Balinese Narcissus

This figurine of a half-naked young man admiring himself in the mirror, is quite rare. It reminds me of the famous Greek story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. The young man is so mesmerized by his reflection in the mirror that he doesn’t notice that his cloth has slipped off his hips, exposing his bare buttocks to the viewer. Or maybe he doesn’t care about being watched?
The unknown woodcarver has succeeded well in portraying his posture and body naturally. See for instance how the young man holds his right heel with his left hand to keep his balance. We even see his butt crack.

Rudolf Bonnet, drawing of a Balinese field worker (1954)

Gay artists in Bali
This erotic pose was used often for woodcarvings of bathing women, but men are rarely portrayed in this way. The statue clearly has a homoerotic connotation. It was probably created in the 1930s when Bali was popular with gay artists from the West, who came to the island for its exotic image, artistic culture and the tolerant attitude of the Balinese people towards strangers and other ways of life. One of them was the Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet (1895-1978), who portrayed many Balinese young men.

Love affairs
Of course, there were frequent love affairs between artists and models. Some of these boyfriends later became artists themselves. Perhaps the young man with the mirror is also posing as a model. He has the same noble features that Bonnet emphasizes in his drawings and paintings of handsome young men. The typical Indonesian sitting position with folded legs and turned feet, which indicates a great flexibility, also appears in some of Bonnet’s drawings.

Through the eyes of Rudolf Bonnet
Whether you like masculine or feminine beauty… this intimate moment captured by the woodcarver gives the viewer the feeling as if ‘Narcissus’ is posing especially for us; as if we are briefly in the shoes of Rudolf Bonnet or another artist from 1930s Bali. This is what makes the statue special to me.

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