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Increasing optimism & creative development punctuate the post-pandemic Balinese art scene

Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash.

With the rebounding of tourism during the final half of 2022, the Bali economy is in recovery. Artists in Bali, nonetheless, intensified their practices during the three years of global socio-economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. As a result, last year was packed with exhibitions, events and happenings. Here are a noteworthy few.

Artists to know

The works of well-known painter Made Kaek were an exhibition highlight of 2022. Cryptic Sublimity of Made Kaek, which was exhibited at Rumah Paros, Sukawati, featured striking compositions in a colourful testament to his renewed expressive style. Creatures from his subconscious depths, some frightening, others amiable, came to life in wonderfully archaic forms. Kaek’s spontaneous works, filled with pulsating colours, were a pure delight.

Emerging artist Jemana Murti’s exploration into AI and 3D printing technology is a milestone in Balinese art. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Art graduate studied New Media Art. As a result, he fed words related to Balinese sculpture into an AI learning programme, which informed printers that use bioplastic. This created sections that he then arranged together into compositions. Murti’s textured “landscapes” reminiscent of floral motifs came to life through vibrant colours. Creating relics of the past in response to the dramatic loss of traditional culture, his series Ghosts of the Future represents his ideas of how AI may function.

Ketut ‘Lekung’ Sugantika’s experimentation with materiality and devising alternative methods of using canvas as a painting medium continued during 2022. Beautifully textured with a striking green and blue colour palette, Mandala Air was exhibited during the annual government-sponsored Bali Megarupa exhibition. The show was held simultaneously at Puri Lukisan Museum, Neka Museum, ARMA and The Bali Art Center in October. Distinguished by multiple lengths of canvas emanating from the mandala’s centre, the composition came alive with movement.

Eye-catching exhibitions and projects

A few special projects were breakthroughs in creativity and renewed practices in the development of art in Bali.

Weaving the Ocean was a visionary environmental art project in which Indonesian-born artist Ari Bayuaji collaborated with traditional Balinese weavers. At the start of the pandemic, Bayuaji began collecting discarded synthetic cords and fishing nets littering the shorelines of Sanur. He then worked with a family of textile weavers, who abandoned their business due to the halt of tourism, to create unusual tapestries. 

Elegant, dazzling and inventive, Bayuaji has since exhibited his two- and three-dimensional works locally, nationally and abroad at art fairs, gallery shows and environmental presentations. Weaving the Ocean will feature in RiverRun: Arts Nature Impact in April 2023 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. 

The long-awaited exhibition of the inaugural winner of the TiTian Prize, Nyoman Arisana, didn’t disappoint. i-NTERLEAVE at TiTian Art Space ran from October to November 2022. Arisana delivered a substantial body of two- and three-dimensional works, revealing his technical growth. With sliced canvas strips weaved together in a criss-cross formation, Menganyam Tradisi / Weaving Traditions was a fascinating composition featuring acrylic and Chinese ink. 

Established in 2016, Komunitas Budaya Gurat Indonesia (Indonesian Gurat Cultural Community), formerly known as the Gurat Institute, is an independent initiative focussing on research programmes and developing Balinese visual culture. The outcome of their most significant project to date, Warna Bali: Natural Balinese Colors in The Contemporary Art, was exhibited from October to November at the Gala Rupa Balinesia Art Space, Kuta.

In June 2021, the Gurat Institute began the most inclusive study on the traditional knowledge system of Balinese colours. Warna Bali showcased the results of research and paintings by thirteen contemporary Bali artists and included a 158-page catalogue. This landmark event challenged senior and mid-career artists to learn new techniques to express their ideas using natural traditional materials on handmade Ulantaga paper.

With little formal curatorial education in Bali, exhibition curating is not well understood. A recent programme initiated by CushCush Gallery (CCG) in Denpasar represents the growing awareness of the importance of curatorial roles. DenPasar 2022 It’s About TIME!, builds on CCG’s DenPasar2019 event In Transition, a series of programmes highlighting a youth curator residency programme. In Transition was led by curators and academics with a background in organising regional, national and international exhibitions and projects.

From October – November 2022, CCG showcased It’s About TIME!, an exhibition by emerging female curators Ni Wayan Penawati, Ni Wayan Satiani Pradnya Paramita and Wicitra Pradnyaratih. The show presented works from their interactions with emerging Balinese artists and art collectives. This project is a significant step forward in developing a vibrant new generation of curators and addressing a critical gap in Bali’s art and creative infrastructure. 

Aristocrats, an exhibition by Dutch international photographer Ted van der Hulst at Ubud’s ARMA Museum, closed out 2022. It featured a book launch and 28 large-scale colour portraits of members of a Denpasar dwarf community who were employed in an exploitative voyeuristic tourist entertainment show in Kuta. The 28th of December opening was highlighted by the presence of the subjects who posed in front of their images and offered opening remarks, creating a dramatic and confronting atmosphere. The audience’s emotional response had some in tears.

In an era where minority groups are increasingly marginalised, van der Hulst’s documentation represents a critical investigation into the strength of the human character. Aristocrats is arguably the most significant contemporary art exhibition of ARMA’s twenty-six-year history. 

Up-and-coming platforms 

Collection 101 is a private collection of Indonesian artefacts and contemporary art in Kerobokan, housed in beautiful traditional Javanese teak wood buildings. The appointment-only venue established in 2019 by cultural connoisseur Alexander Goetz has remained under the radar yet showcases one of Bali’s finest curated art collections. It features many rare antique pieces that were sourced in the West and brought back to Bali to be repatriated to Indonesia.

Established in 2021, Nonfrasa is a new platform in Sanggingan, Ubud showcasing emerging contemporary Balinese and Indonesian artists. It’s a fresh and stimulating venue outside of the conventional white-walled gallery model. Lounge chairs and sofas are positioned around the spacious building, allowing for intimate art experiences. Visitors may relax and deeply engage with some of the best two and three-dimensional works from an exciting new generation of artists. Nonfrasa is the coolest new venue in Bali and a valuable addition to the art infrastructure.

Endings and goodbyes

Sadly, 2022 was marked by the passing of two iconic expatriate artists who made Bali home: Ian van Wieringen and Ashley Bickerton. Born in Holland in 1943, van Wieringen settled near Ubud in 1969. A restless, eccentric artist-adventurer, he travelled, worked and exhibited in many countries. Van was distinguished by the exceptional power of his lines, which beautifully depicted animals and pulsating, otherworldly landscape-inspired compositions. Unfortunately, he passed away in July 2022.

Born in Barbados in 1959, Ashley Bickerton was a visionary and rebellious artist who pushed the boundaries of contemporary aesthetics and narratives in the past three decades. Making his home in Bali in 1993, he rose to the heights of the international art world. Labelled a modern-day Gauguin who accentuated the ugly extremes of modern western ideals in the tropics, Bickerton passed away in November 2022 after battling a debilitating motor neuron disease.

During 2023 we look forward to more projects and events highlighting Bali’s unique creativity and artistic potential that distinguishes it within the Indonesian art world.


Feature Image: Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash.

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