Bali Shopping Guide
What to Buy in Bali – Bali Arts & Crafts, Wood Carving, Batik
Artistic Bali is a melting pot of cultures and traditions. The Balinese have an inborn talent of absorbing different cultural elements, blending them with their own, to produce dynamic new artistic hybrids. Across the years, Bali has soaked up Chinese, Buddhist, Indian, Hindu, Javanese and Western influences.
The Balinese were, traditionally, animists. Even when Hinduism arrived in Bali, its practices were adapted to go hand in hand with local traditions, thus making Hinduism in Bali very much different from its original form in India. Even the Hindu Mahabarata and Ramayana epics take on Balinese nuances and beliefs when played out in the wayang.
Other aspects of Balinese life follow suit. Take for instance, its performing arts. Bali’s dance, music and Wayang theatres still retain rich religious connotations, after having been enriched by contemporary artistry, and are still performed to appease and please the gods. This is illustrated in the trance dance of the Barong, or the intense Kecak dance; which retains very Balinese elements but includes a rhythm set by Western influences.
For centuries Bali’s artists and craftsmen have worked skillfully under the patronage of the priests and ruling classes, decorating palaces and temples. But Bali’s artists have always been anonymous, never putting their name to pieces of lovely work, but always living close together in “artist villages”.
Given the richness of skill and striking talent of the Balinese, it is interesting to note that Balinese artists did not have much room for personal expression. Creativity plays second fiddle to strict aesthetic and religious guidelines. But it is indeed fascinating that this practice soon changed with the arrival of Western artists at the start of the century. The talented Balinese started to develop their own individual styles, where imagination and art reigned supreme in painting, woodcarvings, jewellery making, textiles, stone carvings, dance, drama and music.
Bali’s batik, ikat and double ikat have designs inspired by religion and Bali’s myths and legends, but there are also more contemporary designs inspired by Javanese motifs.
Modern batik artists find expression through various subjects, ranging from objects of nature, to beautiful landmarks and cultural events, and sometimes accompany traditional designs with an insightful modern interpretation.
The Balinese have also perfected the art of ikat and double ikat weaving. Though inspired by the batik of Java, this cultural art form is very unique and carries its own character. Ikat literally means tie. This art is so-called as a piece of ikat cloth is woven in a way that the ink is “tied” in one of the two threads.
A double ikat, meanwhile, is a repeat of this technique, where both threads contain ink. The ink bleeds beautifully to its surrounding areas of cloth, creating a piece of cloth with subtle and unique patterns. The village of Tenganan is famous for its excellent double ikat cloths, and a good piece of double ikat may take months to finish.
Certain patterns of the ikat, especially black and white, and chequered pieces are believed to have the power to protect the wearer against evil spirits. This belief is widely seen in the pieces of ikats covering or dressing statues guarding the entrances of temples.
Bali Wood Carving
Wood and stone carvings, have also kept their grace through their evolution. Mythological forms of stone and wood stand guard in front of shrines and temples, or gaze out from the walls of houses and museums.
In Balinese culture, woodcarvings have the honor of holding the most sacred of offerings, and also the bodies of Balinese as they are cremated. Wooden carvings also adorn the Balinese home and are often placed near the gate in welcome.
Canvas / Painting
Traditionally, Balinese paintings depict religious and mythological symbolism, but Western influence wrought a change resulting in paintings freely creative but still distinctively Balinese.
Painting in Bali has certainly undergone tremendous development. To the inherently talented Balinese, painting was merely another means of self expression, of transferring feelings of faith and reverence into form. Absorbing free expression from Western artists and painters who made the island their home, Balinese painting then took a beautiful turn by adapting this new influence into Balinese culture creating fresh nuances and clever styles of paintings which remain distinctively and unmistakably Balinese.
The artists and painters of Bali today apply their talent to capturing contemporary pieces of nature, daily life and even tourists; and have brightened up their canvasses by adding colour to the traditional shades of coal grey and the dominating religious or mythical characters of Bali’s Wayang. The island’s artistic culture really owes its evolution to the Raja of Ubud, well-known for his fondness of arts and paintings, and his openness to foreigners and their ways. It is only fitting that Ubud became and still remains the centre of Bali’s art world, having welcomed renowned artists like Bonnet, Spies, Blanco and Snel, who visited the island and found that they just couldn’t leave.
Wonderful museums like the Puri Museum Lukisan, the Neka Museum, and the Rudana Museum house permanent collections of some of the best paintings ever produced by the talented Balinese and their foreign counterparts.