The Storytelling Art of Bali: Wayang Painting from Temples to Tourism

An exhibition opening on Monday, October 24, at the Consulate General of Indonesia in New York, will feature twenty-one 19th and 20th-century paintings and drawings that illustrate 100 years of evolution of Balinese wayang painting from precolonial times to the present.


The show includes large antique paintings created for Balinese temples and royal houses telling the Hindu-Buddhist stories of Bali’s shadow theater as well as more recent work showing the evolution of this art to smaller formats created for contemporary family temples in Bali and for Indonesian and foreign collectors.


“Preparations for a Festival in the Court of Prince Panji” by Nyoman Serenkog, a woman artist from the village of Kamasan, in a 2013 museum exhibition in Bali.

The exhibition will be open Monday through Friday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, October 24 through November 7, 2016, at the Indonesian Consulate, 5 East 68th Street, New York, NY.

The two posts that follow just below show the other 20 paintings and drawings in the exhibition.

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Paintings 1-10 at the “Storytelling Art of Bali”
exhibition at the Consulate General of Indonesia, 5 E. 68th St. New
York, NY. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM
from Monday, October 24 through Monday, November 7, 2016.

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Paintings 11-20 at the “Storytelling Art of Bali” exhibition at the Consulate General of Indonesia, 5 E. 68th St. New York, NY. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM from Monday, October 24 through Monday, November 7, 2016.

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“Garuda, Wibiwasu, and Supratika,” a 19th century Balinese temple painting from Karangasem, shown here at the top as it was purchased in 1973 and last exhibited at Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan in 2013, and below as cleaned and completely restored in Bali in 2015. The unrestored painting appears with the story on page 44 of the exhibition catalog, Ketut Madra and 100 Years of Balinese Wayang Painting.

What I loved most about the opening of “Illuminating Line: Master Drawings of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad” at Ubud’s Puri Lukisan Museum last week was the sheer enthusiasm of Balinese people of all ages for the work that this timeless artist created.

Balinese Calendar (Palelintangan) commissioned from I Gusti Nyoman Lempad by Canadian composer Colin McPhee in 1937, and donated to the American Museum of Natural History, ink, cinnabar, gouache and gold leaf on bark-cloth, 257 x 160 cm.

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.


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.


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.

The two photos above show two paintings by Ketut Madra depicting the story of Kala Rahu.

The first was taken at his sanggah or family temple in Banjar Kalah in Peliatan in 1973. The second is an installation shot of the same pair of paintings in the exhibition “Ketut Madra and 100 Years of Balinese Wayang Painting” at Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan from October 7 to November 7, 2013.

The paintings were retired from temple service in the mid-1990s after 20-plus years and replaced with new ones. The top photo is part of a series shot by Barbara Miller as the family renovated the sanggah in preparation for its odalan.