Ketemu Project Space | Murni and the Cultural Imageries of Bali
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Murni and the Cultural Imageries of Bali

by Savitri Sastrawan

Murni’s depiction of the quotidian included the Balinese cultural imageries that existed around her. Her way of painting them are, again, unusual, and there are three sides to this particular theme.

 

Murni’s Balinese Hindu belief

 

Murni was known to be born into a Balinese Hindu family, however there are no particular writings stating if she is religious or not. Yet from her paintings, it seems so. Existing writings about her frequently leans towards the discussion of the body and sexual organs, and especially on eroticism. In Balinese Hindu, the phallus and vagina very much form the base of the purusa pradana or lingga yoni[1] concept, which seems to be forgotten. Thus, when Murni painted someone praying to a phallus or bunch of phalluses such as Trimakasih Tuhan (meaning: Thank You God) (2003) and Aku Menyembahmu (meaning: I Praise to You) (2004), can the paintings then be considered too vulgar for incorporating Balinese cultural symbols?


Click on image to view title. For full list of images, click here.


According to Nirwan Dewanto in his article “Berahi yang Berterus Terang,” eroticism is not a new feature to be painted in Balinese traditional paintings that we know.[1] While the male painters, such as her teacher Mokoh, “painted them in hiding” – by showing the characters in sexual intercourse with softer colours or with something covering them – Murni “was the opposite.”[2] Murni “strike the politeness of the male and bourgeois” with “her own eroticism,” not looking “heroic” at all.[3] Dewanto also explained, Murni’s paintings “could be a sign that eroticism does not always have a meaning and emancipates” and through her paintings “we already learn how a body can be unattached from anatomy, psychology… gravity…also, especially, to sin.”[4]

 

Furthermore, Wulan Dirgantoro’s thesis chapter titled “Female Desire and the Monstrous-Feminine in the Works of IGAK Murniasih” quoted Hobart et al stating that parts of the body in the Balinese cosmology have its own level of purity.[5] It is said, “…from the waist down is perceived as lowly or impure…while the upper part… shoulders up is the highest or the purest.”[6] Thus in positioning a person praying to phallus/es like the paintings above, Wulan stated Murni “transgresses cultural boundaries” of the Balinese cosmology of the human body.[7] At the same time, the “fragmented” bodies “reclaim [the body image] from some predetermined representation and reinterpretation by the Symbolic.”[8]

From the discussions by Dewanto and Dirgantoro, Murni’s cultural imageries of her Balinese Hindu belief linger between the subversive and the normative. On one hand, these blurry boundaries are argued so much while purusa pradana has existed all this time. On the other hand, Murni’s painting of praising to a penis or her own additions of body parts on religious altars demonstrates the Balinese Hindu belief she has known. Beside Terimakasih Tuhan, there is also Meruku Megah (meaning: my big Meru) (2001) that shows what could be a Meru (a type of altar that symbolises the gods and goddesses of Mahameru mountain) that has a nipple and heels on the bottom.

 

She also shows how she would depict praying in Sembahyang I (meaning: Praying) (2002) and Setiap Saat Aku Berdoa (meaning: Every time I Pray) (2002).



Murni also painted less “erotic” depictions of Balinese Hindu practices and symbolisms, which were simple yet powerful. On Ayahku Berbaring Untuk Selamanya (meaning: my father rests forever) (1996) looks like a stylized image of “ngreka” – a full human body symbol made from the remaining bones of the cremated body. While Memory 21 Nopember (meaning: memory from 21st November) (Year unknown) we can see a gantungan (a hanging offering made from palm leaf usually placed on walls or alters during big religious days or ceremonies) with two fingers at the top, shows a memory from what could be a religious day. Both these paintings are very focused on one item that might be unfamiliar to the non-Balinese Hindu public. Yet Murni chose to paint them and at the same time illustrate her Balinese Hindu belief.



Murni’s Balinese character interpretation

 

Keris, the wavy blade that exist in Java and Bali, Indonesia, seemed to be one of Murni’s motifs to depict herself or a person. The keris is also known to be a very sacred and masculine item, so here it shows another side to her interpretation. Mimpi Dapat Wahyu (meaning: dreamt of receiving revelation from the divine) (1999) is very much related to the Balinese belief and seen to be something positive. For Murni to paint such a thing, it must be very important to her to record.



Her other Balinese character interpretations are about meditating (in Balinese metape), yoga, and even talking about Indraku (meaning: my senses) (1999) depicted in a form of Cakra, which is God Vishnu’s weapon or an energy node believed to exist in the body.



Murni’s Balinese cultural appropriation

 

She even appropriated, in her own way, the Balinese wayang (shadow puppet) traditional painting and Balinese dances. Rather than painting them in detail, she only used its universal shapes and added her own elements. Like the untitled (2004) in black and white, the wayang character is holding a phone and has a large decorated penis, which you would not find in traditional paintings.



From all of these paintings, Murni again has her own interpretation to being Balinese and its cultural imageries. She has reduced the many elements of the intricate Balinese cultural images and imageries that have existed. She is capable of bringing in her own interpretation using the Pengosekan style.

Image List

    • “Terimakasih Tuhan”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 60x40cm
    • Year: 2003

    • “Aku menyembahmu”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 170×110 cm
    • Year: 2004

    • “Meruku megah”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 25×25 cm
    • Year: 01

    • “Sembahyang”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 125×100 cm
    • Year: 2002

    • “Setiap saat aku berdoa”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 150×100 cm
    • Year: 2002

    • “Ayahku berbaring untuk selamanya”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 70×90 cm
    • Year: 1996

    • “Memory 21 nopember”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 92×25 cm
    • Year: Undated

    • “Mimpi dapat wahyu”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 59×50 cm
    • Year: 1999

    • “Hati yang luka”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 60×40 cm
    • Year: 1999

    • “Kris barisku”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 20×15 cm
    • Year: 2000

    • “Indraku”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 25×20 cm
    • Year: 2000

    • “Aku meditasi”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 15×20 cm
    • Year: 2001

    • “Yoga api”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 50×35 cm
    • Year: 2001

    • “Metape”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 40×30 cm
    • Year: 2001

    • “Yoga ring hutan”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 40×30 cm
    • Year: 2001

    • “Murni lagi yoga”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 25×25 cm
    • Year: 2003

    • “Berdandan tangan”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 60×85 cm
    • Year: 1996

    • “Sedikit kaku”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 30×21 cm
    • Year: 1998

    • “Keris dan barong ciri khas budaya Bali”
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 60×86 cm
    • Year: 2000

    • Untitled
    • Artist: I GAK Murniasih
    • Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
    • Dimensions: 195x145cm
    • Year: 2004

Bibliography

[1] See Jean Couteau et al., “Is Bali Ready for Women’s Lib? Philosophically Equal and Socially Discriminated Against?” in Bali Today 2: Love and Social Life, (Jakarta: Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, 1992), p. 7, https://books.google.co.id/books?id=xn2ljrOw0IwC&lpg=PA7&ots=1F7_0xKmuf&dq=purusa%20pradana%20lingga%20yoni&pg=PA6#v=onepage&q=purusa%20pradana%20lingga%20yoni&f=false; See also PHDI, “Segara Gunung Pertemuan Lingga Yoni,” http://phdi.or.id/artikel/segara-gunung-pertemuan-lingga-dan-yoni.

[2] Nirwan Dewanto, “Berahi yang Berterus Terang,” Tempo, 30 October-5 November 2000. Hardcopy found in Murni’s Studio.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Wulan Dirgantoro, unpublished thesis chapter, “Female Desire and the Monstrous-Feminine in the Works of IGAK Murniasih.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.