Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
So before I reached Bali, my two focus areas on my list of things-to-do in Bali were temple monuments and the exploration of Balinese art.
I had chanced upon the Balinese art form a few years ago and totally loved the unique form.
Detail from a Balinese painting:
And as always, the type of art that gets to me is always palimpsestic. Layer upon layer – visual upon symbol ….
And so after acquiring these I had begun reading about it. The contents of Balinese traditional art were exciting subjects like earthquake calendars, the astrological calendars, the Ramayan and Mahabharata epics. And so I was hooked.
So my little collection grew to about 7 pieces. But the that take my breath away are still the first ones that I acquired.
Just two days earlier I had lectured on the subject of Balinese art and Hindu Mythology. So, armed with a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of curiosity and a lot of attraction, I instructed the driver that we should go to the artist’s village Kamasan. The driver had heard of it and had been thee a few times but was not aware of the significance of the village that had put Bali on the world art map.
The art form of Kamasan is ancient with several surviving artist families. But the tipping point came in the early 1900s when the rest of the artist world discovered it. Some Australian and Western artists even settled there and as they straddled two worlds, they were instrumental in spring-boarding Balinese art to international fame.
So the first stop was to be Kerta Gosa – a traditional court of justice. I had read that the ceilings of the courthouse were painted with scenes of justice and more. More about this later…
The second stop was Kamasan village.
With signages declaring ‘Kamasan Desa’ we knew we had arrived but these were all pretty houses and there was no further indication of what we should go look for or look at. And I had not done enough research to be able to direct the driver with my wishes & commands.
So we drove around slowly until we saw some signs of stores and he asked whether we should go further or stop there to look.We decided to stop and if nothing else was accomplished, we might at least ask the people there what else there was to see here.
As we got out of the car, we noticed one small board that also said ‘workshop’ and as that was in a little lane we pursued that lead and walked down the little lane. [I think reading all those detective novels as a child – Famous Five / Secret Seven / Nancy Drew is to be blamed for this sense of investigative adventure]
So anyway here we are walking into the prettiest village of the world!
We stop and the gate of one but see no one inside so do not step in. Then we move on and see the next house. Encouraged by a bird in a cage and fantastic sounds of wind-chimes, we step in.
Our tentative steps lead us to a group of 3-4 elderly women painting alongside a 10-11 year old student.
And I greet them with eyes and a Namaste – they welcome us using the same language of eyes and gestures and we begin to look around.
And then in one corner we spot the old man painting.
Not wanting to disturb him, I walk around as silently as possible – hoping that if I don’t look at him directly, he too might not see me.
After a few minutes of our hanging around and observing his beautiful world, he realised that we weren’t going to go away soon … so he got up to greet us and began chatting with the driver in Balinese. He led us back to where the women sat and all the unframed paintings were stacked.
We looked around and sat around absorbing the beautiful atmosphere. Instinctively I knew I was onto something extreme – something so charming that it was blazing memory tracks into my soul. The experience was unfolding slowly and subtly – and I was in no hurry.
In style and demanour, he reminded me of my revered Mr. P -the antique jeweler who remains one of my revered gurus.
Some more time passed and he realised we were still hungry. So he walked across the courtyard and opened the door to a room with more paintings and left us there and went back to his work.
I saw framed artworks , some that were old, some not so old, all over the walls. Dozens lay stacked vertically against the wall. And high up in one corner were many awards and photos with dignitaries (such as the president).
The most interesting one was a painting of his family tree of artist-masters! We were in the presence of a much-decorated and highly revered artist Nyoman Mandra!!!!!
He came in to chat with us. The driver interpreted and the conversations got quite involved. I showed him photos of my little collection of 7. He pointed out that the Ramayan painting was painted by his grandfather and that another one that I called Balinese is actually Javanese. He now realised that my interest is serious and began opening up some more.
As we chatted it started raining heavily. It gave me an excuse to extend the charming time a little more … Us sitting on the floor, amidst the art, talking about his grandfather, his soul, his wife, the pending matters of life …..
Too often it is only in retrospect that I recognise such gifts of chance. It is only after the act that I become aware of its magnitude & significance. And then I kick myself for not extracting more memories out of the experience – I regret not observing little details, not memorising every word & every act and not increasing my sensitivity & receptiveness to the entire episode. For, only by tuning my mindset with these measures could I have enhanced and fixed the memory of this passing moment.
But this time, with my first steps into that house-workshop-temple of art – I knew.
This was – without a doubt – the most treasured interaction of the trip to Indonesia and one of the best of this year and of my life!
Thank you Serendipity!
Check out the Kamasan paintings of the wovensouls collection here.
Kamasan, Balinese art, balinese painting, bali, art, ancient art, Kerta Gosa,
[I did not even see the Bali beaches … the trip was short, Bali is not exactly small ….and the routing did not pass through the beach belt. Strange but true!]