A new exhibition (running 7th October – 7th November) at Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan, includes 69 paintings by Ketut Madra of Peliatan and 22 other artists, all working in the oldest style of Balinese painting and telling the ancient Hindu and Buddhist legends of Bali’s shadow puppet theater or ‘wayang kulit’.
Wayang painting is an integral part of the Bali’s Hindu-Buddhist faith. It began about a thousand years ago to tell great legends with moral lessons on the screens, curtains, walls and ceilings of the island’s temples, palaces, and homes of wealthy patrons. The art is alive today in the temples where it began and in modern interpretations.
Much of the work here tells the ancient stories of the shadow theater or wayang kulit, including scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as from Balinese folk tales.
While focusing on the work of Ketut Madra of Peliatan, the most accomplished living master of the art in the Ubud area, the exibition also includes pieces by a range of other painters dating from the early 1900s to the present. Almost all the paintings are by artists living near Ubud and in the village of Kamasan, south of Klungkung.
“Many of the paintings in this exhibition were collected by our guest curator David Irons of New York when he lived in Bali for a year in 1973,” said Tjokorda Bagus Astika, director of the museum. “His remarkable collection is supplemented by work from our museum, ARMA and private collections. The exhibition also includes 35 paintings painted over the last 42 years by internationally recognized wayang artist Ketut Madra from his own and Mr. Irons’s collections.”
A 64-page, large format, color catalog, in English (with Indonesian translation) by Mr. Irons accompanies the exhibition. “This exhibition and catalog are an important introduction to wayang painting,” Tjokorda Bagus continued. “This is the original painted art of Bali: The first wayang paintings were created almost a thousand years ago to tell these epic stories in our temples and palaces.
“Wayang painting continues today in both modern form and in the traditional way as temple art, with both forms represented in the exhibition,” Tjokorda Bagus said. Ketut Madra is the only wayang master working in Ubud today whose modern interpretations of Bali’s legends are in collections on four continents, while his traditional work graces the family temples of his neighbors and the major pura of Peliatan and Pengosekan.”
“I became fascinated by this art 40 years ago,” Mr. Irons said. His interest led to his curating the first U.S. exhibition of contemporary wayang painting, Legendary Paintings of Bali, at Harvard University in 1974. “Balinese legends are a window to the culture. Having some understanding of them is key to understanding not only the role of Bali’s Hindu-Buddhist religious life, but also the way the Balinese people see the world around them.
“I’ve known Ketut Madra and his work for 40 years,” he continued. “As both painter and masked dancer in the festivals of his temples, his work is central to his devotional and spiritual life. I hope the exhibition and catalog will introduce this art and these stories to people who want to learn more about Bali’s culture.”
“David and Ketut Madra approached us about doing this exhibition last year,” said Soemantri Widagdo, a curator at the Museum Puri Lukisan. “We knew Pak Ketut’s work, of course, and the idea of a wayang exhibition focused on his career with historical perspective on the art form was immediately attractive.
“Once we saw the quality of the paintings in David’s collection, it was clear we should do this. And when he told us that he and Pak Ketut were willing to sell much of this work in a way that benefits the museum, we felt we had an obligation to help. And we also bought two pieces immediately for the museum’s collections.
“The museum has rarely exhibited the work of a foreign collector of Balinese traditional painting and it is unusual for us to mount a thematic exhibition around our own mission with an important catalog by a guest curator,” Soemantri said. “We hope to do more of this.”
For further information please call Soemantri Widagdo 0812-822-3926 or firstname.lastname@example.org or David Irons at 0821-4500-7989 or email@example.com.