Balinese Masks require a very high level of expertise. Not only must the maker be an expert in the art of wood carving, but also he must know the movements that each dancer uses so that the character can be shown by the mask. On my recent trip to Bali, I had the good fortune to meet a living legend in Balinese Mask making – Ida Bagus Anom. Anom is revered locally and very well known internationally for his handcraft and the strong images of his masks. His traditional masks are in high demand by Topeng dancers and pantomimes all over Bali. As with many artisans here, Anom learned his craft from his father, who in turn learned it from his father.
Anom was born in 1953 in Mas, Bali (recognized as the mask-carving centre of Bali) and continues to live in the same compound where his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and their ancestors have lived for over 700 years. Anom inherited his artistic talents form his father, the noted maker Ida Bagus Ketut Gelodog, who taught him carving, dancing and puppetry.
Anom, who is fluent in English, regularly teaches about the art of mask making and the stories behind the masks. Visitors regularly frequent his home where he has a woodcarving workshop and also a showroom. Anom was very gracious during my short visit and allowed me to witness the process of chopping the raw block of wood, the carving and painting techniques, and finally explained about the dance process and how masks have been essential elements of Balinese rituals for centuries.
According to Anom, two types of masks are made, but only one type is used for performances. The painted mask is specifically for performing. It is made of pule wood, a flexible light material which is suited to the rigorous preparation process. After the painstaking shaping of the wood, this mask is coated with 40 coats of paint. A harder wood would dry and crack, and another wood would be too heavy for dancing. One mask typically takes a few weeks to complete.
The other type of mask, the unpainted one, is for decoration only. It is made from waru wood, which is a variety of hibiscus. The clear polished finish is especially attractive, as the smooth contours and fine grain of the wood are visible.
A masked dance for a temple ceremony will finish with the Sidha Karya Mask, which symbolizes success. This final, spiritual character throws a Chinese coin and rice in the air as the farewell prayer.
Anom once appeared in a National Geographic TV show that showcased Bali, and he also told us that during the fall of 2001, he received an invitation from a Japanese television program to travel to Japan in a cultural exchange with one of Japan’s greatest mask makers and dancers. The major question of the Japanese at the time was, “How could Anom create Japanese style masks so close to the original style without having visited Japan or receiving training under the great masters of Japan?” This 2001 visit began transforming Anom’s work and one can now see the Japanese influence in his most contemporary works.
As in all areas of life in Bali, dances with masks are a form of offering to the gods. These centuries old Balinese masked dance performances are a unique way to gain a glimpse into the history and culture of Bali, as well as being entertained by the sharp sense of humor of the modern satirist. Thanks to the demand created by both dance, and tourists, the masks created by Anom are always popular, and now younger generations of wood carvers are also beginning to appear giving hope that the art of of Master Craftsmen like Anom will survive even though it will take more modern forms dictated by the consumer taste.
I am eternally grateful to Ida Bagus Anom for his generosity with his time to share with me about the wonderful art and world of Balinese Mask Carving,