Scholarly article on topic 'Bruce Granquist,Inventing Art: The Paintings of Batuan Bali. Satumata Press, 2012, 345 pp. ISBN:9780615635071. Price: USD 63.32 (hardback).'

Bruce Granquist,Inventing Art: The Paintings of Batuan Bali. Satumata Press, 2012, 345 pp. ISBN:9780615635071. Price: USD 63.32 (hardback). Academic research paper on "Art (arts, history of arts, performing arts, music)"

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Academic research paper on topic "Bruce Granquist,Inventing Art: The Paintings of Batuan Bali. Satumata Press, 2012, 345 pp. ISBN:9780615635071. Price: USD 63.32 (hardback)."

Bruce Granquist

Inventing Art: The Paintings of Batuan Bali. Satumata Press, 2012, 345 pp.

isbn:97806i5635071. Price: usd 63.32 (hardback).

Bali is a little island but hosts a huge number of painters, including men, women, and children, and a surprising number of distinct, geographically located styles of painting. Since the 1930s, the styles include those of Ubud, Sanur, and Pangosekan, while in the old days styles were also locally concentrated. Kamasan in East Bali, for instance, was the centre of traditional, religiously inspired and royalty sponsored paintings, which continues in the modern era albeit mostly under the sponsorship of the modern money economy. Modern paintings do not have a link with religion or royalty, as they are made for a totally different public: outsiders. Because they were liberated from the confinements of religion and royal sponsorship, the painters were free to paint whatever they wanted, and indeed they did. Balinese painters began to portray daily life and were no longer exclusively concerned with gods, demons, and the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics and other classical story material.

This book addresses one distinct style of paining, that of Batuan, a village of some 8000 people in the Gianyar area of Central South Bali. Like the rest of Bali, the area entered the modern world when the whole of Bali was conquered by the Dutch in 1908 and later, after the Japanese had left, by the inclusion of the island in the new Republic of Indonesia. This meant the end of the old world as the village had known it and initially under the tutelage of the Dutch and later under the Japanese and the Indonesian government, local structures and the social make-up of the island and thus of this village changed forever. The history of the village, its culture, its social structures and their bearing on Batuan painting are succinctly but elegantly sketched. Especially the parts on the Japanese occupation of the island and the early period of Indonesian independence and their impact on painting in Batuan are of interest. Also the 'Portrait of Desa Seni' (pp. 108-21) and the way it portrays the world of Batuan painting in the Batuan socio-cultural setting is excellent.

Five foreigners are considered to have influenced the development of painting in Bali. The first was Walter Spies who settled in Ubud in 1926, followed by Rudolf Bonnet (1929) and Theo Meier (who settled in Sanur in the 1930s), as well as Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson (1936-1938). The influence of Spies, Bonnet, and Meier was not limited to Batuan but extended also to Sanur and Ubud. Mead and Bateson's influence, however, was to be felt in this particular area only. They commissioned paintings from the Batuan community for their ethnographic study of the area. Theirs is also the first main collection of paintings as they collected no less than 845, painted by 71 Batuan residents (p. 39).

© DICK van DER MEIJ, 2014 | DOI: 10.1163/22134379-17002010

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons

Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-NC 3.0) License.


The influence of the other three was less obvious and is still debated among various scholars who either want to inflate or downgrade their roles. One thing is clear though: for Granquist, there was no one-way influence from the foreigners to the Balinese, which he claims only had a 'peripheral and superficial effect on the fundamental aesthetics of Batuan painting' (p. 40) but rather a kind of mutual influence going both ways in different intensity. I think he is right.

So what is this Batuan style? Granquist gives us no less than eight elements which in combination lead to the Batuan style: Made to sell, Black and white, Delineation of form, Gradation of form, Layering of objects, All-over density, Representation, and Pictorial space. He continues to explain in detail what he means by these eight style elements, particularly the last two. Then he defines Batuan paintings: 'Non-ritualistic paintings based on a non-dogmatic set of guidelines. Predominantly black and white forms, firmly delineated, where each form contains a gradation from dark to light without any apparent light source. Densely composed and evenly dispersed forms that are layered from bottom to top, but not receding into the distance. The visual matrix of the painting is composed on an axiomatric grid, using foliage or architectural forms, with the objects represented using a synthesis of empirical and stylised visual conventions.' (p. 96).

