This is one of the oldest wood carvings in my collection of Balinese sculptures. The figurine of a seated man with a traditional udeng headdress was made in the 1930s by an anonymous woodcarver. The sleek stylization and elegant lines of the carving are characteristic of the first Art Deco period in Balinese woodcarving art. This modern style arose from the interaction between local and western artists, who had settled in Bali in the 1930s. Among them were also some Dutch artists, such as the painters Rudolf Bonnet, Willem Hofker and Auke Sonnega, and the sculptor Louis van der Noordaa.
In 1936, European and Balinese artists jointly founded the artists’ association Pita Maha – which literally means ‘Great Spirit, the guiding inspiration’ – to promote and protect Balinese arts and crafts. Woodcarvers were encouraged portray scenes from daily life in Bali. These everyday subjects, such as sitting man or a beautiful lady grooming her hair, were popular with the tourists visiting the island. To accommodate the travelers, the woodcarvers made smaller carvings that easily fitted in a suitcase and could be taken home as a souvenir.
The Balinese woodcarvers gradually evolved from community artists creating traditional sculptures for temples and palaces to individual artists working for the fast growing tourist market. Most statues from this early period are still unsigned because the woodcarvers were used to make religious sculptures, which embodied the gods. It didn’t matter who made them.
It was also very common to copy statues of other woodcarvers. Because of this you sometimes come across sculptures that look very similar, but are made by different artists. This has nothing to do with counterfeiting. The Balinese woodcarvers were used to making statues that looked alike, so that people could immediately see which deity the statue represented. Their stylized wood carvings from the 1930s, depicting scenes from everyday life in Bali, are now sought after collectables.