Balinese artist Wayan Arnata first came to my attention in June 2013 in the landmark exhibition ‘Irony in Paradise’ by the collective Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) in Ubud, Bali. ‘Nike Barong’ 2013, Arnata’s mixed media reflection upon the changing nature of the Balinese identity depicted the iconic Balinese ceremonial lion character, the Barong, wearing Nike shoes. While the theme of the work was not unusual, it was the 3-dimensional aesthetics along with the work’s technical aspects that caught my eye.
Arnata adopts the practice of Ngodi, a traditional decorative technique using natural fibers applied to Balinese cremation sarcophagi into his compositions applied directly onto conventional canvases along with acrylic paints. While he also creates installations his works include an array of media such as timber, bamboo, wire, styrofoam, grades of yarn (natural and synthetic fibres used for knitting and weaving), stove wick and hessian. Natural fibres have distinct cultural references in Indonesia due to the rich heritage of indigenous textiles throughout the archipelago.
“My technical approach is influenced by my childhood memories of my grandfather, a sangging, master of the various techniques involved with Balinese traditional ritual and ceremony,” said Arnata who was born in Sukawati, Gianyar in 1973. “I was fascinated by the creative activities my grandfather did as ‘gotong royong’ in service to the community. The finished works were beautiful yet required great patience and skill layering line upon line of fibres into the works.”
In 1995 Arnata began experimenting with an array of fibrous media and from 1993 – 1996 he studied and graduated in Fine Arts at Indonesian Institute of Art (ISI), in Yogyakarta. Living outside of his village traditions and island home in Yogyakarta introduced him to new cultures and ideas that helped inspire his unorthodox style of artistic expression, which is a meeting of traditional practices with contemporary art ideas. Arnata had previously worked in dynamic palettes of oil and acrylic in the painting genre of abstract expressionism.
Arnata’s work has evolved since 2013 becoming increasingly visually complex and technically demanding, while involving more in-depth thematic explorations, especially into self-identity. ‘Integrity’ is his first solo exhibition held in 2015 and featured twenty-four creations, including one installation, in a body of work produced over three years. His fascinating array of visual languages combining diverse media revealed his openness to push the potential boundaries of materiality. Some of Arnata’s compositions appeared to swirl and intertwine, expanding outwards in dazzling rhythmic patterns akin to the visual style of traditional Balinese painting.
In Jakarta in October 2017 Arnata’s ‘Foot Prints’, one of more than 500 contemporary artworks submitted in the 2017 UOB Painting of the Year Indonesia competition was endorsed by the Indonesian art establishment. Arnata received one of the highest accolades in the Indonesian art world, the UOB Painting of the Year Indonesia Bronze Award. UOB Indonesia identifies artistic talents and provides them with opportunities to hone their skills and showcase their works to a wider community. Arnata’s multi-coloured picture features non-descript imagery along with human footprints and is characterized by the horizontal threads of fibre emphasising the passages of time. The varying footprint sizes define the human journey from the child to the adult.
“The work is themed upon the processes I encounter in life, the process of making the artwork, and the processes within the journey of life. The footprints are symbolic and explain my search for identity,” the artist said and continued. “As a Balinese, there are many processes to be endured within the cycle of life. For example, the traditional Balinese calendar only allows me to work on my art for 15 – 20 days the rest of the month requires me to attend to the customs and traditions at the heart of my culture.”
“I regard the thread as a metaphor for a span of time. It is a line connecting a one period with the next. The philosophy behind my work is the exploration of time and space between tradition and modernity. What I see, do and feel; my day-to-day experiences concerning my social life within traditional society is an ongoing inspiration for my work.”
Arnata is currently working on a body of work that he will exhibit within the next few years. His new compositions, admits the artist, are becoming more expressive and abstraction in style. The new works feature characters and themes related to the Wayang shadow puppet theatre, a philosophical cornerstone of the Balinese Hindu culture. ‘White Monkey’ 2019 is Arnata’s depiction of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. From within the colourful visual matrix, Hanuman appears with mouth wide-open enormous exposing fangs, his white fur seemingly brushed by the wind. Arnata perfectly emphasizes the dynamic and powerful being one of the central characters of the epic Ramayana.
Follow Wayan Arnata on Instagram: #studiodelodrurung @w_arnata
Words: Richard Horstman
Images: Richard Horstman & Wayan Arnata