Hilde Schwabe, Chairperson and Co-Founder of Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, World Economic Forum Geneva, holding the Garuda statue.
Nestled in the heart of Davos surrounded by magnificent views of snowy mountains, lies a warm sanctuary at the Garden Hall of Morosani Schweizerhof Hotel. The annual Indonesia Night has become one of the most popular networking events at the World Economic Forum in Davos – showcasing the best of what Indonesia has to offer on a global stage.
Besides hosting local culinary delights and traditional entertainment, the event this year featured beautiful traditional Balinese decorations from the regency of Gianyar in Bali, courtesy of Dewan Kerajinan Nasional Daerah (or Dekranasda). Gianyar is an area well regarded for a variety of traditional arts and craft, and it would be designated as the next World Craft City by the World Crafts Council (WCC) in April 2019. The nomination came in response to the growing awareness of the shared commitment of the municipal authorities to promoting the culture and tradition of Gianyar’s craft and artisanship.
To be declared a World Craft City, the city or region must have a tradition of craft(s) which are well known nationally and internationally for its authenticity, quality and skill of craftsmanship. The craft industry must also be considered important economically, environmentally-friendly, and above all, committed to sustainable development of the craft in the future.
As patrons of fine art, Dekranasda’s sponsorship has helped make Gianyar an artist’s haven. Out of the hundreds of types of craft, the Garuda statue, wayang kulit (shadow puppets), masks, and woven textiles were displayed at Indonesia Night.
From top left, clockwise: Balinese mask, Garuda statue, wayang kulit (shadow puppets) on naturally dyed songket.
It is thought that the art of sculpture making existed since the 13th century during the Padjajaran and Majapahit Kingdoms, who were the greatest influence on the variety of carving art in modern day Gianyar. The art of crafting the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue (a golden eagle mounted by Lord Vishnu) remains one of the main livelihoods in the villages of Sukawati and Tegallalang today. Made typically from jackfruit wood or teak, carving works are typically carried out by men and finishing touches by women.
The Garuda is also enshrined as Indonesia’s national emblem, known as Garuda Pancasila. The national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”) is inscribed on a banner held in the eagle’s talons – highlighting how the Indonesian people are united despite their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The long-lived art of wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) is among one of the world’s greatest story-telling traditions used as a form of entertainment and worship since the 9th century. Its origins are linked to ancient Indian shadow play, notably the ancient Sanskrit tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The stories involve dramatic moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters, following their journeys through life, love, and war.
The shadow puppets are carved out of cow hide or goat skin and are usually accompanied by the music of gamelan. The shadow puppet performance that we see today has evolved into a medium of preaching and moral education which continues to thrive amidst the Indonesian art culture.
Beneath the glossy aesthetics on display, the Balinese masks conceal deep spiritual meaning. From the notion that the gods are omnipresent, the Balinese people create masks as a medium for ancestral spirits and transcendental energies to reside in.
These sacred masks demand careful and skillful artistry. Only ceremonial mask makers who are members of the Brahmin caste possess specific spiritual knowledge and instructions in making these sacred masks. Ceremonial masks are made from crocodile wood (pule) – a tree that grows in graveyards throughout Bali and are used to celebrate personal milestones, such as weddings or funeral rites.
In a non-spiritual context, Balinese Hindus reenact their rendition of classic Hindu mythologies and teachings through the masks with their own dance and music. The masks serve as a symbol or impression of certain characters in the story.
The international perception of traditional Indonesian fabrics may be centered on batik, but lesser known textiles such as the natural dye songket and tenun ikats remain one of the oldest form of textile decorations in Indonesia. They are central to all important life rituals in Bali, but very few are aware of the intricate process behind making the fabrics.
Naturally dyed songket with designs and patterns consisting of the human and abstract plant motifs are few and far between. It is often said that producing natural dyes from plants such as the Indian Mulberry roots and Indigo is such an arduous process, that only a handful today possess the knowledge to produce them.
The same is true of tenun ikat, a traditional handwoven fabric that could take months or even years to complete depending on the size. Classic designs include characters from epics of Mahabharata and the Wijaya Kusuma flower.
With skills inherited through generations, Balinese art forms can be traced back to centuries of animistic beliefs, ancestor worship, Hindu or Buddhist motifs. Though the art and craft scene may not seem to be recognised internationally as yet, Dekranasda’s sponsorship efforts have already made it possible for artists to preserve many dying traditional arts – hence offering a glimpse of what the future could possibly hold for the Balinese art and crafts industry.