New daughters of sarasvati
in bali, where the majority of its population is hindu, Dewi saraswati is worshiped as the goddess of knowledge and art. this means in the balinese culture, art is believed to be under the presence of a feminine force. yet it is quite ironic that the history of fine arts in bali, since the classic to modern era, only features a small number of female artists. Very different from dance art in bali, fine arts in bali have never discovered a woman that has then been remembered as one of the masters of fine arts. the situation is also a whole lot different in the world of modern indonesian literature in bali that increasingly marks the many names of female writers with outstanding achievements at national and international stages. the only one female artist from bali whose work has been praised in the world of indonesia’s fine art is the late i gusti ayu Kadek murniasih (1966-2006).
there are a few explanations to the rarity of female artists in bali. one and the most important is the strong traditional patriarchy culture in bali, placing women in the inferior position after men. this results the little “room” for women in bali to create, express, and achieve in society.
being one of the centers of fine arts in indonesia, bali also continuously attracts many artists from outside bali to design and create. some of them are the female artists who do not partake this “cultural burden” like balinese women do. however in reality, there are no nonbalinese women in bali that have achieved a level of success in indonesia’s fine arts. perhaps one of the reasons is the motivation of most non-balinese artists to stay in bali is encouraged by the high potential of the art market that is supported by the tourism industry, making them create art that is admired only by tourists.
however, the era has changed and bali has changed with it. the open access to high education has increased the awareness of balinese women about the equality of cultural positions between men and women. they are now braver in expressing themselves, including expressing critiques and demands toward traditions that feel restricting for women. for the non-balinese female artists, the decision to make a career in bali is not based anymore on the consideration to aim at the tourism market.
With the improvement of information and communication technology, especially the internet, the balinese female artists as well as the non-balinese artists can immediately update, respond, and be involved in the many development channels of arts around the world.
citra sasmita, natisa Jones, and Wai santy represent the latest generation of female artists in bali as their presence and work have brought ‘fresh blood’ to the progress of contemporary arts in bali. Different to most modern artists from the former generations in bali, these three names are not graduates from big art academies in indonesia. Different to murniasih and several other artists whose work was influenced by several pioneer artists from bali, they did not develop ideas or visual language of what could be called pursuing the balinese characteristic. opposite to the modern vision of the old era of balinese art that desires to carry bali to the outside world, they tend to bring the outside world into bali. although the three artists work in bali, they position themselves as a part of globalization that erases cultural and geographic dividers.
citra sasmita is a balinese artist born in tabanan in 1990. graduated from the physics Department of ganesha university of education in singaraja bali, citra self-taught herself art since she was young. her work has been displayed in several exhibitions since 2012 including her own two solo exhibitions. in
2015, her work was elected as semifinalist at a prestigious national art and design competition, bandung contemporary art awards #4.
Just like the two female artists she adores, shirin neshat and mella Jaarsma, citra explores identity and social issues in her work. she particularly connects identity issues to sexuality to reveal the contradiction between the personal body and social body. “i am still questioning about sexuality in the east which in an intellectual concept presents wisdom, however it doesn’t reflect at all in the mental of
the society,” says Citra on what she wants to deliver through her work.
through fine arts, Citra fights against “stigma, social class hierarchy, subordination actions towards minority groups and discrimination to women” which she views “has been accepted as a collective and conscious truth” in the patriarchy society. Citra’s critical attitude portrayed through her work is phenomenal. in bali’s art history, it can be confirmed that Citra is the first and only balinese female artists, that speaks harsh criticism regarding the inferior and marginal condition of women.
Natisa Jones was born in Jakarta in 1989 but has lived in bali since her early years. after completing an international baccalaureate Diploma at prem tinsulanonda international school in Chiang Mai, thailand, and earned bachelor of fine arts painting from royal Melbourne institute of technology in Melbourne, australia, Natisa worked in Jakarta as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator for several commercial clients such as fashion magazines. however, Natisa was left unsatisfied in the commercial world and decided to seriously develop her talent in painting and make a career as an artist. since 2005, Natisa has showcased her work in several art exhibitions in indonesia and abroad, including showcasing her five solo exhibitions.
since in her university years, Natisa was very influenced by the concept and work of Action Painting or Abstract Expressionist artists, namely robert Motherwell, robert rauschenberg, helen frankenthaler and barnett Newman. “the concept of process is being the most important – where the art happens stroke by stroke in the act of painting, in the moment itself, and not aiming at an end result. their works are brave and decisive and until today just resonate with me very strongly,” Natisa explains.
by blending the spontaneity of expressions and the power of sketch strokes in her work, Natisa explores the many ideas about “the self” through narrations picked up from her own daily experience. “i reflect on the human condition as a parallel concept to the creative process. emotional and psychological states are where i begin. i explore the less-favorable parts of being human as much as the wonderful parts. Mostly i’m interested in exploring the less-favorable parts, because the wonderful parts don’t need too much analyzing,” says Natisa regarding her paintings that focuses a lot on the human body from a perspective far from perfection. “Making art is just a way of honestly expressing and hoping to find a common ground with other people. that ultimately we all go through the same things within different contexts. i feel it is important for me to be vulnerable and open in making my art – in hopes to empathize, find connections within each other and ourselves,” she adds
Wai santy was born in Jakarta, grew up in Medan, and has lived in Jakarta. she accomplished her bachelor of arts in Visual Communication Design from bina Nusantara university Jakarta, Diploma in fashion study from esmod Jakarta, and Master in business Management from bina Nusantara business school Jakarta. before living in bali, she worked as an art director in advertising and several fashion brands in Jakarta and bali. Wai has displayed her work in several exhibitions in indonesia and Netherlands since 2004, including showcasing two solo exhibitions.
“the focus of my work is human in today’s world and their truth,” says Wai regarding her work. “growing up in the North of sumatra surrounded by Chinese, bataknese, Javanese and now balinese cultures compelled me to be observant and sensitized to human nature. i like to observe human nature: how do we interact towards each other; the energy we transfer and receive; the things we show, we hold, we wonder, and how the smallest gestures could be translated in a thousand words. i believe that human beings are the biggest mystery in this world, we are constantly challenging our surroundings and our innerselves. eventhough the world is changing, the essence of being stays the same. it is my calling to understand these truths and to capture the substances into my work.”
Wai’s interest towards the human subject is transferred into oil paintings with a style that portrays the strong influence of classic european paintings, having influenced by her mentor, Noella roos. “as an oil painter who carries a deep respect and love for the traditional european art, my main mission is to push through the boundaries of the classical mindset and infuse it with contemporary cultures, while maintaining the deep fascination towards the influence of strong traditions.”
open to all influences of the world, Citra, Natisa, and Wai still admit that bali feeds an important influence in their art making. as artists, all three were ‘born’ in bali by
Dewi saraswati. they are the 21st century daughters of the goddess.