My Bali Masks, Symbols of Good Spirits... and Great Memories
Long long ago, in a time I refer to as "B.K.", or Before Kids, I took a trip to Bali with a handsome man who then became my husband. I'd like to think it was the good spirits in Bali that brought us together. That island was simply magical. Not only the beautiful land and sea, but the smells, foods, music, children were like something from a fantasy. I remember kindness. Strangers honestly trying to help us. I felt the people were authentic, loving and caring. Gosh I hope Bali hasn't changed.
The Balinese are artists in the true sense of the word. Sure, tourists collect their art as decorations. But in Bali, art symbolizes spirits. They create art to honor spirits and to get strength from spirits. They tell stories about their beliefs by singing, dancing and acting out scenes between the gods. Their religion started back as a form of Hindu, then mixed with other cultures over the years, forming this glorious mix of beliefs passed on through magnificent ceremonies.
One town, Ubud, is in the middle of the island of Bali. Many artists live there in studios, carving, painting, building, and singing. We stayed in Ubud, not in a resort but in a hut. (You can drop in at fancy resorts to swim in the afternoon for a small fee.) We rented beat up bikes and toured around the island meeting real people, sleeping at the equivalent of primitive Bed and Breakfasts. We were invited inside homes and schools and made wonderful friends on the other side of the world.
At the end of our trip, we bought beautiful art from the artists themselves stopping by each studio and hearing the story behind the artwork. We shipped it all home in a big crate. It took 6 months- snail mail on a container ship. When we unpacked our pictures, masks, statues, kites, and costumes, they seemed out of place in the hustle and bustle of everyday life in our everyday house..
A couple of weeks ago, I taught an art lesson about African masks to my class. For comparison, I brought in a couple of my Bali masks from my trip long, long ago. I told the kids that every town had a Barong mask which they kept in a temple. They believed it protected the town against evil, and was seldom worn except at important ceremonies. The masks and costumes were sprinkled with holy water by priests. The good Barong spirit interacted with bad spirits in complex stories that reminded me of Greek Myths.
Our Bali art still hangs on our walls. It brings back great memories of a kind spirited people.