BALI: Art, Ritual, Performance – At the Asian Art Museum until September 11th

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

A tiny island in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali reverberates in the world’s imagination. A globally recognized destination in Southeast Asia, the island is home to one of the most vibrant centers of visual and performing arts in the world. But until now there has never been an in-depth examination in the United States of Balinese artistic traditions.

BALI: Art, Ritual, Performance, on view at the Asian Art Museum through September 11th brings the art and artists of Bali to San Francisco, introducing museum visitors to Balinese history and religious beliefs, and illuminating the ways that performance and rituals are integrated into daily life. From woven palm-leaf images of the rice goddess to terrifying wood sculptures of Hindu deities, from gilded chairs for kings to painted palanquins for the gods, from offerings made for family shrines to masks carved for foreign tourists, this close examination of Balinese art includes some 130 diverse artworks. Many of these are among the finest examples of their kind, including sculpture, paintings, ritual objects, architectural structures, masks and costumes, photographs, furniture, and more.

The princess Rangkesari, approx. 1900–1930 (spikes).
Wood and pigments. H: 31½ in; W: 9⅛ in; D: 8¼ in. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
The widow Rangda, 1800–1900.
Wood and pigments. H: 23½ in; W: 16½ in; D: 10 in. Asian Art Museum

The Bali exhibition sheds light on the role of art within the fabric of Balinese life. The show features a multimedia tour, providing context for many of the individual objects. It is accompanied by a 376-page, fully illustrated catalogue—the first of its kind to be published in more than thirty years—containing essays by renowned experts representing current scholarship. Curated by Natasha Reichle, the Asian Art Museum’s associate curator of Southeast Asian art, Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance is organized by the Asian Art Museum, which is the only place it can be seen, either nationally or abroad.

Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance introduces visitors to a culture that has long been at the crossroads of many civilizations,” states Dr. Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “It teaches visitors about Balinese history, religious beliefs and traditions, and artistic practice. Most importantly, it highlights ways in which the Balinese people integrate artworks, ritual, and performance in their daily activities. It poses questions about cultural authenticity, adaptation, and persistence. And it encourages a new evaluation of perishable materials used in ritual artistic practice.”

Offering-box in the form of a winged lion, approx. 1875–1900. Klungkung. Ivory, wood, pigments. H: 4¾ in; W; 2¾ in; D: 3 in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The majority of the artworks in Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance are drawn from six museums in the U.S. and the Netherlands: the Asian Art Museum; the American Museum of Natural History in New York; the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles; the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam; the Rijkmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden; and the Museum Nusantara in Delft. Other objects come from private collections in the Netherlands (a former long term colonial presence in Indonesia) and U.S.

“Bali is not harmonious, homogenous, and static,” Balinese scholar Degung Santikarma writes. “It is—and has long been—the home of many competing strands of thought and many different ways of being Balinese.” A thousand years ago, most regions in Southeast Asia showed evidence of Hindu practices, but today Bali is the only place in the region where ancient Hindu traditions still boldly flourish. The island is not merely a storehouse of past culture; the Balinese have adapted and innovated as they incorporated Hindu and Buddhist ideas into what must have been an already complex network of local beliefs. Likewise, the Balinese have learned from and taught generations of artists from other countries, and Balinese art and performance continues to have an important impact on artists of all kinds worldwide.

Cloth patterned with gold leaf (kain prada), approx. 1875–1925.
Silk, gold leaf. H: 36⅝ in; W: 45⅛ in. Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam

Faced by the external pressures of globalization and modern popular culture, Bali has continued to change. The objects in Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance help explain the island’s history and religion; demonstrations of how to make offerings illustrate one of the culture’s continuing traditions; and performing arts programs show ways Balinese artists adapt and innovate as they present their culture in a 21st-century light.

Lion barong (barong singa), approx. 1900–1925.
Wood, pigments, rawhide, horsehair. H: 11¾ in; W: 21¼ in; D: 27¼ in.
Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam

Click here for to order tickets on-line: BALI: Art, Ritual, Performance


The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue, Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance, published by the Asian Art Museum and edited by Natasha Reichle, associate curator of Southeast Asian art at the museum. The catalogue explores elements of the cultural lives of the Balinese, focusing on the intersections of art, ritual, and performance. With close examination of 130 exceptional objects drawn from international museum collections, the authors shed light on the ways that art, ritual, and performance intersect within the seamless fabric of Balinese life.
376 pgs., 10 x 12 in., 300 full-color images, bibliography, index
The exhibition catalogue is available at the Asian Art Museum store. To order, call (415) 581-3602 or email:


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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:


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