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  Balinese Art

As early as the 5th century, Bali was ruled by Javanese princes. Every political event and disturbance that occurred on Java had a ripple effect on the political life of Bali, and the art history of Bali reflects the development of art in the mother country.

Java's golden age of monumental art-A.D. 600-800-finds its counterpart in the evolution of Balinese art. Besides edicts written on old bronze plates (prasasti), other physical remains of this classical period are found today in the vicinity of Pejeng and Bedulu - the area between the two rivers Petanu and Pakerisan - which has always been amazingly rich in antiquities.

The most impressive examples of Java's classic influence on Bali are the nine magnificent cut-rock tombs of Gunung Kawi near Tampaksiring, completed around AD 1080, which are strikingly similar to East Javanese monumental architecture from that period.

Under the great Airlangga's reign at the start of the 11th century, a vigorous renaissance of art occurred in East Java. The Balinese-born leader gave a new impetus to all the arts, particularly literature, reviving the old Javanese language of Kawi as Bali's official language.

The rule of the nationalistic Majapahit Empire on Java in the 14th century saw a repudiation of the classic, austere, religious, Indic elements and a resurgence of the more primitive native Javanese art styles and motifs. The powerful, erotic architecture of Candi Sukuh in East Java typifies this period.

Less than 100 years later, as Islam crept deeper and deeper into Majapahit territory, priests, poets, artists, sculptors, and painters began to migrate to Bali, bringing with them the earthy spirit of Majapahit. This influx accounts today for the extent to which classical Javanese romantic legends (the Panji and Tantra fables) have penetrated Balinese literature.

The populating of Bali by Javanese migrants also explains the extravagantly decorative motifs found in all media of Balinese art: floral patterns in the paintings, sensuous flaming motifs in the textiles, baroque temples, fast-paced music, and the bizarre realism of Balinese sculpture.

The Balinization of Javanese Arts The collapse and subsequent dispersion of the Majapahit's cultural elite is considered the great watershed of Balinese history. The influence of its artisans and craftsmen brought to Bali a golden age of the visual arts, theater, and literature.

From the 15th century onward, the descendants of the original Javanese colonial rulers founded a number of small independent regional states on Bali, free of Java's administration.

The Balinese natives adopted those Hindu practices, arts, and deities that suited their taste and rejected the rest, giving rise to today's distinctive folk art forms.

Each noble house (called a puri or jero, depending upon rank) constituted a political and religious hub where the best orchestras practiced and where the finest painters, weavers, sculptors, architects, blacksmiths, dancers, and actors lived and worked as privileged wards of the ruling princes.

These specialized artisans were paid in ritual gifts, relieved of certain social duties, or awarded tax exemptions and rice fields.

Today, many of these privileged relationships remain in effect, the descendants living from the produce of the same fields, still carrying on their ancestors' handicraft or fine art. This flourishing artists' utopia ended with the crack of Dutch rifles in 1906.

From that point on, art began to radiate out from the divine cores of the puri and started to touch the villages. Bali, as a colony of the Netherlands East Indies Empire, was soon profaned with modern technology, tourists, films, books, and magazines.

As a result of a drastic political reorganization, most of the princes could no longer afford to patronize the arts; palace gamelan were sold, royal theater groups broke up, and Balinese art became a true art of the people.

Art also became less decorative, representational, and formalized. Influenced by incoming European artists in the 1920s, Balinese artists for the first time dated and signed their paintings. They began to experiment with new styles, techniques, themes, and media. They set up sales organizations and the most outstanding among them received recognition overseas.

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