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Balinese Expressions: Painted Lives

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 15 Aug 2014

Are Balinese paintings biographical?

Balinese Painting: E94643 bc

Emma Furno and Thomas Luscombe © Australian Museum

Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture.

It is well known that the painted narratives of Kamasan are derived largely from Indian and indigenous epics. In these paintings, artists present the lives of legendary figures like Panji Malat Rasmi - the crown prince of Kahuripan, the Buddhist prince Sutasoma, the noble warriors of the Pandawa family and the commoner family of Pan and Men Brayut.

Yet artists may also incorporate events from their own lives into their paintings. Kamasan artist Mangku Mura often included contemporary village events and episodes from his family life into pictorial narratives.

One of the paintings acquired from artist Nyoman Kondra (born 1957) in 2011 is a long ider-ider, depicting the history of the artist and his family. The artist, the son of Mangku Mura, intended the painting to decorate a shrine in his family temple. While it is a personal narrative, the sequence of his life story also corresponds to the popular tale of Pan and Men Brayut.

This is probably a rare openly autobiographical painting in Kamasa tradition. It intertwines a personal narrative with the aspects of community practices and alludes to other well established themes in this ancient painting convention.

The narrative begins with the family of the artist’s parents, followed by him learning to paint, and the quest for a bride. Preparation for the wedding alludes to the Pan and Men Brayut story, while depiction of twin daughters and the complete family corresponds to the first scene of the painting. The arrival of tourists and the filming of the artist bring the story openly into contemporary context. The next few episodes show the artist’s involvement in religious ceremonies, including a transport of the Barrong mask, instructing boys of the gamelan ensemble, preparation for the Galungan celebration, and Barrong procession as it goes around the village.

Explanation:

An ider-ider painting in Bali is designed to be hung under the eaves of a pavilion in a palace temple. It is wrapped around the outside of the pavilion and the story is normally presented in a series of scenes running from left to right. Scenes may be arranged in the reverse order when the painting is used for rituals associated with death, or when hung in a Pura Dalem, death temple.

Researched by Siobhan Campbell