Saturday, May 30, 2015

Balinese Paintings - Tabing (Part II)

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Art inspired by a particular religious background has featured on this blog spot. For your convenience I have listed some posts on this topic below:
Islamic Art
Historical Israeli Batik Artworks
19th to 20th Century Australian Christian Embroidery

The Balinese are of Hindu faith and so many of their art cloths reflect on Hindu themes.

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 III and Part IV.

Today’s post is the second post on tabing. Tabings are roughly square and are put against the wood back of the raised bed, which is the center of all Balinese household rituals – forming a backdrop to the offerings laid out on such occasions. They are also used in a similar way in temple pavilions. The form covers not only illustrative scenes, but also various kinds of calendars, which are painted within the traditional style.

Tabing (or story cloth) - Depicting scenes from the Bima Swarga.
Early 20th Century.
Cotton with pigment.
Size: 50'' width x 64'' height.

Before we discuss the stories these tabings illustrate, we will digress into how Balinese identify such stories on viewing the tabings.

Identification of Paintings
Most adult Balinese can, using the face and headdress variations, identify the type of characters involved in any painting scene and hence, by their interactions, try to remember an episode from a story which has similar characters in the same situation. By these clues they triangulate in order to identify the story and name of the characters.

In Balinese paintings there are few characters, such as Bima, who are instantly identifiable as individuals. Most characters belong to types. For example, Arjuna is a type of the most refined Ksatria, of royal family but not a King. There is nothing in his depiction that separates him from Sutasoma, Lakasama or even his own brothers, Nakula and Sadewa, or many other nightly heroes. Having identified all the types of characters in a scene and their interactions, the next step is to remember a story in which such a scene takes place. In some cases the scenes themselves are so famous that they are as a whole immediately identifiable. Sita’s Ordeal is unique in its actions: Sita herself is indistinguishable from other queens, but her position, guarded by Agni in the pyre turned into a lotus pool, is unmistakable. In other cases, mistakes can be made – even for whole scenes. Probably the most popular scene in Balinese painting, the temptation of Arjuna by the seven heavenly nymphs, is not an absolutely certain identification, since an identical scene occurs in Sutasoma. To correctly identify the intended story one must have available some scenes after the actual temptation itself. Obviously, only people who can recognize the story can identify the scene and the characters portrayed; in this sense Balinese paintings are purely illustrative, entirely dependant on the beholder’s knowledge of the story to convey meaning. But the paintings can also communicate in other ways less simple than just the narrative form.

Tabing - Kamasan, Arjunawiwaha: The Temptation of Arjuna; before 1938; paint on cloth.
Size: 167 x 129 cm.
Collected by Charles Sayers, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.

Balinese Paintings – Tabing (Part II)

Tabing – Story of Kala.
Size: 144 x 146 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan work; Manku Mura (1973); Commissioned halus work (i.e. very fine workmanship).

The tale of Kala - a creation story classed as Adiparwa - is known in many versions and is closely connected with the exorcist functions of the wayang kulit (i.e. shadow puppet play). In all versions of the tale, a dalang (a puppeteer considered to be a priest with exorcist powers) saves Kala’s destined food from being caught by him, and thus has powers to protect other threatened people. This version by Manku Mura is somewhat idiosyncratic in that the offenders are anak buncing (i.e. male and female twins), rather than the more usual victim, who is another son of Siwa, born in the week wayang (i.e. theatre arts) of the 210-day year. At about the time Manku Mura painted this picture, the Gelgel ritual area of which Kamasan is a part, had a spate of anak buncing, which had interfered with the ritual life. This may explain why they appear in the Manku Mura’s version of this story.

Tabing – Ramayana: Kala Sungsang.
Size: 82 x 87 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan,; Pan Seken; 1920s. Halus work with very fine penmanship. European cloth. Dirty with some holes.

Right at the beginning of Ramayana, Rama is asked to go to protect the hermits in the forest, who are being attacked by raksasa. Accompanied by Laksamana, he clears out raksasa (i.e. demon), and then goes on to win Sita in an archery competition. Two episodes are shown here. At the top Rama and Laksamana, with Twalen and Morda, are jumped by a female raksasa - Tatakabia - who Rama shoots. Below, Rama and Laksamana turn over another attacking raksasa, thus creating Kala Sungsang – an inverted demon, who has an important part in Balinese cosmology and is the name of a constellation. In the background of both scenes, hermits and their servants watch the discomfiture of their enemies.

Tabing – Ramayana: Abduction of Sita.
Size: 85 x 88 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan, probably Kak Lui, early 1930s. From a family temple in Todjan. Halus style with innovation. Bad flaking.

