Saturday, November 28, 2015

Balinese Paintings – Tabing (Part IV)
ArtCloth

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Introduction
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.

Today’s post is the fourth post on tabings. 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 – Sita Ordeal by Fire
Size: 177 x 136 cm.
Courtesy of Tropenmuseum.
Comment[1]: Mid 19th Century. Collected in 1915. Paint on cloth.

Rama stands closest to the fire, on the right, making a gesture with his hand that indicates shocked conversation. Behind him is his brother Laksmana and Rawana’s brother Wibhisana. Above them the gods Wisnu and Siwa look on, carried by a divine vehicle. Rama’s monkey allies are all around. On the ramp from which Sita has thrown herself into the fire is her companion Trijata, Rawana’s daughter, and the divine priests.

Before we discuss the stories that are the subject of tabings we need conclude the importance of these paintings in terms of the Balinese culture.


Balinese Paintings and the Balinese Culture[1]
In interpreting the Balinese paintings it is the interaction between the characters that identify the story. The same interactions and the overall composition emphasize the principle of hierarchy or the principle of equality, or sometimes both, but in the mythological paintings there is always another set of interactions that can be identified. These are between the behaviour of the noble and/or political dominant characters and the behaviour of the parekan (i.e. the four servant figures of very importance in the Balinese versions of Hindu epics). The parekan are perpetually present and their actions correspond to those of their nominal masters but in an exaggerated and often grotesque form. For example, in the temptation of Arjuna, while the noble Arjuna remains oblivious of the temptations offered by the nymphs, Twalen and Morda (servants) succumb, without hesitation to the proffered charm of the condong (i.e. female servants that are their counterparts). In battles they engage the parekan of the opposing side, often getting into ridiculous postures and inflicting nasty wounds on each other, whilst the aristocrats and gods fight erect and dignified and when hit, fall and die instead of re-appearing unhurt in the next scene (as do the parekan). In short they provide a commentary, often mocking the refined behaviour of the aristocrats, a commentary, which provides another view of the ideals of humankind. Twalen, Bima and Hanoman (all three are instantly recognizable by the Balinese as characters and not just types of characters) represent an alternative source of power – of the “right”, but essentially grotesque, coarse, even vulgar, open and demonstrative in behaviour and so juxtapose the refine, beautiful and controlled behaviour of the halus (i.e. refined) Ksatria and holy Brahmana. Compared to Vishnu (god) whose means to attaining his ends are often very dubious, Twalen, Bima and Hanoman have a simplistic view of their duty, which they slavishly follow, and despite their lack of refinement, are considered to be morally more superior to many of the more refined noblemen. Bima is of course a Pandawa (one so called tribe in the battle) and as such a Ksatria (one of three high castes), but much emphasis is made of his refusal to conform to polite standards of behaviour and his noisy and extrovert manner. Hanoman is an ape, a non human, whose behaviour wins him a high place despite his origin, the opposite of the hierarchical principle. Twalen, a dethroned god, is portrayed as a Sudra, that is from the bottom of the human hierarchy. These three characters are to a large degree responsible for the success of the “right” and hence to some extent for the preservation of the ordered hierarchy to which they represent as an alternative force.

After Sita’s abduction, Rama and Laksamana with Twalen and Morda start on a journey to search for her.
Courtesy reference [1].

There is a consistent representation of another sort of power presented by a Sudra artist to a Sudra audience. It is a self-mocking form and very Balinese in nature. It is not in a form that is subversive of the hierarchy as such; it co-exists with and to a large extent ignores the posturing refinement of the aristocratic strata in their society, while asserting different values more relevant to village life. It is this underlying tension, which generates a natural sympathy and popularity to these works on cloth.

Hero Bima, dressed in the black and white checked cloth, in battle with several of the demonic figures who inhabit the underworld.
Courtesy reference [1].

In summary, the villagers are theoretically powerless, but in fact, as they are well aware, form the basic maintainers and developers of Balinese culture. The small proportion of aristocrats form a tolerated and even slightly aberrant group, whose literary traditions have made the Balinese, look outside of Bali both for the political legitimisation of their position of power, and for the source of their culture.

Puppet Hanoman. He is a Hindu deity, the White Monkey General, an ardent supporter of the god Rama in his struggle with the demon King Rawana in the Hindu epic Ramayana.
Courtesy reference [1].


Balinese Painting – Tabing (Part IV)[1]

Tabing – Sutasoma (full view).
Size: 124 x 129 cm.
Courtesy reference [2].

Tabing – Sutasoma (detail view).
Courtesy reference [2].

