 225 cm.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Comment[1]: Kamasan, artist probably Kak Lui, a halus work, ca. 1920. The full length of the curtain is obtained by the addition of another length of printed cloth of equivalent size, sewn on below the painting. The painting is on European cloth and is in good condition.

This is a key episode in the Ramayana story, one of the most frequently depicted scenes in classical Balinese paintings. Rawana, demonic king of Langka, kidnapped the goddess Sita and kept her in captivity. After the fall of Langka and the death of Rawana, goddess Sita was reunited with her husband, Rama. But after such a long absence, Rama doubts her faithfulness. Distressed by Rama’s suspicion and in order to demonstrate her purity, Sita orders Laksamana, Rama’s brother, to prepare a pyre into which she jumps. However she is protected by Agni, the god of fire, and the fire turns into a lotus.

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

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