Sekala: ritual and ceremony in Bali (Exhibition)

My first solo exhibition (‘Sekala: ritual and ceremony in Bali‘) opens at the PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery in Manuka ACT (corner of Manuka Circle and NSW Crescent – next to the Manuka Pool) at 6pm on Thursday 23 February. It will continue until 4pm on Sunday March 11 – check the PhotoAccess web site for details of opening hours. I hope you can make it along for a look!

Here’s a draft of my ‘Artist Statement’ for the exhibition:

Generations of western artists and diverse other visitors have been captivated by the Balinese people, their culture and landscape. There are many ways for the visitor to ‘see’ Bali – as a palm-fringed tourist resort, as an exploited third-world economy with a culture under threat, or as some idealised spiritual oasis in an otherwise materialistic world. The reality of course is much more complex and multi-faceted – our stereotypes may tell us more about ourselves and our own cultures than about the ‘real’ Bali.

The Balinese have a neat concept for this: they speak of ‘Sekala’, which is the surface layer of our experience – that which is visible, the tangible. Beneath lies ‘Niskala’, the hidden world which explains and animates the surface layer, full of gods, spirits, ancestors – the balanced and opposing forces of good and evil. Images in this exhibition may only deal explicitly with Sekala, but will hopefully offer glimpses into the underlying world of Niskala.

The images were selected from the 15,000 that I took during 2009-10 when my wife Karen and I worked on a volunteer assignment with a textile arts foundation based in Ubud, Bali. During that time we travelled a great deal, and were privileged to encounter a range of people, places, performances and ceremonies, many of which were well off the standard tourist trail.

The exhibition of prints (and the associated video slideshow) seeks to reveal some of the ceremonial and ritual practices that I found most compelling. I hope that it goes some way to explaining my fascination with this extraordinary place and its people – a living and vibrant culture surviving in the face of great social, environmental and economic change. In particular I have sought to highlight two things:

  • the Balinese ‘aesthetic’ – the love of elegance in performance and visual decoration which pervades all products of their material culture; and
  • the strands of animism and Balinese Hinduism that so often lie just below the surface of daily life and events.

I was inspired in this work by the stream of western artists who have created their own ‘outsider’ visions of Bali over the past century. In particular this would include such painters and writers as Miguel Covarrubias, Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies, but also fine contemporary photographers such as Rio Helmi.

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