“How does one’s individuality stand
against the communal life of Bali today?”
The Collective Fragment series shows Valasara’s depiction of the typical Balinese artistic representation in Batuan paintings through the emphasis of its most common visual elements – religious rituals, landscape, paddy fields, and Balinese figures. Historically, the modern-day Batuan style of painting was largely influenced by the Pitamaha group in the early 20th century. Established by German artist Walter Spies and fellow European painters living in Bali, the Pitamaha group portrays Balinese daily life as an exotic, magical, and mystical spectacle for foreign tourists. It remains a common representation of Bali until today.
Valasara questions his tradition in relation to one’s individuality within the communality of Balinese society. As he embeds his molded objects within an entangling web of vibrantly colored yarns, in stark contrast to their muted backgrounds, effectively turns these objects into immediate abstractions. This web of yarns also interconnects one element in the painting with another, representing the shared values, spirituality, and history as well as the complexity of Balinese communal life.
Valasara focuses on the Ngaben ritual, a colossal centuries-old traditional funeral ceremony — one that is considered most sacred amongst Hindu Balinese community and most important subject in Batuan paintings. In Collective Fragment #1 (2021), the distinct portrayal of Bade (tower) can be seen clearly, whilst in and Collective Fragment #2 (2021), stood tall a Lembu (an ox). Both are traditionally used as a spiritual medium in the Ngaben ritual. The chaotic collisions of Valasara’s red, yellow, green, and blue threads affirm the mix of emotions felt during this celebration of life and death.
The two smaller paintings in the series similarly portray iconic Balinese cultural scenarios. Collective Fragment #3 (2021) illustrates the Melasti, an annual Hindu Balinese purification ceremony that is normally held several days before the holy day of Nyepi. In this work, our eyes are drawn to the human figures facing to the left in unison, some with offerings on their heads and shoulders — apparent just beneath the disarrayed web of yarns. The waving prayer flags suggest the proximity of the ocean, where the Hindu-Balinese would traditionally perform their washing rituals to cleanse and purify their karmas. Echoing the unity of figures shown there, Collective Fragment #4 (2021) emphasizes the gestures normally performed in Tari Kecak. Interestingly, as one of the most renowned Balinese traditional dances, Tari Kecak was made popular as a tourist attraction by Walter Spies, who adapted it as a drama based on Ramayana.
The references to elements in Batuan paintings such as temples, paddy fields, and Balinese landscape, are also inherent in Universe (2021). In borrowing these elements and having the canvas covered in repetitive clusters of stylized paddy fields, Valasara deliberately eliminates any human figures. In Hindu cosmology, the land, nature, temples, and humans are usually presented in unity to constitute the universe. As such, this painting questions the definition of Balinese culture without its people. What if one were to live in Bali without practicing its rituals?
Dispersed across the largest area in the exhibition space, Alienated Cosmic series (2021) explores the Balinese society when one of its elements is separated from the other. Here, Valasara maintains the individuality of the Balinese as he takes typical figures in Batuan paintings, i.e. commoners involved in various daily activities. Valasara continues his line of inquiry: what would happen if the communal Balinese are separated from the crowd? Do we lose our identity if we are separated from our tradition? Surprisingly, Valasara observes that when these individuals are separated from their Balinese identity, they are rather peculiar and display more expressive details in their facial appearances. They now embody a deeper humanity, each with unique individual characteristics rather than just part of the exoticism of Bali.
Often termed as a ‘living museum’, Bali is praised internationally for its unique culture and traditions that remain in practice till today. In Carousel (2021), Valasara places common figures in Balinese painting on a rotating circular plate, reminiscent of a carousel, a machine typically found in amusement parks. Additionally, the objects are placed inside a glass box and are in turn objectified as a form of spectacle and entertainment for the viewers. In close reference to Valasara’s own experience as a migrant when he lived in Yogyakarta for several years, this work presents his own culture from the perspective of the outsider
Made Wiguna Valasara (b.1983) studied at SMSR(Visual Art High School) in Denpasar and continued his higher education at Institut Seni Indonesia in Yogyakarta. Initially majoring in sculpture, Valasara changed his major in the following year to study painting. Valasara’s works are known for their white stuffed canvases, which combine Balinese mythical imagery and popular culture. As an artist living and working in Bali, Valasara has always been interested in reinventing and recontextualizing Balinese artistic tradition in relation to his own contemporary experience as an artist and migrant.
This exhibition is presented in collaboration with Bale Projects.