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"Storytelling in Bali: Paintings from the Bateson-Mead Collection"
at Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], Los Angeles
by Simone Kussatz


I Dewa Kompiang Ketut Kandel, "Story of Kala Rahu (Betara Kala devouring the moon)," scene from “Adiparwa," 1937, Indonesia, Bali. Collection of Robert Lemelson.

It’s travel season, and what could be more exciting than to explore new places. However, if you find yourself unable to make a journey this year, you must check out "Storytelling in Bali: Paintings from the Bateson-Mead Collection," which is a bit like visiting the popular island in Indonesia to see one of the traditional dance or shadow puppet performances without having to face the long flight. Instead, you’ll be in a dark, quiet, and air-conditioned gallery to view 13 paintings by artists from the village of Batuan, whose style was influenced by a group of expats — Russian-born painter Walter Spies, Dutch artist, Rudolf Bonnet, and Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias.

These dense, detailed and sometimes colored ink on paper paintings are filled with Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The show is drawn from the collection of cultural anthropologists Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) and Margaret Mead (1901-1978), who lived on the island in the late 1930s. Among the images is Desak Putu Lambon’s ”Row of women dancers with fans outside temple” (nd) that displays, as the title implies, a group of women, who have a somewhat mermaid appearance, dancing outside of a temple, while others are watching them from within a hut underneath a flowering tree. Another is a psychologically intriguing image by I Bagus Nyoman Sasak titled “Abimanyu” (1937) that presents a heroic character from the Mahabharata, portrayed in a mini-sarong with hundreds of arrows shot at him by his enemies, while he is defending himself. The painting is a metaphor for his aloneness and lack of support. This small show is both enriching and exotic.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art | LACMA

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