painting in paradise
July 29, 2006 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Bali is an island in Indonesia that attracted Walter Spies, a Russian born, German artist who settled in the colonial Dutch East Indies from 1923 on. Adored by the Balinese, Spies was the co-founder of the Pita Maha artists' cooperative, he shaped the development of contemporary Balinese art and established the West's image of Bali that still exists today. [more images and background inside]
posted by nickyskye (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
GoogleVideo documentaries about Bali: A classic, in depth travelguide, 1988, that is 53 minutes. A tourist video, 37 minutes, with some corny sound track choices but excellent footage of Balinese dance and gamelan music.

of Bali today.

Wikipedia Bali info.

Excellent blog about Western artists in Bali, including Walter Spies and the Pita Maha group of artists he was a part of in Bali.

A little history about Balinese painting.

The Neka Museum's history of the development of contemporary Balinese art. Examples of the main (paintings for sale) contemporary Balinese art influenced by Walter Spies and his friends: Batuan, Ubud, Young Artists, and Pengosekan Style.

A little about the classical Balinese art that predated Walter Spies.
posted by nickyskye at 11:08 PM on July 29, 2006

'The association experienced some disruption when Spies was arrested for immoral conduct, homosexual relations with minors, in late 1938.'

I absolutely adored Bali and Ubud in particular, but the dependence on tourists makes it very annoying to actually walk the streets and use local transport.
After two years, the question 'Transport, you want transport?' is still ringing in my ears...
Was Spies the one who commercialised the kecak? This was the only link I could find for a good performance of the Kecak, the others were too small groups or too much ambient sounds which takes away from the trancy sound. Baraka's performance in front of the oldest temple in Bali is memorable as well, although it misses the full circle. Apparently the original kecak was used (by animists?) to exorcise the demons. Contrary to other exorcist rituals, this one is very believeable.
posted by Zombie Dreams at 12:05 AM on July 30, 2006

Zombie Dreams : "Was Spies the one who commercialised the kecak?"

From what I understand (and from what Wikipedia says, and perhaps one of nickyskye's links as well, since I haven't read them all), Spies was one of the inventors of kecak.
posted by Bugbread at 4:42 AM on July 30, 2006

I've done some reading and it turns out Spies helped Pak Limbak (mister Limbak) create the kecak from the Sang Hyang trance dance, which is still performed without tourists. I'd really like to see the Sang Hyang, because the Hindu elements of the kecak really annoyed me. So, you are right: Spies helped develop the kecak, but the origins were native.
posted by Zombie Dreams at 6:23 AM on July 30, 2006

Oh, Limbak's first name is Wayan, which we soon found out is the name of every firstborn on Bali, regardless of gender. Second borns are called Made, third borns Nyoman and last borns Ketut. I loved that.
posted by Zombie Dreams at 6:27 AM on July 30, 2006

Ah, the Balinese. I hear it was deep in the south of Texas, not so long ago, there on a crowded island in the Gulf Of Mexico. It didn't take much money, but man it sure was nice. I'm told you could dance all night, if you felt all right, drinking whiskey and rolling dice.
posted by jonmc at 8:59 AM on July 30, 2006

A little about Spies' arrest: "The Dutch authorities, scandalized at the general moral laxity of foreigners in Ubud, and as part of a crackdown on homosexuals throughout the colony, arrested Spies on New Year's Eve, 1938, for committing sodomy with a minor. According to his biographer, Hans Rhodius, the Balinese were shocked and puzzled by the arrest, and brought Spies' favorite gamelan to play for him outside the window of his jail cell. The boy's father told the trial judge, 'He is our best friend, and it was an honor for my son to be in his company. If both are in agreement, why fuss?' "

Thanks for the cool vid of kecak ZB and for the info bugbread. Most tourist-dependent places are annoying at first. I loved Ubud too, thought it was neat Buckminster Fuller also did some works there.

jonmc, Fun ZZ Top song.
posted by nickyskye at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2006

Zombie Dreams: I haven't seen an actual kecak performance, so I can't vouch for authenticity, but here is the best video of a kecak performance that I know of. From the movie "Baraka", which I highly, highly recommend.
posted by Bugbread at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2006

Great post, nickyskye. Beautiful artwork and a fascinating history.

