My collection Balinese wood carvings started with this elongated figurine of the goddess Dewi Uma with her son Batara Gana (Lord Ganesha). He’s depicted as a child, as a chubby little elephant carrying his mother on his belly. While his mother is shown as a slender appearance with long hair and thin long limbs. This contrast between round and long straight shapes makes the figurine extra interesting as it combines two well-known Balinese Art Deco woodcarving styles: the elongated style and the round, “corpulent” style, both introduced by the famous woodcarver Ida Bagus Njana.
Rudolf Bonnet, a Dutch painter living in Bali and one of the founders of the Balinese artists’ association Pita Maha, was very fond of Njana’s work and wrote about him:
‘In spiritualization and refinement, no sculptor of Mas went further than Ida Bagoes Njana, whose rare creations sometimes resemble thin, immaterial dream forms, wondrous appearances, which have nothing more to do with a sculpture, a last genius expression of an art that is going to dissolve itself.’
Njana’s elongated style also appealed to the tourists and was soon adopted by other woodcarvers. As the new style became more and more mainstream and many of his creations were copied by other woodcarvers, Njana decided to change tack at the beginning of the 1950s. From that moment on he also made statues of figures with round, corpulent shapes. The nice thing about my Dewi Uma and Gana sculpture is that it combines both styles.
The statue is delicately carved with nice details. See, for example, how the little elephant’s trunk lovingly reaches upwards in search of its mother. The wood carving is signed on the bottom with a loose inscription: ‘Bali 1957 R.B.’ It is not clear whether the inscription was made by the woodcarver or by a previous owner. Woodcarvers usually did not sign their statues with their initials. R.B. may as well refer to the name of the store where the statue was purchased in 1957.
In remembrance of marc van der bolt and dirk honing
This statue is very special to me because it’s an heirloom of my dear friend Marc van der Bolt and his roommate Dirk Honing, who first drew my attention to the beauty of Balinese woodcarving. During his service in the Dutch East Indies after WWII, Dirk had become attached to the country and its people. ‘We had no business there,’ he often said. ‘But we were young en had no choice.’ Marc and Dirk’s house was full of beautiful art, including several Balinese wood carvings. The little statue of Uma and Gana, bought by Marc at an antique shop, was their favorite. After they both passed away, I received the figurine of their families as a memento of our special friendship and started my own collection.