Digitizing Balinese Iconography into the 21st-Century

‘Balinese Demon’ – commissioned design by HNS Studio

The 21st-century digital creative economy is the catalyst and thriving platform to propel Balinese creatives into new and growing local and international markets. Technology and the Internet empower emerging artists, pushing their cultural iconography to fresh heights. New domestic and foreign audiences are embracing it.

The Balinese DNA is a unique genetic code responsible for an extraordinary array of creative expressions, both sacred and otherwise. Generation Y, born between 1984 and 1996, and Generation Z, born after 1997, have a distinct internal signature propelling Balinese creativity to new and exciting levels. Artists Dewa Gede Raka Jana Nuraga ‘Rakajana’ and Putu Surya Dharma Putra, ‘Surya’ portray the current era of the Balinese entrepreneurial spirit. They reveal how self-confidence and a stoic work ethic is key to realizing potential and generating opportunities.

“I began drawing as a child. While at elementary school, I was exposed to Japanese culture and Manga cartoons. From 2008 I was inspired by global pop culture via the Internet and Facebook. I didn’t wish to follow the traditional path. I wanted to explore something vaster to energize and allow my creativity to flourish,” Rakajana told the Jakarta Post.

Dewa Gede Raka Jana Nuraga ‘Rakajana’

“In 2010, I learned to scan my drawings and use CorelDRAW software on computers at the local Warnet. After helping a friend sell his designs printed on T-shirts online, I realized I could follow this path too,” said Rakajana, who was born in Tampaksiring, Central Bali, in 1991. “My first professional design project taught me I must improve my technical abilities. From Google, I learned about international logo design standards. I then introduced a daily discipline of sketching to develop my skills. Two months later, my next logo design project was a commercial success.”

“I purchased my first computer, Photoshop and Illustrator, later that year. In 2015 I envisioned building a business and invited friends to join in. I rented a studio for two years in Denpasar until the pandemic hit. I then focused on developing my online presence with a website and Social Media, and opportunities flooded in,” he explained. Late in 2020, Rakajana opened HNS Studio in Tampaksiring with twelve, including ten in-house designers.

Digital design by Rakajana.

Powerful imagination merged with Manga influences transform cultural icons into the fantastic and futuristic. Colourful and fantastic. The mythological realm comes alive in fresh, uber-cool imagery irresistible to the younger generations, becoming a hallmark of international pop culture. Rakajana has over 30,000 Instagram followers. 80% of HNS Studio’s international orders come from America. The designs adorn T-shirts, enamel pins, posters, merchandise and YouTube videos.

A freelance illustrator and contemporary painter in May Putu Surya Dharma Putra exhibited a large digital print on suede fabric wall hanging, ‘Shakti Samhara’ 2021, in an exposition of emerging Indonesian artists in Denpasar. A superb image is fusing Balinese iconography and narrative with surreal and abstract aesthetic elements. Rich with vision tension, colour and verve, the work was visually fresh and exciting and a highlight of the exhibition. “From a young age, I was fascinated by drawing and loved learning. I follow in these footsteps while being motivated by friends passionate about painting, graphic design and modern iconography. As a designer, a wealth of inspiration is found on the Internet,” Surya told me.

‘Shakti Samhara’ 2021 – Putu Surya Dharma Putra. Digital print on suede fabric. 172 x 130 cm.

In 2018 Surya partnered with Ngurah Siniwee, establishing the Sin & Sun Sewing Syndicate brand. An art director/designer, Siniwee has experience working with brands, graphic design media, videography and photography. Surya creates digital designs, which are then printed on fabric then stitched onto clothing and accessories.

“We began purely as an experiment. We were responding to people’s growing desire to express themselves in stylish and creative attire. Our timing was right. There was an immediate response to our ideas, and we began receiving custom orders,” said Surya, born in Denpasar in 1992 and is a self-taught artist. “We sometimes receive orders from Jakarta and abroad, yet the market for our custom designs and creative patchwork is growing in Denpasar and Canggu. We are gaining popularity with foreigners and the upwardly mobile in-crowd. Our wish is to develop something fresh and exciting in Bali creative scene.”

A new collaborative spirit is now helping define the younger generation of Balinese artists and setting them apart from their seniors, developing fertile grounds for innovation and commercial opportunity. The global upheaval of the pandemic triggers heightened creativity and the realisation that this generation must be increasingly responsible for the world they wish to create. Vision becomes essential.

“The Balinese are born with exceptional artistic skills. They can easily copy, yet they are not innovators. We need to address this and provide opportunities for learning and growth,” Rakajana said. “Most Balinese look towards tourism for career opportunities; however, they generally no longer develop their creative skills once within the workforce. I want to help them to expand their skills from the analogue to the digital so they may create opportunities outside of tourism.”

‘Yuga Pralaya’ 2021 – Digital artwork by Putu Surya Dharma Putra

“After ten years of experience, I understand I have a responsibility to share what I have learned. I am currently developing a series of workshops for the public to help develop the local creative infrastructure. Eventually, I want to establish a learning centre. I believe we can build a creative industry and also invite foreigners to come and learn essential skills.”

Words: Richard Horstman

Images courtesy of the artists.

No part of the written content of this website may be copied or reproduced in any form, along with article links uploaded to other websites, for any commercial purposes without the written permission of the author. Copyright 2020

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