Art reference

Emerging Balinese Artist Gede Sukarya Brings an Ancient Medium to Life

Richard Horstman (Jakarta Post)

Denpasar ●
Wed 10 Aug 2022

Art & Culture
Gede-Sukarya, art-exhibition, Balinese-art, Balinese-artist, North-Bali, artwork

Gede Sukarya has a natural affinity with cows, an animal highly revered in his culture and his village of Bulian, North Bali. His exploration of the potential of cowhide, outside of traditional iconic conventions, realizes new possibilities in contemporary art expressions.

Belulang (cowhide in Balinese), asserts a distinction as an essential element in Balinese Hindu religious rituals. Leather-based ceremonial objects are common, with the Wayang Kulit shadow theater being one of the best-known rituals still practiced today. Belulang turns into highly decorative elements of barong (lion-like creature and character in Balinese mythology) and topeng (colored mask) performance parts and headpieces. The skin contains a philosophical dimension, honored with spiritual values. The skin is treated without tanning according to strict methods to maintain its sacred integrity.

Born in 1995 in Bulian, Buleleng Regency, Bali, Sukarya Village adheres to an ancient and unusual custom. Aci Bulu Geles is a sacrificial ceremony for ancestors involving cows that every boy in the village must participate in. Growing up with a close association with pets, Sukarya discovered an intuitive call to investigate. belulang as an artistic medium.

The result of the May 2022 artist residency program, Rasidency, by Sukarya was recently exhibited at Gelombang Studio, Batuan. SKIN & SHADOWS: A Visual Study of Buleleng Ornament Style, which closed on July 31, featured nine works on flora, fauna, and figurative designs in an expressive style he pioneered in this field.

Highlighted to emphasize silhouettes, the works showcased Sukarya’s ability to achieve complexity of form, which ignited reflected shadows. The interplay between negative and positive space in his compositions was particularly powerful. Also on display were a series of monochrome drawings and prints.

Detailed Touch: Pictured is “PAUM (meeting)” 2022 by Gede Sukarya. Inspired by the visual impact of wayang theatre, Gede Sukarya’s works are showcased to reveal his intricate technical achievements. (Courtesy of Gurat Institute) (Courtesy of Gurat Institute/Courtesy of Gurat Institute)

A collaboration between the Gurat Art Project, an initiative of independent Balinese cultural research group Gurat Institute, and Ruang Antara Studio, Rasidency is an important new addition to Bali’s art infrastructure. The program offers Balinese artists the opportunity to develop their ideas through literature, field studies, and organized and informal discussions for a month, culminating in an exhibition of their work.

“My introduction to working with cowhide came in 2018 from a friend’s father who is a traditional leather carver. However, I found it difficult and tiring, especially for my eyes and neck, as the sculptures are small,” Sukarya said. Jakarta Post.

“I stopped temporarily, then I started working again with more commitment with another puppeteer in Denpasar.

“During my studies for my Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Indonesian Institute of Art [ISI] in Denpasar, I started an internship program focusing on belulang. I then selected the material as the artistic object for my final project evaluation at ISI in 2019,” he said.

Sukarya demonstrated artistic talent early in elementary school and continued to develop his skills and ideas by exploring cultural norms through painting at Sukawati High School of Visual Arts.

“One of my goals during Rasidency was to discover deeper aspects of my artistic identity. Therefore, I was compelled to investigate the traditional stone carving styles of North Bali, known as blelenganwhich are peculiar to the regency.”

In the archives of the Gurat Institute, Sukarya was able to reference Visual Nglesira 2009 documentation on architecture and sculpture in the blelengan style.

“My fieldwork took me to temples in Buleleng and my village to observe and sketch the style of carving. blelengan the style is characterized by what the artists see around them in nature.

By comparison, South Bali carving styles are defined by Patrascultural guidelines describing how ornamental flower and leaf motifs can be expressed.

Blélengan avoids symmetrical compositions and allows sculptors to accentuate the abundant floral designs with larger leaf sizes and other associated designs of the vines. The artist’s individuality can shine through,” Sukarya explained.

“The Rasidency program evolved in response to artists wanting to explore and develop their ideas together in the spirit of collaboration with the Gurat Institute,” said Gurat Institute researcher Vincent Chandra.

“There is no strict format. Artists work from Gurat’s headquarters at Ruang Antara Studio, Batubulan. They are supported to enrich their ideas through our archives, our network, our research excursions and our human resources. Gurat’s goal is to put them on the right track.

Art lovers: visitors to the exhibition use flashlights from their mobile phones to accentuate Gede Sukarya's cowhide sculpture.  (Courtesy of Gurat Institute)Art lovers: visitors to the exhibition use flashlights from their mobile phones to accentuate Gede Sukarya’s cowhide sculpture. (Courtesy of Gurat Institute) (Courtesy of Gurat Institute/Courtesy of Gurat Institute)

Sukarya’s technical process requires patience and skill. The composition is first sketched on the support, then with the help of a hammer and pangotok (chisel), the skin is incised. A single work can take one to two days to complete.

“The character of cowhide differs from other mediums in terms of texture and natural color. It is a test medium to be transformed into a work of art. The high price of leather is also a challenge, so I often use leftovers given to me by artisans. Sitting for long periods of time takes its toll on my body, causing fatigue,” he adds.

“The greatest benefit of the residency for me was the introduction of research into my creative process. Previously, I worked in the studio without applying depth of thematic content to the work, which is only possible thanks to to investigation. This process will influence and enhance my future work. The interaction and feedback with other artists and friends during the program was also invaluable.”

The Gurat Institute began in 2014, researching and archiving Balinese art and culture and has progressed, becoming increasingly interactive while helping to fill gaps in the local arts infrastructure. Rasidency helps to discover new possibilities in the expression of contemporary Balinese art. Sukarya’s creative exploration opens the door for others to experiment more with traditional mediums and fresh, culturally relevant thematic content.