About the Stories Behind the Paintings

Balinese Narratives and Paintings: where the stories come from and how they are re-adapted for our website.

Siobhan L Campbell

Siobhan L Campbell
Photographer: Siobhan Campbell © Siobhan Campbell

Religion in Bali is deeply interwoven with ritual and art, less concerned with Hindu scripture but more with decorum. Also it is more concerned with local and ancestral spirits rather than strong emphasis on a cycle of rebirth and reincarnation. Associated beliefs permeate every aspect of life as people wish to attain balance, self control and enlightened harmony with the spirits of the universe. Paintings express these beliefs through a unique practice of story-telling in a codified context of the Balinese brand of Hindu mythology. This codified system allows ample room for recombining narratives and symbols to comment on current social and political issues and even to challenge established norms. Stories, enriched by various local additions, relate to the classical Hindu epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and associated poetry, but are not taken directly or literally from the scripture.

Rather, stories are adapted from oral tradition, puppet theatre and dance-drama performance. Moreover the stories recounted here were conveyed by the artists themselves, commenting on and explaining their own paintings, or helping to identify and explain older paintings like those which Anthony Forge collected in Bali in the 1970s. So, the stories are not definite, not necessarily correct or incorrect and often incomplete, as many paintings reflect individual episodes of larger narratives. The stories are adapted predominantly from Anthony Forge's catalogue and written notes and therefore reflect versions provided by artist-informants. Some stories are reconstructed as an identification of subjects depicted in more ambiguous paintings and some result from analysis undertaken by scholars, professors Peter Worsley and Adrian Vickers.

Using these sources, all the stories were rewritten by Siobhan Campbell and Stan Florek to make them more accessible to everybody, including people who are not familiar with the cultural and historical context of the narratives. Attempts were made to make the stories self contained, so, that a visitor who reads only one single story would be able to appreciate it without the need to search for additional explanations and references. For good measure, all stories were polished into plain and, we hope, simple English by our attentive volunteer editors Penny Zylstra and Peter Dadswell.

Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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