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  • Writer's pictureSUSILA Team

Traditional Art, Designs, and Women's Cultural Roles in Bali

Bali — the place where culture, beauty, and art meet. It is considered as one of the world’s most artistic country, and for good reason. Balinese are known for their craftsmanship in wood carving, weaving, and painting. Their artworks showcase intricate designs that mirror Balinese rituals, practices, and artistic influence. Their handicrafts and ceremonies are a precious work of art.

Playing a significant role to the artistic glory of Bali are the Balinese women, who continue to cultivate the concepts of both traditional and modern art.

History of Art in Bali

The art in Bali was influenced by different cultures that have made their way to the country. Animist art is perhaps one of the most predominant elements that can be found in Balinese artworks. Paintings weren’t as big as music, dance, and architecture. In fact, it was barely appreciated and women artist in Bali, for the most part, were unrecognized. It’s nothing new however, as many women in Bali prefer not to call attention to themselves.

The Role of Women in Balinese Art

In Kamasan back then, it is said that the women prepared the colors that were used for the paintings. Extracting these colors seemed easy but the work around it is quite tedious. Hard colors were extracted from pieces of rocks continuously grounded until the pigment is appropriate for use. If the pigment was off, the whole painting could go wrong.

This is why only the skilled women did the preparation.

However, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote on his notes that painting was actually a man’s job and weaving was for the women. But during the war era, many of the women took on the roles of painters as they were lacking textiles to use. It was made clear by many Kamasan residents that many of their women did paint more than their men.

Generally, the Kamasan houses many local female artists. Ni Made Suciarmi is considered to be the first female artist of the village and her works are displayed in Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women in Ubud. She was born from a family of artists, but she and her sister were not groomed to paint in their childhood. Nonetheless, she took up painting as a way to earn money.

Other female artists like Ni Wayan Wally also take charge of the different offerings. To her advantage, she is one of the Balinese women who can read and write in Balinese script. She is able to create occasion-specific shrouds with black text hand painted over white cloth. And while this activity is compensated, the efforts poured on this activity hinders some artists like her from focusing on painting alone.

Women in Bali have to balance both their roles as painters and as the person in charge of preparing for rituals and celebrations. Not to mention, their roles at home.

The Artistic Process of Women in Bali

Artists in Kamasan have slowly incorporated foreign influence on their artistic practices but some like Ni Wayan Wallly continue the practice of traditional method for the arts. She uses and prepares her own canvas by applying rice paste mixture to an untreated cotton cloth.

The cloth is stretched and nailed to a wooden frame then dried under the sun. To get it ready for painting, a cowrie shell is then rubbed on the surface which then gives it just the right amount of shine for the pencil sketch to mark on the cloth.

Some women work outdoors while others work indoors. And it is common for these women to work on their art while sitting on the floor. Their canvas will lie on a low table where they can work on it. Every artist in Bali have mastered their own style and while there are those that add narrative elements into their work, some go all out with novelty stories.

Despite the difference in their techniques, each of the pieces created by Balinese women have a touch of their daily lives. Their paintings often depict the domesticity of a woman’s life like breastfeeding children, or tourists attending local wedding ceremonies.

Women in Bali have also used art as their avenue for expressing their social concerns. There were artists who have painted colonial officers with white faces and round eyes which were used to depict demons.

The message of their work transcends time, and will continue to touch future generations. The artwork of these women do not only reflect events of the past but tells historical stories that should not be forgotten, as these helped shape their culture.

In a way, the authenticity and spirit of every Balinese artwork comes from the hearts of the women behind them. And it makes no difference to the other products that you will find around the island.

For every product a local artist makes, their culture and tradition come with it.

One enterprise that brings these together is Susila Jewelry. Every product sold onsite are handcrafted by passionate local artisans. And for every jewelry, you wear the heart and pride of these creative women.

Why Support Local Artisans?

With jewelries being in-demand in the fashion industry, many companies have opted to mass produce their items. However, there are still companies out there who still partner with local artists to continue their craft.

Why should buyers go for local products first? Supporting local products means providing a source of living to the creators behind them. You’re not only supporting their livelihood, but you’re also wearing a piece of their culture.

If you’re looking for authentic Balinese artisan jewelries, Susila Jewelry has everything in store. From rings to bangles, they come in unique designs, and also come in 100% plastic free designs. The best part about this is that each piece is made by women artisans of Bali. Susila Jewelry also sells jewelry in bulk, so one can get as many as they want, at a fair price.

Behind great art pieces are women who continue to uphold and innovate the Balinese tradition, culture, and values.

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