Bali’s image as a paradise on earth is a deliberate construct
Photographs, posters, palace treasures and stories take visitors back in time to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The creation of paradise
In the 19th century Bali comprised various kingdoms. During the colonial era the Dutch forcibly subjugated these different kingdoms, bringing the entire island under Dutch rule in 1908. In the wake of this painful conquest the Dutch deliberately set out to create the image of Bali as an idyllic, artistic paradise in order to gloss over the harsh and often bloody reality of its subjugation.
Art and photography, but also tourist advertising presented Bali as a paradise on earth, depicting scenes of peaceable village life and a thriving local culture. This propaganda was a key driver behind the rise of the tourist industry in the early 20th century.
Bali’s landscape and culture attracted not only tourists but also western artists. In Sanur, the German Neuhaus brothers made a living selling Balinese art to tourists. Other western artists, such as Walter Spies of Germany and the Dutchman Rudolf Bonnet, lived for a long time in Ubud during the 1920s. Together with local artists who had previously been court painters for Balinese rulers they created works intended primarily for the tourist market.
Trophies of war
This section of the exhibition features its biggest exhibit: two palace doors taken from the palace of Badung in Denpasar. Each is more than four metres high and weighs in excess of a hundred kilograms. Their story is a violent one.
In 1906 the Dutch mounted a military expedition against Badung’s ruler I Gusti Gede Ngurah Den Pasar. Hundreds of Balinese died as a result of Dutch gunfire or took their own lives rather than face the humiliation of surrender in a ritual suicide known as puputan. The palace was sacked, its treasures seized as war booty and later shared between museums in Jakarta and Dutch museums of ethnology.
At the time the Dutch artist W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp was journeying through the region to collect artefacts for the then National Museum of Ethnography. He witnessed the puputan in 1906 and wrote:
“Through considerable effort, I managed to save two magnificent doors from the main entrance leading from the forecourt to the guest area. They had wanted to use them to make a bridge over a water pipe in order to help the army (…) one of the few things that hadn’t yet been stolen for the simple reason that it was too heavy and too big.”