Art NotesArts & Culture

Indonesian Artist Made Bayak Weaves Cosmology With Sociopolitical Issues

In recent decades, Western portrayals of Bali as an exotic paradise have significantly contributed to an explosion of unsustainable real-estate development that has devastated the environment and disrupted the island’s infrastructure. While many Balinese have come to depend on tourism for their livelihood, they have also begun to experience extreme anxiety living on an island that is becoming increasingly dominated by tourism-driven development and foreign investors.

Indonesian artist Made “Bayak” Muliana, aka Made Bayak, who will visit Athens for an exhibition and community-wide event series, is dedicated to activism through art. Beyond painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, his body of work expands into teaching, performance art, and music with his sociopolitical rock band Geeksmile.

On view Mar. 25–Apr. 28 at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, “New Gods | Old Gods” demonstrates how Bayak combines energetic portrayals of ancient cosmology with imagery from modern political and ecological movements to draw attention to ongoing environmental degradation and human suffering in Bali. Alternating between ink, acrylics, stencils, plastics and traditional techniques, his colorful yet violent narrative pieces are emotionally burdened with heavy themes relating to dispossession, pollution and out-of-control consumerism.

The exhibition was co-curated by Peter Brosius, a distinguished research professor in the UGA Department of Anthropology, and Alden DiCamillo, an interdisciplinary artist pursuing an MFA at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. DiCamillo first encountered Bayak’s artwork in 2017 while enrolled in a Maymester study-abroad program in Bali. Along with their colleague Sarah Hitchner, an assistant research scientist at UGA, they are conducting research into how Bayak’s creative practice serves as a space for reimagining history.

“Bayak’s work takes narratives of land and cultural dispossession through real-estate corruption and mass development—which destroys the ecology of the land—and presses it up against histories of colonialism and histories of genocide,” says DiCamillo. “However, the way that he approaches those subjects is super important. He doesn’t just say one thing or another is bad or wrong, which would actually lend a kind of gaze towards colonizing bodies. He reaches back from those histories and grievances, while also reaching forward with a powerful understanding of the culture from whence he came.”

In response to tourism and real-estate development’s contributions to the crisis of plastic waste, Bayak began “Plasticology” in 2012, an ongoing project through which plastics are utilized in paintings and art objects. Believing that artists must do more than merely critique the world around them, he aims to educate the next generation by also offering workshops.

Emphasizing the transformations of landscape and displacement of indigenous communities that accompany development, his work occasionally obscures idyllic scenes with garish real-estate signs and foreign-owned properties. He also calls out the legacy of Western exoticism, observable through the appropriation of Balinese imagery, by juxtaposing traditional religious iconography with symbols relating to mass consumption.

“Balinese cosmology—depictions of gods and other holy symbols like rerajahan drawings—have been pivotal to Balinese culture, both inside of and outside of tourist endeavors,” says DiCamillo. “Bayak brings those gods forward from his experience in a way that skirts the gaze of the colonial and neocolonial. It’s a dismantling of linear, simplified structures. His work purposefully complicates and challenges our notions of history and narrative.”

One of Bayak’s most complicated trajectories concerns the Indonesian genocide of 1965, which targeted accused communists and led to the establishment of the authoritarian New Order regime. Approximately 5 percent of the population of Bali was executed, paving the way for new investments and hyper-development to swarm in. For decades, systemic silencing surrounding the genocide has prevented public discourse, but today, a loose coalition of activists, including Bayak, are working to collect oral histories, locate mass graves and uncover the truth.

“Bayak’s work has such a long, long memory to it. It reaches back to the beginnings of Balinese cosmology and gathers up histories of colonialism, cultural appropriation, genocide, resilience, beauty, punk, grief, land loss, land definement—dear God, it’s everything,” says DiCamillo. “That kind of work is brave to me, and it teaches me how to have a long memory related to everything from personal history to really large and broad histories of race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, religion and land… We, including me, tend to create new things for the sake of a ‘fresh start.’ But there aren’t fresh starts, really, and I think Bayak’s work really points to the importance of that.”

In order to provide a more immersive experience, the exhibition will extend off the walls and into the community through various events that range from artist workshops and musical performances to academic lectures and a film screening. These activities aim to illuminate the complicated historical, political and cultural contexts that the artist draws connections between within his body of work.

“I think we just recognize that anthropology and art are both loud practices,” says DiCamillo. “They speak to every sensory part of the human body. They each try to honor the ability of creatures to remember and re-remember, and to empathize and to reorient their thinking. Both art and anthropology ask us to immerse ourselves.”

Related Events:

  • “New Gods | Old Gods” Opening Reception at ATHICA. Mar. 25, 5–7 p.m.
  • Roundtable Discussion on “Representations of Violence, Radical Storytelling, Art-based Activism and Imaginative History-making” at the UGA Miller Learning Center. Mar. 27, 3–5 p.m.
  • Musical performance with Made Bayak, Killick and others at ATHICA. Mar. 27, 7 p.m.
  • Made Bayak Artist Talk and Performance: “Radical Resilience Within Visual Art-making (Art as Activism)” at ATHICA. Mar. 31, 4–6 p.m.
  • Performance by Gamelan Chandra Natha at ATHICA. Apr. 2, 7 p.m.
  • Traditional Balinese painting workshop with Made Bayak at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Apr. 3, 2–3 p.m.
  • Screening of the documentary The Look of Silence at LDSOA. Apr. 3, 5 p.m.
  • “Art with Recycled Materials/Plasticology,” a youth workshop led by Made Bayak, in conjunction with Abigail West’s “Plastic Bodies: River Tribute,” at the Lyndon House Arts Center. Apr. 4, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
  • Eco-Art Festival at Lake Herrick. Apr. 6, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
  • Curators Talk: “Revealing Systems of Violence through Interdisciplinary Collaboration” by Peter Brosius, Sarah Hitchner and Alden DiCamillo at ATHICA. Apr. 8, 5:30–7 p.m.