Sunday, September 21, 2008

Leadership Limbo at Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Denpasar

Bali's national art institute, the Indonesian Arts Institute ISI, is apparently in turmoil after a dispute over who should serve as the rector of the school. I heard that students have barricaded the offices and are boycotting classes. I have only been able to find these two articles in the Jakarta Post about the struggle for the top position of the school.

"Rai re-elected despite mass opposition," by Dicky Christanto, The Jakarta Post, 8/27/2008
"ISI dispute to go to the minister," by Dicky Christanto, The Jakarta Post, 9/2/2008

In the first article it mentions that student protests included a performance of the comic shadow theater, Wayang Cenk Blonk. I am not totally clear on the meaning of "cenk blonk" as opposed to the term Wayang Kulit, which means literally "shadow" (wayang) "leather" (kulit). In the book Balinese Dance, Drama, and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali by I Wayan Dibia and Rucina Ballinger they write about "Wayang Cengblong" which "is an anachronism for Nang Klenceng and Nang Eblong, the names of two clowns prominently featured . . ." and that there "is much more joking than in a regular Wayang show. " (p. 50). Can anyone enlighten me if these are one and the same?

There are lots of YouTube clips of Wayang Cenk Blonk, but none when I searched "Chengblong." Maybe the spelling has changed . . . Here is one of the videos I found:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Can and should the museum commission a cremation tower for its exhibition?

We had our second Bali team exhibition meeting last week and we discussed what ephemeral arts we might include. If money is no obstacle, which of course it always is, we would like to see if we could possibly commission a bade (cremation tower) to be erected in front of the museum or in Civic Center Plaza.

What issues might this raise for people? I imagine we might meet with concerns about religious art in public spaces. Might there also be discomfort from the Balinese community about having a sacred art form with a very specific funerary function commissioned for purely aesthetic and cultural education purposes? What will we do with the bade once it is dismantled? Clearly we need some input from the Balinese community on these questions.

My first step will be to reach out to local Balinese advisers and specialists, and at the same time to folks I met in Bali to see if a) this plan is even feasible and b) if it can be done without making a serious cultural gaffe. Tomorrow I will have a chance to bounce this idea off some folks with intimate knowledge of Bali, as I am attending the open house hosted by Gamelan Sekar Jaya in their new Oakland studio.

Great Photos of Bali

I have been ogling the gorgeous photos taken by one of the museum's Jade Circle members, Dennis, in Bali on the recent trip in July. These shots in particular stopped me in my tracks.

I am not sure where he took the image of people having ritual purification at the temple baths, but the image on the right was from the Royal Cremation procession in Ubud on July 15, 2008. I missed the procession as I had positioned myself at the temple so as to try to get a better view of the ceremonies there. It is great to see these images from different places along the procession route, since no one person could take in the whole event given the difficulties of moving from place to place.

Photos by Dennis Lenehan

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Indonesian Pornography Bill

The Bali Times ran a rather alarming blog today entitled Fury, Incredulity in Bali over Porn Bill.

The article quotes many who are concerned about the bill, which
"criminalizes all public acts and material capable of raising sexual desires or violating 'community morality,' including poetry and music."

In a diverse, multi-cultural country like Indonesia, defining pornography and enforcing laws prohibiting the raising of sexual desires from one island to another may present quite a challenge:
"Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika has said the bill fails to consider cultural diversity in a nation that stretches from the conservative Islamic province of Aceh to the animist highlands of Papua, where women go topless and men wear almost nothing but long gourds on their penises."

As regards Balinese art, the article continues: "Critics say Balinese customs threatened by the bill include the ubiquitous Hindu religious statues of Lingga and Yoni that depict male and female genitals, and the Kecak dance which is performed semi-naked."

The bill is supported by the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which has rising influence in Indonesian politics. Will Indonesia be the next hot spot of religious extremism?

See also ABC News Australia's post, "Thousand of Balinese rally against anti-porn bill"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Balinese cremations on YouTube

I was searching Youtube to see what videos might have been posted about the cremation ceremony I witnessed in Ubud this past July, and found some interesting videos of the cremation of AA Gede Oka Djelantik posted by "stiffchilli" from 2007. These videos show some of the aspects that few people could see in the cremation in Ubud this year due to the sheer number of people crowding everywhere. This part shows the body carried to its nine-storey tower conveyance (bade).

Another segment of video from stiffchilli shows the body being washed, which I think chronologically would have happened before the body is loaded into the tower. This practice is surprising from a western perspective, where we have been conditioned to be timid, if not a bit freaked out, around the dead. When I was about nine years old, my cousins dared me to touch my great grandmother at her viewing, and I felt ashamed to have been so disrespectful to have taken the dare and touched her cheek with my hand. If I had been a Balinese kid maybe it would have been OK.

