This wood carving of an old squatted man was made in the late 1930s. The man wears a sun hat and carries a betel (or sirih) bag under his right arm. His left hand rests on the base of the statue. He’s probably an old farm worker, resting after a day’s work. His scrawny physique is the result of a lifetime of hard work in the paddy fields.
Art Deco masterpiece
The sculpture is very similar to an Art Deco masterpiece depicted the woodcarving issue of the magazine Tourism in Netherland India from 1934 (see the black and white photo on the left). The resemblance between the two statues is striking. See for example the similarities in the face: the big hooked nose, sunken cheeks, pronounced cheekbones and the same shape of the mouth, eyebrows and eyes. The sitting position with bent knees and a bag under the arm is also the same.
But there are also a few differences. For example, the old man depicted in the magazine does not wear a hat and his hand rests on his knee instead of on the floor. The pronounced bones at his neck, shoulder and ribs look more natural. Another striking difference is the position of the feet. The feet of the old man statue in the picture stand neatly next to each other while my one has put one foot on the other. I’ve seen similar statues where the man also holds a kris or another utensil.
My woodcarving was probably made a little later after the example of one of the masterpieces. This was very common in Bali and was not seen as plagiarism at the time. Balinese woodcarvers were traditionally used to imitate statues precisely, for example when a temple statue had to be replaced by a new one.
Wisdom and old age
Statues of old men and women are still a popular motif in Balinese woodcarving art. They represent wisdom and old age. This is also reflected in the many busts of old people with wrinkled faces.
One of the most beautiful old men statues can be seen in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The woodcarving of a naked squatting man looking up was made by Pita Maha master carver I Made Gerembuang. His stylized sculpture has an old mystical appearance and is modern at the same time.
The description of the museum reads:
‘Wooden statue of a very aged man who is squatting, his arms around his legs and his eyes turned to heaven. Although the man looks upwards, it’s also turned inwards. It’s a representation of a human being in the moment between life and death.’