Artist and Priestess
Mangku Muriati, born in 1967, grew up in an artist family. She was always close to her father, Mangku Mura, an accomplished and the most renowned Kamasan painter of his generation. As a child she assisted her father in his home studio in Kamasan village, colouring paintings – a task often performed by women in an artist’s household. This early apprenticeship evolved into a life-long passion for painting – not just a craft, but a mission.
Muriati went to art school at the Udayana University in Denpasar. This formal artistic education, not common among Kamasan painters, gave her a solid basis and the confidence in modern art, but she has chosen to follow her father’s footsteps and work in the traditional Kamasan-style of painting.
After completing her study, Muriati settled in her parental household located in Kamasan in Banjar Siku instead of the ward Banjar Sangging where Kamasan painters have resided for generations. Although this residential ‘disadvantage’ was surmounted by her father Mangku Mura, it remains difficult to be fully accepted and recognised by her peers who are well rooted in Banjar Sangging. Nevertheless, Muriati is one of the outstanding Kamasan artists. She supports herself and manages to contribute to her sizable household via paintings commissioned by devout and secular customers. International recognition also helps with some paintings purchased by art galleries, museums and dealers in and beyond Bali.
Fulfilling her father's wish, Muriati succeeded him as an artist as well as a priest at the local temple. These two roles are complementary as the Kamasan-style painters often interpret sacred and spiritual content of the Balinese tradition embedded in classical narratives. The artists must have a superior knowledge of this tradition and thorough grasp of complex iconography. And paintings often intend to address ethical issues of a universal nature as well as those specific to the time and social context in which an artist lives and works. Muriati likes to compare the role of the painter to that of dalang - a puppeteer who relies on her knowledge to conjure up characters and stories.
In her paintings and spiritual ministry, Muriati voices her concern for the natural environment, a need for the preservation of cultivated land, the rapid pace of development related to tourism, the adherence to religious obligations, as well as leadership and decency in social and political spheres. Although painting in a centuries-old style, Muriati’s work is original, fresh and relevant to current issues in Bali, Indonesia and beyond. This apparent contradiction is symptomatic of the Kamasan paintings: within the formalised old style framework, the artists convey, as they always did, messages relevant to their contemporary audience, both sacred and secular.
Dr Stan Florek , Collection Officer