Tabing – Sutasoma (another detail view).
Courtesy reference [2].
Comment[1]: This painting shows a scene towards the end of the long Sutasoma story. At the end of a large battle in which a large number of heroes have been slain, Sutasoma emerges from the town accompanied by his charioteer, to confront the man-eating Purasada. Purasada, who is possessed by the god Rudra, manifests himself in pamurtian form (i.e. a nine-headed ferocious form that the gods can assume when enraged. He rains weapons on Sutasoma, but as the weapons approach Sutasoma, they are all transformed into flowers. Purasada also emits an enormous burst of fire, but this is transformed into amerta (i.e. water of immortality), which revives the dead heroes lying around the battlefield. At the top left of the painting are the gods of the four directions (north, south, east and west): from left to right – Kubera, Yama, Bruna and Indra; scene: a tree of non-traditional type grows beside a pond from which there is a water spout. There is also a small pavilion, and a tree has a long banner lontek mounted on it.

Tabing – Adiparwa: Sunda and Upasunda.
Size: 87 x 87 cm.
Courtesy reference [2].
Comment[1]: This is one of the many stories from the Adiparwa. The two brothers, Sunda and Upasunda, their passions inflamed by the divine nymph, Tilotama, are shown attacking each other. Tilotama and her servant fly off back to heaven, their work having been done. Only the servants of the left are present, since both raksasa (i.e. demon) Kings were essentially evil characters. They are shown diving for cover as the titanic struggle between the brothers breaks out.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – full view.
Size: 128 x 162 cm.
Courtesy of reference [2].
Comment[1]: Kamasan work, second half of the 19th Century. Halus technique on very thin European cloth. Very stained, faded and patched.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – detailed view.
Comment[1]: This ArtCloth has significant historical interest for the present day viewer, since the sailors in the two prau (i.e. boat) are clearly Chinese (e.g. pig tails) and not European, suggesting that trade with China was evident in those early days.

This calendar appears by its drawing to be a fine piece of Kamasan work. However, the dividing lines between the scenes are simple heavy black lines, instead of more elaborate borders found on most calendars of this quality. At the top there are only a god and a wayang (i.e. art form derived from India’s culture) figure, while the whole bottom row of animals and buta (i.e. class of demons) is missing. It is possible that they may have been cut or torn off. Moreover, the positions of the constellations, “Kartika” and “the water pot” have been reversed.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – full view.
Size: 164 x 159 cm.
Courtesy of reference [2].
Comment[1]: Kamasan work by Pan Seken, 1940. Purchased from artist. Very halus work, with fine drawing and writing. Some mildew stains.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – a detailed view.
Courtesy of reference [2].

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – a detailed view.
Courtesy of reference [2].

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – a detailed view.
Courtesy of reference [2].
Comment[1]: This very fine work shows clearly how an original artist can take a very standardized formula – small scenes whose basic content is dictated by the calendrical system – and make a creative work from it. Each constellation is a perfect little scene. The expressions of the characters are lively.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – full view.
Size: 130 x 147 cm.
Courtesy of reference [2].

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – detailed view.
Courtesy of reference [2].

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar) – detailed view.

Courtesy of reference [2].
Comment[1]: This work was commissioned from Manku Mura. He was worried about the correct way of showing the various trees and birds. They are correctly mentioned in the text, but hardly visible, since he hid them behind the nimbus of each god. He did not include the buta at the base, because they were not mentioned in the lontar, which he used as a basis for the calendar text. This work is done in pale colors and his drawings have touches of whimsy (e.g. the monkey riding a horse).

Tabing – 35 Day Calendar.
Size: 44 x 62 cm.
Courtesy of reference [2].
Comment[1]: Kamasan, 1970s. Kasar work (i.e. coarse work) of the cheapest quality. The work was produced for sale to Balinese and sold for the equivalent of 30-50 AUD cents in 1973. It is not a great work of art, yet it contains a lot of the essential information of the bigger and finer calendars that are in existence. The writing is not interpretable – it is pseudo-writing of the illiterate. However, the constellations are identifiable and are in their correct places. Gods are shown at the top and animals at the bottom. The graphic compression that has taken place in a work so small and done so quickly, resulted in a repetition of symbols. For example, “weeping”, “the kris (i.e. ceremonial dagger) suicide” and the “corpses for cremation” are all shown by the same graphic form – probably meant to be a cloth-wrapped corpse. Similarly, three constellations - “many debts” and “false measures” (both usually shown as fights) as well as “the message” - are all shown by a glowing face. Otherwise all the constellations are distinct, and recognisable to anyone who is acquainted with the system (although “the enraged goose” is only differentiated from the eagle at the bottom left, by the color of the head.

Most of the above tabings are in The Forge Collection of The Australian Museum, Sydney, NSW.


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

[2] The Australian Museum, Sydney, NSW.

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