On the last day of 2016, we look back and see plenty of things we might not like. But there were some beauties too, and this exhibition here in Bali is one that stands out. Richard Horstman reports:

 

A historical collaboration between the Udayana University of Bali and the Bentara Budaya Cultural Center Denpasar highlighted a landmark event in Balinese painting, presenting the works of Balinese master artist Ketut Budiana. Officiated by the Governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, the exhibition “King Udayana: A Visual Epic” opened Friday 14 April

The exhibition featured an enormous narrative canvas, the dimensions of 8339 x 140 cm spanning the walls of the Bentara Budaya pavilion. The story pays homage to the 10th century Balinese king Udayana Warmadewa, known as one of the earliest historical figures of ancient Bali. His identification as the father of the famous Airlangga, the hero-king of Java, has led him to be the prominent figure in Balinese history in par with ancient Java. As the result his name is associated with Balinese past greatness.

The painting’s story line includes the cycle and stages of life according to the Balinese philosophies. Renowned art critic and historian Jean Couteau states, “Budiana “talks” of Udayana’s birth in Bali, education in Java, and union, through his son Airlangga, of the kingdoms of Bali and Java. His portrayal of the king’s life story is a “model” of how the Hindu-Balinese ought to manage the four goals of human life (Catur Purusa Art): dharma-virtue, kama-desire, artha-earthly goods and moksa-the ultimate melting in the cosmos. Humans must properly combine these “goals” of life in the four stages of their life.”

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Budiana’s exhibition both glorifies the past but also reflects on the contemporary at the same time in hoping for a brighter the future for Bali. The painting highlights the Balinese people’s philosophical appraoch to life while also appearing in form similar to the traditional Kamasan paintings that were often created on long single rolls of cloth.

The exhibition opened with great ceremony and was attended by senior delegates of the Balinese government and Udayana University, and members of the Bali and Indonesian art community, who were treated to an intrepretive dance performance by students from the Udayana University.

After the exhibition at the Bentara Budaya Bali, which finished 22 April, the paintings permanent new home will be on the higher walls of the rectorate’s main hall in the Udayana University in Jimbaran, and will be on display and open to the general public. Stories about King Udayana and his administration have not been so well known to the public.

The greatest Balinese artists are those who experiment with form, composition and materials, while interpreting the narratives and infusing their artworks with their own character and style. Except for Bali’s first modern artist, the iconic architect and artist Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1865? -1978), no other Balinese artist has forged a path of such unique quality as has Ketut Budiana.

Born into a family of master artisans in the village of Padang Tegal, Ubud in 1950 Budiana is highly skilled as a sculptor and architect, and specializes in making scared temple images, ceremonial masks and sarcophagus for ritual cremations. A former art teacher, he studied art at SSRI, the Indonesian School of Art in Denpasar and briefly with renowned Dutch painter and architect Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978).

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Budiana began painting in the early 70’s and exhibiting from 1974 and has shown his work in many foreign countries while he has won a string of local and international awards. He has been active as a curator at Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan from 1986 – 1990 while serving in 1990 as a curator at ARMA museum, and has contributed numerous articles and essays to various publications. Budiana has regularly exhibited at Bentara Budaya Bali while also exhibiting at Bentara Budaya Jakarta and Yogyakarta.

If you venture into Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest you will see Budiana’s works, enormous statues sculptured from local stone (paras) craved from the cliffs along the local rivers around Ubud. He has been not only instrumental in these works, yet contributing to the restoration and design work of the Monkey Forest temples.

In “King Udayana : A Visual Epic” Budiana invited the audience to wonder clockwise around the pavilion to engage with this poetic masterwork. The work is laid out in such as way as to occupy the four directions of the compass, with their respective gods, and colors, symbolically linking the human existence with the cosmos.

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Often described as a “fantastic’ painter” Budiana communicates stories that appear to come from the subconscious in dream like imagery that often evolves from churning clouds of energy. At a glance Budiana’s paintings appear as a swirling mass of waves, clouds and non descript forms – a world of seething movement.

On closer inspection, however, his images and shapes undergo strange and unexpected transformations, coalescing into fantastic yet monstrous and even grotesque figures. This movement and transformation reflect the fluidity and infinite essence of the universe continually being reformed and recreated.

His works create a visual formulation of the complexity of the Balinese Hindu philosophy and cosmology. The themes his works explore are deeply rooted in Balinese religion and the mythological, esoteric teachings contained in the sacred lontars (hand inscribed books made in specially treated palm leaf).

“All life is energy, derived and resonating out from the one singular central source and eventually returning to this original point. This is a never ending process of birth, death and rebirth,” says Budiana. His works contain confronting figures of power – desire, destruction, energy and force – yet desire and destruction are both essential in the material world and inescapable. They are a part of the nature of matter, at the center of the mystery of life itself.

 

Words & Images: Richard Horstman

Art activist Richard Horstman (b.1964 Melbourne) first visited Ubud in 1986. The former sculptor is a journalist, writer, art tourism presenter and behind the scenes doer in Bali art scene. Dedicated to contributing to the development of Balinese and Indonesian art, he regularly contributes to the Jakarta Post on a range of art related topics and may be contacted at: lifeasartasia@gmail.com