I was interested in textiles long before I became involved with Balinese art. Back in the 1970s I bought works by artists from my hometown of Kielce, which was a centre of Poland’s modern textile art. I also acquired a number of Oriental rugs from Persia, Morocco or Kazakhstan... I have treated them as functional objects although some, such as the museum-quality 16th-century Brussels tapestry or an exquisite Iranian Kerman rug, have found their place on the walls at my home next to paintings.
Although as a collector I have decided to focus on Balinese art, this personal fondness for textiles has made me expand geographically to cover the whole of Indonesia, especially because textiles for the Balinese market have often been produced on other islands.
Krzysztof Musiał, 2015
(…) in Bali pretty much everyone is an artist painting, playing an instrument, dancing or sculpting, and some are active in more than one field. I Wayan Balik is an example. Once I bought a landscape by him at a gallery at Keliki. When I asked about other works by the artist, I was told that he had given up painting, joining a gamelan group instead with which he has been touring the world ever since. Another artist, I Made Bukel is not only a painter but also a dance instructor and a leading gambuh dancer.
And this is why Bali, this sole Hindu island in an otherwise Islamic Indonesia, is so exceptional: almost everybody here is an artist, a person of creativity. It is enough to mention to a taxi driver that one is interested in painting, to learn that he is also a painter and to be invited to his studio or to an atelier of some relative or friend of his who is a painter or a sculptor.
Krzysztof Musiał, 2015
Bali is the last outpost in Indonesia where a vernacular form of Hinduism is practised: a religion that in the first millennium AD had been transplanted from India and, until the arrival of Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries, blossomed in several parts of the archipelago, especially on nearby Java and Sumatra. From the 10th century Bali became closely associated with East Java and these ties became particularly strong in the 14th and 15th centuries during the rule of the powerful Majapahit dynasty. In pre-colonial days the territory of Bali was divided between eight kingdoms (Buleleng, Tabanan, Jembrana, Karangasen, Klungkung, Gianyar, Badung, and Bangli) and the courts and local temples were important centres of art patronage.
The ancient Hindu traditions and religious ceremonies received on Bali a unique, local interpretation as they blended with an even older set of local animist beliefs that worshipped spirits of the ancestors, of the land and the sea. Even today religious practice permeates the everyday life of Balinese people. While small offerings are given daily to assure the protection of local spirits, spectacular festivals and temple ceremonies honouring the gods and forces of the universe punctuate the religious life of the community.
Textiles for Gods and People
from the Krzysztof Musiał Balinese Art Collection, 2015
In the field of painting, the full range of forms co-exist in Bali. Works that the Balinese usually describe as “classic” are mainly applied to the painters of the village of Kamasan who are inspired by the Indian epic poetry (such as Ramayana or Mahabharata) and wayang or shadow theatre, forms and narratives of which go back to ancient Java. Although there were many villages in Bali that practised this wayang style, Kamasan was the most famous, because of its close link to the highest-ranking royal family in Bali, that of Klungkung.
“Modern” art came to Bali in the late 1920s. Artists in North Bali were experimenting with daring new ways of showing the world around them and the stories of the divine. The impetus for this change came from access to new materials, notably European paper and paints.
The attractiveness of new styles, combined with the economic incentives of tourism, led hundreds of Balinese to become involved in art. Some of the painters were also sculptors, or involved in other arts, such as puppetry or dance-drama. Key centres of art were Batuan and Sanur, where the artists created a new style of art that was filled with black-and-white images showing a dark side of the spiritual power of Bali.
Modern artists continue to show a Bali overrun by tourism, alongside visions of rural life and the connection with the gods. Ubud became the centre to which other artists came between the 1950s and the 1970s. Today the Ubud style is the dominant mode of art associated with the image of Bali. In the 1970s a new style came out of Penestanan, a village adjoining Ubud. This “Young Artist” style moved towards a decorative abstraction that was to prefigure the contemporary art of the next generation.
Sculpture very quickly adapted to the growing presence of tourists from the 1920s onwards. The style that later was to be dubbed as “Balinese Art Deco” provided the most elegant version of traditional figures rendered with a new aesthetic. Alongside gods and heroes, the sculptures of the 1930s also depicted ordinary Balinese doing what Balinese do, eating drinking, dancing and playing music. Although later styles never quite reached the elegance of this 1930s work, newer sculptors have continued to innovate.
The most important group of Balinese textiles are cotton cloths decorated with the double ikat technique, in which the yarn of the weft and warp are carefully dyed prior to weaving the cloth. Their name geringsing (gering – illness, sing – without) points to their important function in healing ceremonies and exorcism rituals. Technically, these are the most complex textiles made in Southeast Asia and considered to have the greatest ritual power of all Balinese fabrics.
Geringsing are quite rare as they are made in only one small village, Tenganan Pegringsingan, in East Bali (the fame of these textiles gave the name to this village). The complex knowledge of dyeing and weaving of these fabrics has been limited to several dozen women.
Probably the most archaic type of Balinese fabrics are the bebali cloths decorated with horizontal stripes, as well as the chequered black and white poleng. The latter are the most commonly used sacral fabrics and their presence has become a distinctive feature of the Balinese landscape. One may find them wrapped around temple stone guardians and oversized effigies of demons created for festivals, used as banners and altar cloths to delineate sacred space, as well as worn on ceremonial occasions such as cremations or trance sessions. The black and white colours of this simple cloth stand for the dual nature of the universe that is composed of antithetical elements and forces that contradict and complement each other. These are organised in pairs such as male and female, good and evil, day and night, the living and the dead, etc.