As with any definition of this kind, it is temporal, but although the author hastens to clarify that changes occurred in the Batuan style, for me the definition mainly seems valid for the older exemplars. This is especially so as later paintings were no longer predominantly made in black and white but were also coloured, and especially nowadays, most paintings are vibrantly multi-chromatic. I have the impression that the gradation technique is now used in the colouration of the paintings rather than in their black and white parts. Most paintings are indeed dense and full of foliage, trees, people, animals, rituals and what not. The difference between paintings which are not nearly as dense as most but much more 'calm' is bewildering. Whatever the case, according to the author, the 'illusion of a segmented, layered space, fluid and twisting, is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the Batuan school of painting, and its most unique achievement.' (p. 93)

The subjects portrayed in the paintings cover a wide range of subjects and as of late increasingly include the presence of the 'outsider', making them even more persistently present: no longer only the purchasers of the paintings, they have become part of the subject matter. However, Granquist cautions that although the world of gods, demons and various otherworldly creatures is much more hidden than before, we should not forget that the world beyond should not be ignored if we wish to understand these paintings properly. The juxtaposition of the demon-infested Balinese natural surroundings

and scantily dressed surfing tourists is sometimes hilarious, and Granquist rightfully notes that fun is part of the Batuan style as well.

The book is (apparently) an exhibition guide and we have ample opportunity to evaluate the many pictures of Batuan paintings in the catalogue which starts on page 138. The table of contents organises the exhibition catalogue around four clusters of paintings: The Built Worlds. Village Life, Ritual Life, Tantric Beliefs, Erotica; The Natural World. Stories from the Wild Places; Literary Traditions. Mahabharata, Ramayana, Sutasoma, Malat; and Social Commentary. (In the actual catalogue, however, these subjects are not presented as such but grouped under many more headings.) As paintings are shown from the 1930 until very recently, they give a clear overview of the transformations of the Batuan style over the past 80 or so years. It does not become clear what exhibition it actually was and perhaps we should see the book as a catalogue of its own printed exhibition. It is a pity that it is also unclear where the pictures are housed or who owns them. The image credits page (p. 341), however, may lead us to think that the bulk is part of the Singapore Batuan Collection but where that is located remains, unfortunately, a puzzle.

The last part of the book looks at meaning and purpose. It looks at paintings in two different ways, one within the original social and cultural context and in terms of their formal characteristics. Looking at, 'Niwatakawaca' by Ida Bagus Putu Padma from 2010 he explains that the idea is that there are two distinct types of meaning in a piece of art. A representative aspect pointing to meaning that may or may not be understood. For instance, an outsider would not know what or who 'Niwatakawaca' is whereas anyone in Bali would know that the title of the painting points to the demon central to the Arjunawiwaha story. However, this lack of meaning is compensated by the shapes which point to what the picture actually shows. In this case, the dangerous position of the heavenly nymph Suprabha, who sits quite unhappily on the demon's lap, is indicated by the shapes of the foliage and other elements in the painting, which takes us to the painting's hidden message. This divide may explain why a Batuan painting may be enjoyed by someone who has no understanding of Balinese culture.

The book is a pleasure to read, the illustrations are sharp and informative, and the technical details to understand the paintings are also clearly presented and well-structured. It is a serious and in my view successful attempt to explain the intrinsic elements of this particular style of Balinese paintings and the book thus adds to our appreciation of them. Because today many paintings are almost mechanically produced for the tourist industry, some insights into differences in quality would have helped. As it stands, the notion of quality is absent.

B O OK REvIEws 393

Dick van derMeij Center for the Study of Religion and Culture, UIN Jakarta dickvdm2005@yah00.c0m