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Taksu: The Art of Bali

Darwin has always had a strong relationship with Bali. The Indonesian island is one of our closest international neighbours and a popular holiday destination for Top Enders. If you look beyond the beaches and cocktails in Kuta, you’ll find a rich culture with a wealth of traditional art reflecting Hindu stories and rituals.

By Tamara Howie

Taksu: The Art of Bali – Recent Gifts To CDU Art Collection opens at Charles Darwin University (CDU) this month, taking a close look at the beauty and diversity of art from the island. Taksu refers to divine inspiration. For many of the works in the show, they have been ‘infused’ with taksu, as they were created for ritualised activities. 

Among the works are three paintings by the esteemed artist and healer, I Ketut Liyer. Liyer captured the world’s attention after Elizabeth Gilbert based a character on him in her novel Eat. Pray. Love. before his passing in 2016.

Other works include early 20th century sculptures, ceremonial textiles and painted temple cloths, performance masks and Wayang Kulit shadow puppets and paintings, which show the ties between Balinese ceremonial life and creativity. A unique highlight is a painting by I Dewa Putu Mokoh, Bom Boli, which is thought to be the only work by a Balinese artist that depicts the horror of the 2002 Bali Bombings.

Co-curator Kellie Joswig says the work is different to many in the show, as it’s uncommon for Balinese artists to depict contemporary scenes in their work.

“It’s believed to be quite a rare painting – perhaps the only painting – of the bombings, as represented by a Balinese artist. Artists on Bali tend to adhere more to the Hindu tradition of depicting scenes and episodes from the Indic epics Ramayana and Mahabarata, or nostalgic and serene village scenes,” she says.

For many Top Enders the style of art will be a familiar sight, but the opportunity to see these works up close is rare on home soil. 

“Darwin audiences have a strong affinity with Bali and people will recognise the works and styles from their travels. The exhibition will give a really good insight to the culture of the Hindu Balinese,” Joswig says.

“There’s not clear provenance information for some of the pieces that were collected in the 1970s and 80s, but research suggests that sculptures and objects were traditionally often used in a ceremonial context, as receptacles for gods and deities.”

The CDU Art Collection of Balinese art, and the initial plans for this exhibition, began in 2016 when the family of the late Christopher Hill donated 30 works to the University.

The collection was then increased in 2018 with a further 20 works donated from prominent collector of South East Asian art, Michael Abbott AO QC.

“They’re amazing works. Although one of our collecting priorities is for works from South East Asia, these were the first acquisitions of Balinese art for the CDU Art Collection. Once we had the two big gifts together, it amounted to a fair whack of fantastic Balinese art,” Joswig says.

The exhibition is a great opportunity to learn a bit more about the culture of our neighbours across the water, and may even open your eyes that bit wider next time a Bali holiday calls.

Taksu: The Art of Bali – Recent Gifts To CDU Art Collection

Image 1: I Dewa Putu Mokoh, Bom Bali, 2006, Chinese ink and acrylic on cotton, 64x84cm, Donated by Mary Harrison Hill and family in memory of Chris Hill, CDU2993

Image 2: I Gusti Putu Sana, 'Dancer', 1998, Chinese ink on paper, 83x61cm, Donated by Mary Harrison Hill and family in memory of Chris Hill, CDU3009

Header: Top: Rangda (Mask), c.1970s, painted wood & leather, 48x31x15cm, Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Michael Abbott AO QC, CDU3224

Background: I Dewa Putu Mokoh, Heaven and Hell (detail), 1998, Chinese ink and acrylic on canvas, 80x70cm, Donated by Mary Harrison Hill and family in memory of Chris Hill, CDU2992

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