This small tabing is an example of experiments that were made in Kamasan in the 1930s to the new style of painting that was growing in popularity in Ubud. The figures are totally traditional, but the importance of trees and other plants, and the use of a solid yellow background instead of the traditional wind and cloud motif, are innovations of the new style. By the 1940s Kamasan artists were back to the more traditional style.

At the bottom left, Laksamana finds Rama, who expresses deep emotion on realizing that Sita has been left alone. To the right, separated by a tree that looks like an overgrown flower, Rawana abducts Sita. In the top half of the painting, Jatayu intercepts Rawana who reaches for his kris (i.e. Indonesian and Malayian ceremonial dagger) while keeping Sita trapped in his other arm. Note: In all traditional versions of this scene, Twalen and Morda would have accompanied Rama, and Delem and Sangut would have accompanied Rawana.

Tabing – Ramayana: The Bridge to Langka.
Size: 127 x 150 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan work, on bark-cloth. Probably first half of the 19th Century. Obtained from the temple Jero Kapal, in Gelgel. Bark-cloth, usually imported from Sulawesi, has a good absorbent surface, which did not need a rice paste preparation that was essential for woven cloth, although it is less strong and tends to erode at the edges. This painting has been protected by a cloth strip sewn around its edges, probably in the 20th Century. The colors are all local Balinese ochres. The only imported colors used are kincu (Chinese vermilion) and black ink, which were imported from China. This suggests that the painting was completed before trade in European paints was established. The work is halus and extremely finely drawn and detailed. It is one of the finest and probably the oldest paintings in the Forge collection of the Australian Museum.

The episode shown here is the building of a causeway from the mainland (of India) to Langka (Ceylon). The monkeys’ work is supervised by Nala - in the center with a flaming headdress. Rocks are being passed along from both sides by lines of peluarga (i.e. animal-headed members of Rama’s army of supporters) and monkeys. The diverse animal origins of Rama’s peluarga allies are less well represented. In the top row of the right hand group for example, there is from left, a monkey face with a sun and moon headdress, a pig face, a deer, an elephant, and a snake. Below them at the extreme right is a man converted into a peluarga.

Tabing – Ramayana: Kumbakarna and Sugriwa.
Size: 95 x 81 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan, probably early 20th Century. Halus work but much flaking, tears, holes and general damage.

Kumbakarna, Rawana’s brother, is woken from his sleep to help defend Langka; he joins the battle and seizes Sugriwa (the monkey king) who swoons – as indicated by his closed eyes. Kumbakarna tries to carry Sugriwa away from the battle presumably to finish him off, but is prevented mainly by Hanoman. (Sugriwa eventually comes too, and bites off Kumbakarna’s nose and escapes.)

Tabing – Arjuna Wiwaha: Arjuna Metapa.
Size: 80 x 100 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan work. Thin European cloth; kasar work (i.e. crude workmanship).

This painting is the cheapest type of traditional painting, done at great speed.

The story is also treated with some freedom. At the top we see Arjuna in his cave, being tempted by two nymphs. But there seem to be no fewer than another eight nymphs outside (making a total of ten in all, whereas the story has very definitely only seven nymphs involved in the temptation). Nonetheless, many of the important iconographic elements are there: Arjuna’s kris is prominently displayed hanging up outside the cave; the girl immediately to the left holds a pudak (i.e. a pandanus fruit), a symbol that the Balinese recognize as expressing love and the begetting of children. Other girls hold flowers.

At the bottom, eight nymphs are shown preparing themselves (presumably before they reach Arjuna’s cave) washing, dressing, and inspecting themselves in a framed mirror. One girl here also holds a pudak, whereas another holds a piece of paper on which is written: ”reading and writing”. The temptation of Twalen and Morda by servant nymphs (which is usually prominent in Arjuna Metapa paintings) is in this case reduced to the temptation of Twalen by a servant nymph, who displays herself, to his obvious appreciation.

Tabing – Arjuna Wiwaha: Arjuna Metpa.
Size: 71 x 57 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan work. Thin European cloth; kasar work.

Another cheap and cheerful painting for the bottom end of the Balinese market. The drawing is a little more careful that that immediately above this tabing, but the coloring is equally as careless. In this case only two nymphs actually concentrate on Arjuna. Both Twalen and Morda are represented, each with their own nymph, whose temptations are not as explicit as in the preceding tabing. This tabing although extremely small, has a floral and ruled border of the type usually found on much larger and more expensive halus tabings from Kamasan.

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

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