I have loved gamelan music ever since I first heard it as a child. And I second bugbread's recommendation to see Baraka if you can, especially if you can catch it on the big screen. Extraordinary film. That kecak clip had me grinning from ear to ear.
posted by persona non grata at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2006

bugbread and png, Wow, that Baraka vid of the kecak dance is amazing. On GoogleVideo there are some fairly long clips of other parts of Baraka too. Must catch that at the local Imax theater, it looks incredible.

png, How cool you love gamelan too. It's one of my favorite kinds of music. YouTube has a nice vid of Legong Taksu, legong being the girls' dance with with gamelan.
posted by nickyskye at 4:23 PM on July 30, 2006

Baraka is a truly great film, nickyskye. I hope you get to see it. It has that wonderfull and immersive clip that bugbread linked to and much, much more. It is a truly crazy wonderful movie. Visionary indeed. The filmakers, for the first time in cinematic history, did time-lapse panning. Very cool stuff and it adds up to a treat.
posted by persona non grata at 7:30 PM on July 30, 2006

Fantastic post. I find South East Asian culture disarmingly seductive for a very simple reason; to me, the region's ethnicities are same-same (in that I know the narratives involved rather well), but different (in that they are nevertheless unique).

For instance, the last time I encountered this word, 'pita maha', was when I was watching this Indian movie on a story from the Mahabharata; the patriarch of the Kurus, Bhishma^, obviously being the Pita Maha in question. In short, here's a Sanskrit term I don't really expect to encounter anywhere but mythological narratives, and yet, it apparently is rather popular in this corner of the world.

And oh. There's a gamelan performance this weekend that I was thinking of skipping, but might perhaps go now.
posted by the cydonian at 2:49 AM on July 31, 2006

the cydonian, It would seem from the Mahabharata translation that pita maha means pita (father) maha) great, i.e. grandfather, spelled as one word, pitamaha.

Pita in combination with other words may also mean yellow.

In the contect of the Ubud art collective, Pita Maha means "great shining". That "pita" could have been correctly spelled "phter" (shining in Sanskrit), but the pronounciation is "pita". I suppose the creators of that collective enjoyed the play on words of grandfather and great shining.

Hope you enjoy the gamelan performance. :)
posted by nickyskye at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2006

nickyskye, you're right, pitamaha in Sanskrit literally means 'grandfather', and indeed, Bhishma was, after all, the Kuru cousins' grandfather. In many contemporary Indic languages though, the word is also often used to mean 'ancestor'; not being that fluent in Sanskrit, I reached for this vernacular version rather the literal, and possibly more correct, meaning.

Were you referring to the following extract in your link?
Dyeus was addressed as Dyeu Phter, literally "Sky Father" or "shining father", as reflected in Latin Jupiter, Greek Zeu pater, Sanskrit Dyau Pita. In his aspect as a Father God, his consort was Pltvi Mhter, "Earth Mother".
I ask this because I read this extract differently; it appeared to me that 'Dyeu'/ 'Dyau' was the qualifier which meant 'shining' or 'sky', while 'Phter'/'pater'/'pita' meant 'father'. The adjective-noun order is consistent for the other Indo-European word mentioned here; 'Pltvi' could easily be an early version of the (here we go again!) Sanskrit 'Prithvi', just as 'Mhter' could be an early version of 'mother'.

HOWEVER, proto-Indo-European roots aside, here's where it gets even more curious, two of your links allege that 'Pita Maha' here means neither 'ancestors' nor 'great shining', but in fact, means "Great Vitality" or "Strong Det[e]rmination".

Now I'm thoroughly bemused, and endlessly fascinated.
posted by the cydonian at 7:55 PM on July 31, 2006

the cydonian, You're right. Two of the links do say it means "Great Vitality" or "Strong Determination". More of the links on the web said "Great Shining" and you're right about the Phter meaning father, different spelling. So I'm not sure now at all.

All I can see is that "pita" also means yellow in Sanskrit, as well as father, so could that be a synonym for shining, like sunlight?

Maybe pita is shining in Indonesian?

Ah ha, I think I found the real meaning. That great shining stuff was probably cooked up by the hotels and travel biz spin. This site seems more legit and says: Pita Maha association was established. This name, which was taken from ancient Kawi, means "honored ancestors."
posted by nickyskye at 10:19 PM on July 31, 2006

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