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Balinese Expressions: Paintings in the Temple

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 10 May 2013

Ceremonies at Pura Bale Batur – four decades apart.

Pura Bale Batur Temple - Kamasan, Bali F13

Anthony Forge © Australian Museum

Kamasan or classical Balinese paintings are used in different contexts - sacred and secular. They decorate temples to delight gods and enhance ceremonial splendor, but can also play an active role in rituals where deities actually descend into paintings.

Paintings decorate royal palaces and residences of nobles to enhance the status of aristocrats and people of influence. Paintings decorate modest local temples, private homes, public spaces, galleries and museums. They are sold and given as gifts to Balinese and foreigners. They can be bought at the markets or commissioned from accomplished artists.

In 1978 Anthony Forge, who initiated major research project on Kamasan paintings, observed that ‘the position of Balinese traditional painting within this complicated cultural and social framework is far from clearcut.’ Perhaps now, in the 21st century, it is even clearer that Kamasan paintings are commodities in the globalised market where art and culture is for sale along rice, meat and steel.

And yet it would be hard to imagine and understand Kamasan paintings exclusively as works of art or purely as decorations. For this reason, Anthony Forge and other scholars, including Adrian Vickers, have attempted to understand and explain Balinese paintings in their ritual role, in the temple where paintings are a part of sacred decorum and the paraphernalia of worship.

To illustrate change and continuity in the sacred role of Kamasan paintings we have assembled two small galleries of photos documenting ceremonies in Pura Bale Batur – the major temple of the Kamasan artists. One set of images is from the 1970s Anthony Forge’s research; the other, parallel set is from 2010-2011 Siobhan Campbell’s research in Bali.