How to hang a Kamasan painting

The village of Kamasan, south of Klungkung in Bali, has been known for centuries as a source of traditional Balinese paintings based on the great Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The artists of Banjars Sangging and Siku in Kamasan originally painted for the temples, palaces, and homes of wealthy patrons in Gelgel and Klungkung and nearby regions. While wayang paintings are still created in most regions of Bali, the best work from Kamasan has become known as representing the continuation of the classical tradition of Balinese temple painting.

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Kamasan work almost always includes a painted border which makes framing somewhat superfluous. Because Kamasan paintings on cloth often hang in Balinese temples and homes in ways that allow them to move with air currents, museum curators and conservators try to catch that feeling in their best practice of presenting these paintings.

The small Kamasan Ramayana painting above from the recent Museum Puri Lukisan exhibition in Ubud hangs freely on the museum wall. Painted by Made Swacita in 1973, the work depicts the Abduction of Sita in four scenes moving clockwise from the lower right to the upper right. The painting, #28 in the exhibition catalog, measures 87.5 x 58.5 cm.

The technique museum curators use to hang this kind of work is quite simple, and can be easily used for hanging these paintings at home. The photo below shows the rice-paper hinges on the back of the work above.

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The hinges are attached first to the painting with rice-based glue, acquired in fine powder form and mixed with water to produce a paste of about the same consistency as “Elmer’s Glue” for wood products. When the glue is dry the other half of the hinge is attached to the backing.

Because Kamasan works are almost always painted on cotton cloth sized with rice paste and then polished, the ingredients in the hinge and glue are chemically identical to the cloth to which they are attached.

The backing for any long-term display can be either acid-free white cardboard, which is usually used in climate-controlled conditions in the USA and Europe, or polymeric corrugated board. In tropical conditions, the polymeric board is preferred as some insects find the cardboard delicious. This is what we used (above) at the Puri Lukisan exhibition, following advice of conservators at the National Archives of Singapore.

The bottom edge of any backing behind the painting can be several centimeters shorter than the top edge so it less visible to the viewer. The backing may be attached directly to the wall with stainless steel staples or small stainless nails.

This mounting procedure allows the paintings to “breathe” and to move in air currents and best replicates their appearance in a Balinese environment.

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