Mangku Mura (1920-1999) was born to a family of tenant farmers and after completing primary school worked on his parents’ farm. His name was I Wayan Mura and he studied to become a lay priest (pamangku) under the tuition of Ida Pedanda Kerta – a brahmana priest from the neighbouring Banjar Geria, a member of the court at Kerta Gosa and advisor to Dewa Agung Oka Geg (King 1929–1950). When consecrated as the mangku (temple priest), the young man adopted this title as his name and was known as Mangku Mura ever since.
He also had learnt, from smithing families, how to make ritual utensils of silver, but he could not afford buy silver to establish himself as a silversmith. Since painting was far more affordable, he resolved to try this craft instead. First he learnt drawing with Kak Lui and this skill allowed him to earn some money and take lessons from other artists. Among them were Pan Ngales, Wayan Kayun, Nyoman Dogol and Pan Seken – residents of Banjar Sangging, where Kamasan artists traditionally lived. Learning from many artists was considered unconventional and may account for the development of his unique style of painting.
Mangku Mura’s descent from common sharecroppers and a lack of direct connection to Banjar Sangging disadvantaged him. However, he worked hard, demonstrating artistic merit and marketing skills. He established his reputation and received good prices for his paintings.
In 1971-72 Professor Anthony Forge conducted a major research on Balinese paintings in Kamasan village. Mangku Mura became a major informant and close research partner. It was a significant episode for the artist-priest and his family. Forge was to bring traditional Balinese art to international, academic, anthropological and ultimately popular interest and via his involvement Mangku Mura emerged as a principal representative of Kamasan art.
Mangku Mura’s association with Anthony Forge in the 1970s was coincidental but not completely unlikely. It was probably chance that Mangku Mura was the first Kamasan artist introduced to Forge, but his home was close to Forge’s residence in the village and his older daughter was engaged as home-maker for the Forge family. In addition Mangku Mura was happy to talk about art and related stories - unlike many other, more reserved, artists at that time. In turn, Forge acquired several of Mura’s paintings which contributed in magnifying the artist’s reputation in Bali and internationally.
Forge knew that his closeness and support for Mangku Mura was not universally accepted, but great skills and readiness to talk about paintings made him an essential collaborator. Moreover, this method of research by the artist’s own explanation was not what Forge initially desired, yet it provided him with the most insightful comprehension of Kamasan paintings. This art is inherently enmeshed with narratives and wayang puppet theatre linked to its origin – both fulfilling similar spiritual and cultural functions in Balinese tradition. So, Mangku Mura proved that a successful artist needs to be a consummate story teller as well.
Usually painting involves the family. Wives, sons and daughters often help in colouring paintings and learn the craft while helping. Seven of Mangku Mura’s children were, to some degree, assisting in his work. One of his sons, Nyoman Kondra, followed his father’s example and became a noteworthy painter. But it was daughter, Mangku Muriati, who from an early age assisted her father in his studio and was nurtured to become an artist. She was the only sibling who obtained the benefit of higher education – she studied Art at the Udayana University in Denpasar. Muriati became a highly accomplished artist and also her father’s successor as a priest.
Mangku Mura’s paintings were to decorate temples in Banjar Siku – his ‘native’ ward in Kamasan - as this was their primary function. But they were sold in other parts of Bali and eventually acquired by galleries and museums in Indonesia and internationally. In the 1960s Mangku Mura was involved in major refurbishment of Kerta Gosa, in Klungkung - the project coordinated by his former teacher and mentor Pan Seken.
In the 1980s the artist had exhibited his paintings in Italy and his appearance beyond Indonesia added to his international and domestic recognition. Mangku Mura received a commission, from the Indonesian government, to paint a large map of the world, which was displayed as a mural in the Indonesian pavilion at the World Expo in Brisbane, Australia in 1988. The entire painting covered nearly 1,300 square metres. Along with traditional scenes the painting included images of Australian tourists in Bali.
In 2011 Mangku Mura was posthumously awarded, by the Indonesian Government, a prize for the preservation and promotion of traditional art.
Siobhan Campbell, Collecting Balinese Art: The Forge Collection of the Balinese Paintings at the Australian Museum in Sydney, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sydney 2013