SUDAKARA ArtSpace Presents ‘Eternal Line’: An Exhibition Of Paintings By Mangku Muriati And Teja Astawa
Sudakara ArtSpace at Sudamala Suites & Villas Sanur has announced the premiere of an exhibition which unites two great and very different Balinese artists, linked by the ‘Eternal Line’ that stretches back through time to the birth of Balinese painting, inspired by the ancient traditions of ‘Wayang’ shadow puppetry. “Eternal Line’, which opens at Sudakara ArtSpace on December 3, 2015 and runs until February 3, 2016, brings together for the first time the paintings of Mangku Muriati, a traditional artist whose paintings grace some of Bali’s most venerable temples and private homes, and Teja Astawa, a son of Sanur whose big, bright contemporary canvases also owe a debt to Balinese traditional painting and the great folk storytelling traditions of ‘Wayang’, while at the same time gleefully flouting the rules.
Both artists will be present for the Opening Reception on December 3, and at an Exclusive Press Preview on November 26 from 17.30 – 19.00 hours.
“This exhibition has been several years in the making and it’s exciting to see it finally come together, said Sudamala Resorts Director Emily Subrata. “It links the past, present and future of Balinese art via the works of two of our greatest living artists, working in very different styles yet inextricably linked by an artistic tradition stretching back to the first Balinese paintings which were inspired by Wayang shadow puppets.
“That is the ‘eternal line’ that links their work, along with the true artist’s dedication to creative explorations and pushing boundaries, as well as notions of duty, family and fate.”
Mangku Muriati, a painter and priest like her father, Mangku Mura – one of the greatest exponents of Wayang painting – paints in what is often called ‘Kamasan’ style – but technically she cannot be considered a ‘Kamasan’ artist as she does not hail from Banjar Sangging, the ward of Kamasan village where, during the 16th century Gelgel and later Klungkung empires, a caste of painters developed a style informed by the conventions of Wayang shadow puppetry that endures to this day.
The art now associated with Kamasan continues to be produced by small numbers of artists in other Balinese villages, including Mangku Muriati. Thus, the term ‘Wayang painting’ is preferred.
Paintings depict moments and characters from the great Hindu epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Intricate scenes with characters depicted in three-quarter profile like shadow puppets are first inked in black, and then coloured with earthy tones of rust red, ochre, pale blue and white, the palette available to early practitioners from the pigments obtained from clay, ash, bone and fruits.
Teja Astawa is very much a contemporary artist, but he evolved his own style based on his long-held fascination with Wayang, an autodidactic and intuitive process that has seen him develop a distinctive and colourful style, complete with meta-narratives and post-modern techniques and subject matter that ranges from the grand religious themes of the epic stories to the most banal everyday matters.
Both painters picked up their first brushes at age 7, and each allows their creativity to illuminate their credentials as serious artists. Muriati finds space to flex her creative vision in the gaps left open for interpretation by Wayang painting conventions, and both painters use the device of adopting the common man or woman’s perspective to reveal a new truth or shed different light on the oft-told stories.
Wayan Seriyoga Parta, curator of the exhibition, said: “Mangku Muriati’s in-depth mastery of the intricacies and the pakem (prescribed rules and conventions) of Wayang painting became her platform to play with Wayang iconographies; it enabled her to reach places of creativity that transcend the perception of Wayang painting as conservative art.
“This exhibition presents a series of her works that are themed on the narrations extracted from the Ramayana and also Mahabharata epics (narrations of Hindu teaching that are widely spread in Indonesia – specially on Java and Bali islands – by the great Hindu-Buddhist empire of Majapahit from 1273 to 1527), folklores and stretching to feminist, historical and nationality issues.”
Muriati went to art school at the Udayana University in Denpasar, where she gained a solid all-rounder’s art degree and a working knowledge of modern art and western traditions. Her international reputation is growing; her paintings are hung in the Australian National Gallery, as part of the Forge Collection, one of the most significant collections of Wayang paintings.
Astawa starts with the big picture and a broad theme, and lets his muse soar as his paintings take shape. An artist of the here and now, almost nothing is off limits, from the tendency of power to corrupt and the foolish behaviour of those who want it, wield it, or have it taken from them to everyday problems like fruit shortages, aggressive birds and the 2002 Bali bomb. He delights in the quotidian indignities one isn’t often confronted with when viewing art inspired by the most revered stories in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, with all their celestial battles, clashes of titans, twilights of gods and assorted other monkey business.
Curator Wayan Seriyoga Parta says Astawa’s work twists the traditional forms into absurdist and humorous directions. “His works depict obscure visions where unconscious memories and spontaneous fantasies run wild, creating borderless narrations of the here and now phenomenon of everyday life,” he said. “Astawa manages to reincarnate the structures of Wayang painting and domesticate them into his own style and personal language of expression.”
Expert on Indonesian art and University of Sydney researcher Dr Siobhan Campbell, who has written an introductory essay to ‘Eternal Line’, points to the diverse influences on Teja Astawa’s work, from his shadow puppeteer grandfather to Javanese artist Widayat, seeing an exhibition of Jean Michael Basquiat’s work in Sanur in 2005, and his stumbling upon an exhibition of Kamasan art in 2009, also in Sanur.
“Astawa’s current work embodies a much greater sense of freedom and experiment with regard to the manipulation of Bali’s traditional iconography,” writes Dr Campbell.
“The same can be said of Mangku Muriati, who similarly challenges our notions about the timelessness and originality of tradition. For a while, she is very much defined by the conventions of tradition, her work quite clearly conveys innovative dimensions. In this sense both artists are asserting new meanings for traditional culture and this to me is the most profound quality of what they have achieved.”
Ms Subrata said Sudakara ArtSpace had been in talks with Astawa since 2012 to exhibit his work, and she was delighted the show had finally come to fruition, with the added bonus of showing Mangku Muriati’s work under the same roof for the first time.
She said the exhibition would be launched on December 3, 2015 with an Art and Cultural Dialogue to introduce “Eternal Line”, with speakers including: I Wayan Seriyoga Parta (Art Curator), Ida Bagus Agastia (Litterateur and expert in Ancient Javanese Literature), Rain Rosidi (Art Curator – the Art Director for Jogja Biennale 2015) and moderator Warih Wisatsana (Litterateur – Director of Taman Budaya Bali).