Research project: Collecting Balinese Art: the Forge Collection of Balinese Paintings at the Australian Museum


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Siobhan L Campbell

Siobhan L Campbell
Photographer: Siobhan Campbell © Siobhan Campbell

Museum investigators


The Anthony Forge Collection is one of the world’s most significant collections of Balinese paintings. In this project I will explore the circumstances of assembling this collection as well as its significance to contemporary Balinese communities. Studying the interplay between the collector, the community and the Museum will not only cast a light on the philosophy and rationale for collecting paintings, but will suggest how contemporary Balinese artists might benefit from ongoing engagement with the Collection.

The late Professor Anthony Forge (1929-1991) was an anthropologist with a strong interest in the study of art. In 1972-73 he spent one year in Kamasan, Southeast Bali among the community of artists (sangging) who produced classical style paintings for use in temples. During this, and subsequent visits to Bali in the 1970s and 1980s, he assembled the collection of paintings now held in the Australian Museum. The Collection consists of old works obtained from artists, dealers and temples, as well as new paintings purchased or commissioned directly from the artists. Forge documented extensively, in writing and photographs, the painting techniques and narratives, the genealogy of the artists and the use of paintings in temples in various religious ceremonies.

Since July 2009, with the assistance of Stan Florek and other Australian Museum staff, I have been studying the 160 paintings in the Collection and related documentation. Subsequently, I worked with Lauren Parker, an intern from the Museum Studies Program at the University of Sydney, to review and consolidate relevant documentation and to prepare some of the paintings for photography. The photography project was a logistical challenge since some paintings are over 10 metres long. The photography required us to design a specialised studio within the Museum’s stores which operated over several weeks. Photographer Emma Furno spent many hours in the improvised studio and editing the photographs.The resulting images will be used in further study of individual paintings. Together with some documentation, the images will be made accessible to Balinese artists, encouraging their engagement with the Collection.

In the next stage of the project I will trace the history of these paintings seeking the artistic and scholarly reasons which guided their journey from Bali temples to the Museum collection. During field work in the latter half of 2010 I will explore the current practices of Balinese artists to illuminate continuities and changes in their paintings. This project will focus on how the painting tradition of Kamasan has been maintained, and how the collecting and exhibiting of the paintings influenced the continuation and expansion of this tradition.

This research is being conducted from July 2009-July 2012 as part of Australian Research Council Linkage Project “Understanding Balinese Paintings: Collections, Narrative, Aesthetics and Society” between the Australian Museum and the University of Sydney.

Siobhan Campbell

Dr Stan Florek , Collection Officer
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