Prasi: An Ancient Balinese Miniature Art Form Goes Contemporary
Richard Horstman (Jakarta Post)
Thu 12 May 2022
Dating from the 16and century, the tradition of tracing sheets with cultural knowledge compiled in lontar manuscripts is experiencing an exciting new illustrative era, driven by younger generations of contemporary artists.
The Balinese ontary are manuscripts made from the dried and treated sheets of pale beige color of the frontalpalm (Barasus Flabellifer). Strong and flexible with a fibrous grain running the length of the foliage, the leaves have a variety of applications. The technique of tracing minute information on pages about 25 centimeters long requires perfect vision, a steady hand and determination. the pangrupak is a sharp metal instrument with a wooden handle for inscribing fine graphic lines.
The aesthetic effect is achieved with the hazelnut’s black dye rubbed along the leaf, the excess being wiped off, revealing the practitioner’s efforts in writing, symbols or illustrations. The wide range of Balinese religious and social content is categorized as side view — holy books; Agama — religious rules, laws, regulations, ethics and morals; United States — homeopathy and healing; Wariga — astronomy and astrology; Itahasa — epics, including literary ones; Babad— history and genealogy, Lelampahan — the performing arts; Tantri — stories and notes and Prasi — illustrations.
‘En face’ 2021: female artist Ema Kusumilawati presents prasi combined with brass plates. Lontar & brass plaque, 33 centimeters by 53 cm. (Courtesy of Prasi Community) (Courtesy of Prasi Community/Courtesy of Prasi Community)
A new generation of artists is currently breathing new life into practice. In recent years, exhibitions have presented works revealing a new ingenuity. The classic presentation of Balinese stories is still common. However, the medium is explored in Japanese manga– cartoon influenced images, realism, simplified and naive styles and imaginative presentations. Committed to continuous cultural development, the Cultural Office of the Provincial Government of Bali presented Prasara Prasikala Nukilan Taru Mahottama. The exhibition presented practice by around sixty Balinese and Indonesian artists at the Bali Art Center, Denpasar, in February 2021.
One of the driving forces behind this outpouring is the Oprasi community, made up of students and alumni of UNDIKSHA University, Singaraja, North Bali. “The word operation inspires the name of Oprasi. Therefore, its members dissect and study the definition to explore the potential with visuals and presentation,” said Vincent Chandra, artist, writer and member of Oprasi. Jakarta Post.
Formed in 2018, Oprasi is a response to the introduction of new material Prasi Mologi into the UNDIKSHA program in 2017. “There is a strong local history of practice in Singaraja, therefore, the subject has gained increasing interest among students,” he said. “Prasi is a drawing technique, but slightly different. The key is to be patient and calm to avoid tearing the sheet.
Two members of Oprasi recently had works selected in the Bali Emerging Artists 2022 exhibition which runs from April 16 to May 31 at Sika Gallery, Ubud. Twenty-three-year-old Putu Dika Pratama started studying practice in early 2020 and quickly excelled. It presents three works in the form of locked wooden chests with practice descriptions on the lids. The illustrations are themed around the historical background of the pre-Balinese people of their village, Wongaya Gede, in a remote area of Tabanan, central Bali.
“Sang Patih” is a composition of remarkable balance, form and narrative content. While on a spiritual quest, the subject is depicted in a circle achieving perfect harmony with nature, sitting in meditation, and receiving a download of sacred knowledge. “I use a locked chest as an analogy. The research data I uncovered revealed many yet-to-be-revealed mysteries from this pre-Bali era,” Pratama told me. The intricate work, including research, took the artist two weeks.
The Locked Chest: ‘Sang Patih’ 2021 by Putu Dika Pratama. Prasi & wooden chest 30×34.5cm. (Courtesy of Vincent Chandras). (Courtesy of Vincent Chandras/Courtesy of Vincent Chandras)
“When I express myself through practice there is a distinct satisfaction that I get, unlike other artistic techniques,” Pratama said. “I enjoy Oprasi’s creative interaction; it allows me to push the limits of my expression.
One of Oprasi’s most experimental artists is Kadek Joning Prayoga. His three-dimensional works merge technical and artistic ideas. “I am particularly interested in practice because the materials and techniques are unique and outside the sphere of contemporary art,” said the UNDIKSHA graduate, born in Lombok in 1998. “The incision technique was initially a challenge for me until ’till I learn the distinct character of leaf fiber.
“Mepliseran” (Spinning) is an interactive work where Prayoga invites the audience to pull a lever up and down, propelling the movement of wings decorated with practice. The artist cleverly configured small pieces of bamboo with ropes as a mechanism mounted on a wooden frame. “The basis for developing my work is to change people’s perspectives. For example, the public believes that practice seems to be related to the mystical, although it’s not always like that,” Prayoga said. “Oprasi is not rigid and stuck to the original principles of practice. It is open to discussion and the creative atmosphere is inclusive and dynamic. We feel free to share ideas, to be open to ideas and experimentation.
‘Spinning’: ‘Mepliseran’ 2022 is an interactive work by Joning Prayoga. Rontal sheet, bamboo, wood (interactive) 43x40x17 cm. (JP/Richard Horstman) (JP/Richard Horstman)
“The Oprasi movement is not just about preserving traditions and visual games or breaking existing conventions. Instead, we construct our own conventions and definitions of the practice,” Chandra said. He said that Oprasi offers him the unique opportunity to stimulate other creative aspects within him, including working on collective works and installations.
“Cultivating themes, visuals, speeches and presentations are just a few methods that begin Oprasi’s collective journey. Moreover, the evolution practice art and other genres will continue to talk about Balinese conventions because it is our art today. Creativity and awareness go hand in hand.
Traditional Balinese arts and crafts offer enormous potential for creative young people to explore. The development of practiceventuring beyond classical expressions, is a refreshing aspect of the evolution of the local contemporary art scene and brings new value to Balinese culture.