In the late 1930s in Bali, Arthur Fleischmann encountered and was struck by the everyday heroics of Balinese women in agrarian life. Ni Rmpang and Ni Runding – two of his favourite models – are at harvest, their labour under the heat of a searing sun celebrated and immortalised.
The people generally like to walk to the next village through the paddy fields instead of taking the road, where bicycles and occasional cars disturb the peace. Ni Rmpang and Ni Runding are on their way through the sawah and have to walk in single file on the narrow path. On both sides of it the soil is under water across which the afternoon sun casts shadows.
Fleischmann the photographer pursues beauty in its different guises. This portrait series of Ni Runding is extensive, showing her unadorned in the studio, present in the accoutrements of ceremonial life and framed against a verdant Balinese landscape.
Ni Runding has a fine perforated basket on her head, and wears a pair of gilt sibengs (earrings). The sibengs indicate that she is unmarried. When the large ornamental plug is taken out, a hole is seen in the earlobe, which contracts fairly quickly.
Captured from a raised vantage point, Fleischmann frames a timeless Indonesian conception of landscape - the triumvirate of mountain, sawah and water.
Bali is presented in its elements: nature, ritual and harmony with nature. The photographer crouches or arches his back, aiming upwards, and all of these elements are captured under one and the same sky.
Puras pierce through the morning fog in the middle ground, at one with nature, witnessing each passing day, and is a constant today as much as it was 80 year ago.
Ritual is dense, yet fleetingly so. The individual attains an ephemeral moment of ecstasy amidst the collective. Fleischmann’s photographic eye pierces through the fervour and density of ritual life with remarkable acuity.
A part of the Barong dance is an exorcism which is called Kris Dance. Young men sit for a long time on the ground, concentrating and working themselves into a trance-like state. A man dressed as Rangda, the mother of all evil spirits appears. The young men want to attack Rangda with their krises (daggers handed down from generation to generation), but she, by her magic power, turns the Kris against its owners and now the men press the very sharp ends of their daggers violently against their breasts and necks as if they were about to commit suicide. The frenzy grows until the older more sober members of the community have to intervene. Often two of three men are needed to wrench the kris out of the bewitched men, who after that sometimes fall completely exhausted to the ground not awakening for a quite a long time.
The cast of the priests plays a crucial part in Balinese religious life. They are held in the utmost reverence, naturally, for they guide the soul of every Balinese man and woman into and out of this earthly life by way of their ancient, time-honoured rituals. There are two categories of priests: the pedandas of the Brahman caste, and the pemangkus, the village priests.
This photograph shows a pemangku who presides mainly over small ceremonies in villages and in the home. The brass bell or ganta in this photograph is an important attribute of the ceremonial priests. The holy water sprinkler and the staff-like object for sprinkling the faithful with water are important as well.
The demons and gods of Bali are and have always been omnipresent; sentry stones and preserved in posterity through photography and paintings. In Bali, ritual life envelops everyday life.