Monday, September 8, 2008

village to hotel--bookending Balinese dance

Readers may recall from my July 18 post a discussion about art created for the Balinese in a village context and art created for the tourists. I have posted images from that memorable day, which included a morning visit to Asak, a village in the eastern part of the island, and an evening performance at Tandjung Sari Hotel.

Looking at the pictures, you may notice differences in place/staging/lighting, and makeup/costume. Most striking to me, although not obvious from the photos, was the difference in attitude of the dancers. At Asak, the young village women dance the way any young person participating in their community life does--with a mix of eyes-rolled obligation to family, peer bonding, and excitement of being able to dress up and fulfill a central role on the community stage. The performers at Tandjung Sari represent the budding talent of professional Balinese dance. They may also perform at their home village temple ceremonies, but their skill and training sets them apart as an elite artist with the potential to earn a relatively high status (if not particularly lucrative) living from their talent.

At yet another event in Singapadu I witnessed what seems to represent a third category of dance performance in Bali--that of professional dancers performing for a Balinese audience in a hybrid of sacred ritual and pure entertainment. The Singapadu performance featured highly trained, world-class Balinese dancers on a stage mounted in the village temple, but with rather professional lighting and staging. The stage backdrop is painted to mimic a temple gate and is set up for such special performances. The powerful, boar-headed temple barong was danced at the beginning of the evening. Everyone was dressed in formal temple costumes and the sassy boys kicking my chair and goofing for my cameras still had rice stuck to their foreheads from being blessed earlier. But judging from the anticipation of the crowd who lined up chairs in front of the stage, the dance part of the ritual clearly provided entertainment on top of whatever sacred function it served.

We had heard about this performance from the master dance teacher, scholar, and choreographer I Wayan Dibia who had danced the evening before at Singapadu. That afternoon, he arranged for us to meet the renowned, senior mask maker I Wayan Tangguh, and his son, I Ketut Kodi, a great topeng dancer. Pak Kodi was shy and distracted when we met; we had called him away from temple preparations for the evening ceremony and performance. On stage (see the bottom right image) he was like a completely different person. He reminded me of the great Shakespearean character actors, who give life, humor, and sparkle to classic tales. Even though I could not understand the dialogue, I found myself laughing at his antics, and was completely caught up in his character.

The Singapadu performance in a way evokes the state of Balinese dance today--a vessel supported by three legs: village, hotel, and academy. To survive, Balinese dance will likely have to be relevant to Balinese temple life AND tourist dollars. Although many people I spoke with bemoaned the homogenizing influence of the dance universities on Balinese dance, this institution provides needed connective tissue as village teachers die off and young people get distracted by modern life. This remains one of the most compelling debates about the future of Balinese dance--how can dancers retain their particular village traditions while training at the professional and standardized dance academies?



Top left: Asak temple dance

Top right: Tandjung Sari Hotel dancer
Bottow left: Barong dance at Singapadu
Bottom right: Pak Kodi as "The Old Man" in Singapadu

Friday, September 5, 2008

From "Visit of a Lifetime" to Exhibition Development

Now that all AAM staff members have returned from, the logistical planning of the exhibition begins. The colorful and vibrant images of art, dance, and ritual must take a back seat to the more mundane tasks of budgeting, grant-writing, event-planning, and pest management. Nevertheless, as staff begin to carry out the individual tasks that constitute our job descriptions, we will always have the intense liveliness of Bali in our minds. In this way, none of our tasks ever become lifeless.

We hope to keep you, our readers, as up to date as possible on the development of this exhibition. In order to do so without burdening Deb, more of us will be contributing to this blog. My name is Tisha, and I work in the publications division of the museum.

(Here's Chief Curator Forrest McGill enjoying the Bali experience, above left; and to the lower right, Associate Curator of Southeast Asian Art Natasha Reichle and blog author and Director of Education Deb Clearwaters join local expert Garrett Kam at his home.)

The Bali exhibition will be held in the summer of 2010, and just like Hollywood moguls, we aim for a blockbuster. We’ve been encouraged to “think big,” and so we are. Our meetings are filled with exciting phrases like “flying in the dance troupe,” or “taking over the Civic Center.” We talk of ephemeral art, of artists in residency, of video installations. We fantasize about screen projections outside the museum showing the music and dance performances taking place inside.

We also talk about pest management and visitor safety—less colorful but equally vital issues in this exhibition, which will feature very old wood sculpture, deep-fried rice-paste offerings, and towers of sticks and paper whose only ultimate purpose is the spectacular fire they create when a match is struck.

And always, we talk about the budget, and how to present the most spectacular show possible on a nonprofit’s budget. Stay tuned to learn more about our process as we begin to bring this exhibition to its vivid manifestation.