Balinese Arts and Crafts

balinese art craftThe amazing fertility of the Balinese soil has since ever given the Balinese a lot of leisure time, aside from their work as peasants, and stimulated their imagination and creativity. So much that the concept of “art” did not exist in their minds! Doing “artistic” things was such a routine to them, an ordinary activity, not more and not less then planting rice or feeding a young child. Until nowadays the offerings they prepare daily are somehow small pieces of art, but nobody minds if people step over them or dogs eat them.

More complicated offerings, like the tower of fruits woman bring to the temple during ceremonies, the weaving of palm leaves (lamak), the funeral towers, do not last long, get only used once, before to be eaten or burned… “Art” is nothing special. It is considered as a way to thank the Gods by according time and energy to make the human world as beautiful as it can be, so natural isn’t it? Beauty is divine. The divine is in the beauty. Somebody’s unusual artistic skills may only prove his closeness to the Gods, who give him inspiration and express themselves through his hands (musician, carver…) or through his body (dancer…). The “ego” is not the origin of talent, as Westerners figure it. It is God. Therefore no reason for a Balinese to be “proud” because of his artistic skills, whatever the level of art they belong to.

Balinese craft and art takes its origin in the Javanese one. Balinese people are fantastic stone carvers, and express the same kind of skills than the Javanese who carved Borobudur and Prambanan 1300 years ago. They are now often using wood, a new trend influenced by the western taste (more easy to bring back home). Bali is nowadays attracting craft importers from all over the world who would tell you that the Balinese are just able to do whatever you ask them to do (their talent and creativity seem unlimited).

balinese art stone carvingThe first occidental influence in Balinese art appeared in Balinese paintings, some seventy years ago. Traditional paintings were usually depicting the stories of Ramayana or the life of famous Balinese kings, in a very stylish way (similar to shadow puppets). The artist was never signing the paintings, mostly made on order and intended to decorate the home of the aristocrats. Western painters started to settle down in Bali in the thirties (most of them in Ubud, then a small and quiet village offering fresh air and marvelous scenery) and imported the concept of art as a goal in itself, independent from religious needs and inspiration: art created by the artist, the artist being put in situation of expressing his deep self. Those westerners imported as well the idea that art can be a very powerful source of income: something Balinese never thought of! The subject of the paintings moved from religious matters to every day life and scenery depictions. Balinese painters have since explored any major style, from impressionism to abstraction...

What identifies Balinese art and handy craft today is not easy to discuss. It might be its sense of humor. Balinese people go on taking themselves not too seriously and that’s good news: they still keep away from the illusion of the “ego” and the “reality”… They keep on being Balinese!

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