Embracing Ancestral Heritage: The Dance of Balinese Culture and Lino Printing

From the tender age of eight, I was captivated by the enchanting world of Balinese dancing, which continues to be my portal to the rich tapestry of my Indonesian ancestral heritage.

While others chose ballet or sports involving balls, I had the privilege of immersing myself in the graceful rhythms and cadence of Balinese traditions. From the mesmerising movements of Tari Pendet, the evocative Tari Panji Semirang, the ferocious King of the Jungle Margapati, the royal storytelling of Legong Temulilingan, Cendrawasih Manuk Rawa, to the regimental Tarumanegara, I embraced the legacy of my heritage through the art of dance.

During my time at school in Suffolk, my passion for dance lay dormant, precariously replaced by hockey (which I swiftly dropped after the first stick landed across my face during the first ever inter-school match) and Netball (did well through to U18, (at the time I preferred basketball, but I was alone)), also DofE (got bronze, though lost my badge when I moved). I had all but forgotten the exhilaration of movement and the rhythmic degung gamelan that had echoed within me; the demands of my studies, culture shock and the structure of the private boarding school environment severely stifled my expression – not only artistically, but to mute me altogether. Unbeknownst to me, the ember of dance burned still within deepest recesses of my heart, patiently waiting for the right moment to ignite once again.

Decades later in Somerset, amidst visionary friends and family, I found myself performing and telling the mesmerizing stories of Tari Panji Semirang and Tari Margapati, whilst my teacher, Josephine, performed Bharat Natyam and Kathak as an accompaniment of impromptu ballet lessons in the open air. It was a moment of transcendence, where the boundaries of time and space dissolved, and our diverse art forms coalesced into a breathtaking fusion. Through these movements, I witnessed the magic of our cultural exchange, weaving patterns which bridged worlds and hearts.

When the youngest of our children were old enough to sleep through the night and our eldest had her first days at Nursery, I found myself drawn to the world of printmaking. Under the guidance of Jonathan, a local printmaker, I arranged evening workshops, feeling compelled to etch a zinc plate with a Legong dancer emerging out of fire and smoke. The process was transformative, as the image on the zinc plate took shape, capturing the spirit of Balinese dance in a new and tangible form.

As I acquired my very own etching press from the reputable Ironbridge Fine Arts Printmakers (thanks Jenny and Dave!), I was absolutely certain the zinc plate would be one of the first items to be printed on the press. Using the epically named ‘Carbazole Violet’ ink from Caligo Safewash intaglio ink, I placed the zinc block on the press and watched with anticipation as the roller glided across the surface, transferring the intricate details onto damp paper. The Legong dancer emerged once again, vibrant and alive, reminding me of the enduring power of artistic expression.

In each print, I see the fusion of my West Javan (“Sundanese”) heritage, the spirit of Balinese dance, and the craftsmanship of printmaking. It is a testament to the depths of my deeper ancestral lineage and the transformative power of creativity. As I share these prints with the world, I hope to ignite a sense of wonder and appreciation for the beauty and diversity of our shared human experience.

In the midst of the pandemic, as I sought solace and a path to recovery, I turned to the art of lino printing. Here, I discovered the power of intertwining my West Javan heritage with my newly-revived artistic passion. The dance became a guiding force, a thread that wove together my cultural identity and my artistic expression. In each early linocut creation, I felt the slow, soft pulse of long-forgotten ancestors, imbuing their creative spirit into the very surface of my work.

As I immersed myself further into the world of lino printing, something quietly kindled within. Amidst the weight of depressive states brought on by the suppressive impact of work, the pandemic, and the endless cycles of lockdowns, I sought solace in the written word; I found myself drawn to the history of ancient Egypt and captivating tales of Hellenic civilisations. Through the pages of books, audiobooks and podcasts, I embarked on a journey through time, tunnelled through the mysteries and wonders of these extraordinary cultures, weaved deeply in attaining balance of Just – of being in balance – living and attuning to the elements of nature in which they lived in. My nudges in looking as far back as the Egyptian civilisation intertwined with my artistic endeavours, enriching my creative processes.

Girl, Gebyok, Kebaya, a.k.a. Pensive III

Today, I dance the dances when I can. It burns stagnancy, it revives my blood, enhances my mind. The richness of the deeper traditions, passed down through generations, fills me with a deep knowing. Through the portal of Balinese dancing, the art of printmaking, and my exploration of ancient histories, I honour the beauty and diversity of the cultural wealth. It is an inveterate part of a journey that continues to shape me.

In the dance of life, may the gamelan melodies of my heritage, the rhythms of Balinese traditions, and the echoes of ancient civilisations guide us towards unity, understanding, and the limitless beauty of our shared humanity.

Your printmaker, Balinese dancer,


2 responses to “Embracing Ancestral Heritage: The Dance of Balinese Culture and Lino Printing”

  1. Oh how beautiful! Your words are so deep, rich and full of dance… your words dance, your art dances, just like your spirit does… this was a true joy to read!

    1. Thank you, Ma’am! *deep bow* you’re so very kind

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