Balinese art is an essential aspect of the culture of the island. Bali’s rich historical and cultural travels have given depth and breadth to its art, which has now spread to every corner of the island. It’s no surprise that Bali, home to many talented artists, is considered the artistic center of Indonesia and one of the must-visit destinations for art lovers.
Balinese art history
The origins of Balinese art, also known as Hindu-Javanese art, date back to the beginning of our era. At first, the Hindu-Buddhist culture adopted by the Indians played a heavy influence on the history of the island, alongside the Chinese culture. Then, at 14andCentury, when the island was ruled under the Majapahit Empire, it was introduced into the Javanese culture. But instead of adopting Javanese culture as a whole, Bali incorporated it into its local culture – developing what we call Hindu-Javanese art. One of the most important works of art from this era is the Kamasan painting. It visually narrates Hindu-Javanese epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Balinese art at this time was still heavily religiously driven, meaning they were only created for religious purposes. Unlike art today, artists did not control artwork and could not take credit for their creations. Priests and selected elites mainly controlled what was to be created and shown in artwork.
When Islamic influence began to reign in Indonesia in the 16th century, Bali held firm and maintained its Hindu-Javanese culture. At this time, Hindu nobles, artists and priests traveled to Bali and enriched the island with new waves of Javanese culture – in order to protect the island from adopting the new influence.
The arrival of Western artists in Bali during the 19th century caused local art to adopt a more modern style. Balinese artists began experimenting with new materials and were encouraged to begin self-expression and originality – which had previously been oppressed by the religious establishment. This has resulted in an explosion of original artwork by Balinese artists, telling stories of life in Bali as opposed to religious epics. From then on, Balinese art grew exponentially towards modernity, while firmly maintaining its traditional culture.
Balinese type of art
Balinese art mainly consists of two types of artwork, painting and woodcarving – painting being the most important type. Bali has become a paradise for painters, as many local and foreign painters have traveled and resided on the island. Originally, painting took place on the walls of temples for religious and ceremonial purposes. Eventually it evolved into the beautiful Balinese painting we know today. Ubud, Sanur and Butuan are the three cities in Bali that have become the center of Balinese painting. Distinctive traits can be seen in the paintings of each of the three areas.
Today, countless galleries in Bali showcase phenomenal works from the ever-growing local art community. Some paintings are even exhibited in temples and museums around the world. The oldest painting from the 15th century is a lotus painting with the figure of Ganesha and is now kept in Pura Besakih, and some 19th century paintings are exhibited in several museums in Bali.
Wood carvings also have a long history in Balinese art. Floral, landscape and traditional symbols are the main carved elements in wooden carvings and furniture.
The village of Mas, known for its elaborate technique of woodcarving which uses a single tree trunk for each piece of art, has become the base of woodcarving in Bali and is the main producer of masks for dances traditional. These masks are skillfully crafted – adorned with hair, prominent fangs and bulbous eyes. Nowadays, along with paintings, woodcarvings are the staple Balinese collectibles for tourists all over the world.