Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Featured Artist: Nyoman Darsane

I recently posted about Balinese Christianity.  So in today's post, I'd like to feature one of Bali's best-known Christian artists, Nyoman Darsane. 

I've pulled the information below from a variety of web sources, plus the book The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today, an exhibition catalog from the Museum of Biblical Art in NYC (the book, btw, is a good introduction to indigenous contextualization of the visual arts, especially in Asia).

Darsane was born in 1939 to rice farmers, but was raised and educated in the local ruler's palace with one of the princes. As a result, he learned Balinese culture and religion (Hinduism), and also became a musician, dancer and puppet player. When Darsane later studied art at Universitas Diponogoro in Java, he met a Christian woman who became his wife. Darsane returned to Bali as a professional artist and Christian. As he sought ways to combine Balinese arts with the message of the gospel, his motto became “Bali is my body. Christ is my life.” He was rejected by his family and community after becoming a Christian, though he has recaptured much of his family's respect due to his attempt to remain Balinese in his Christian art and life.

“He Came Down” / 1978

This earlier painting by Darsane portrays the humility of Christ coming into human experience and sharing the life of the people. The worshiper prays with a lotus blossom between her fingers in an attitude common to the people of Bali. Images of demons are pushed to the edges of the frame by the light which Jesus brings.

The demons in this painting are derived from carved wooden masks representing the mythical creature known in Bali as Banaspati Raja, meaning “King of the Forest,” also called the Barong Ket.

Every Balinese village has a Barong that it considers its guardian. The Barong mask is a means of both giving the spirit tangible form and harnessing its energy. Stored in the village temple, the mask is brought out on special occasions and asked to bestow blessings on the community or restore the balance of cosmic forces. At these times, the Barong might be placed on an altar or worn, along with a full body costume, in ceremonial procession and theatrical events. During sacred performances, two members of the community dance the Barong mask and costume, which together can weigh as much as one hundred pounds. When one of the dancers, another participant in the performance, or an audience member falls into a trance, it is believed that the spirit of the Barong has been successfully invoked.

Dancing is a form of worship in Bali. The Balinese believe that the dancer performs before the gods, delighting them. The gods take possession of them while they dance.

Mary's virginity is underscored by the fact that only pre-menstrual virgin girls are allowed to dance before the gods. She is using hand gestures called mudras. The angel is a wayang figure. He blows/whispers into Mary's ear through a lotus that he holds in his hands.

Unfortunately, Darsane's paintings are not used in his church. He sells mostly to foreign tourists or to Indonesian Christians for use at home. Darsane also makes leather wayang puppets and he uses the puppets for performances in churches.


  1. Great work Scott. Very informative.

    Any idea why the churches don't hang his work?

    What about the reception of his artwork among the Hindu community? Is the form enough to overcome the differences in content?

  2. I haven't found any additional info about why Darsane's paintings aren't used in his church (and, I assume, any other churches in Bali). My personal guess is that it could be because his paintings tend to be more in the "fine art" category, as opposed to a more traditional Balinese art form such as relief carving in wood or stone, etc. And, therefore, the Balinese Christians don't not know how or care to incorportate them into their worship experience. If this is the case, I think they need to open up their minds to the possibilities, even if it was something limited like this painting from a Balinese Catholic church (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_7jvwgQ57G4M/SruD4pUYsGI/AAAAAAAAARQ/gYv1nUGpXP8/s1600-h/IMG_1480.JPG). BYW, this image comes from a blog post (http://relindonesia.blogspot.com/2009/09/i-nyoman-paskalis-and-legacy-of-svd.html) that has some other good (and kitschy) art examples from the same church, but unfortunately with little or no explanation.

    Darsane also makes leather wayang figures (Balinese shadow puppets), which he uses in various churches as a teaching/performing tool.

    It does encourage me that Darsane is able to sell his paintings to Balinese Christians (as well as foreign tourists) "for use at home." I wonder if this simply means for display at home as western people would display art, or if they use any of it in any kind of devotional/ritualistic way.