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Made Wianta, b.1949 – d.2020

Made Wianta by Stephane Sensey.jpeg

Made Wianta by Stephane Sensey

To date, there has been 16 books published [1] on Made Wianta and his oeuvre. Generally, they each chart Wianta’s artistic journey in chronological order, marking them with traditional classification of ‘periods’ or artistic phases. In these books, the transliteration of his art and actions were primarily informed by the writers’ direct contact and communications with the artist. Most, if not all writers commissioned for these books were foreign, non-Indonesian or Balinese. Due to this, we often find inferences to connections with modern and contemporary art from the west between Wianta’s personal explications. The Wianta universe is one that was anchored by and immersed within the expansive Balinese embodiment of mind and spirit. Hence, for artists with unmistakable ethnic and cultural profile such as Wianta’s, I often contemplate if such correlative exercises, for whatever its intended purpose were, are indeed necessary.


It is obvious today, 2 years after his passing, that no new Wianta pieces would be created. His journey completed, we can now navigate both his works and mind freely. We should seek and pry open previously overlooked doors to engage, investigate and evaluate his works from the legacy and repository he has left behind. Today, we may choose to experience a Wianta from one end of his spectrum and jump straight to another at polar opposite, regardless of chronology or periods. In fact, aside from the trajectories previously prescribed by art historians, theorists, curators and other narrators of his works, we have always had the option to do so.


And in true Wianta spirit, we could triangulate, quadrangulate, assemble or scribble our own paths to his work and revel in its meanings and warm reflection. A visit to Mount Agung in Bali as an example, is definitely worth our serious consideration in order to decipher the triangles appearing in many of his paintings. Gunung Agung (Mount Agung) is an active volcano and the sacred home to Mahadewa, the supreme manifestation of Lord Shiva for the Balinese.

Ceremony of Happiness Made Wianta.jpeg

Ceremony of Happiness (1984), 52cm x 42cm, Chinese ink on golden paper

Image courtesy of Galeri Zen1

The clarity that we seek may also be extremely personal, established by our own life experience and unique perspective. This is so that we may appraise the Wianta quality outside the perimeters of aesthetics, conceptual and occidental formalities of academically trained translators. One needs to read Wianta, then, reread him once and twice again. We need to read his works while keeping our present and fast evolving social predicaments within peripheral view. After all, just like Wianta’s, our universe is one that continues to expand. And as Wianta himself have said, “All my forms are in constant flux and change the way life and humanity change. Times, places and situation change, and that’s the way new forms of expression come about. There’s no standing still in life and in art.” [2]


The emphatic journey of Made Wianta is consistently embedded with calls for open dialogue and affirmative action. In 1986, after a visit to Fukuoka, Japan, on the invitation of Ida Bagus Mantra, then governor of Bali, Wianta developed a series of calligraphic pictographs. His cryptic calligraphy engages us in what appears like a meta-language, created after sessions in deep meditation. Through Art and Peace, performed in 1999 at Padang Galak, a beach in Sanur, Bali, Wianta orchestrated a monumental theatre with 2000 performers, featuring a 2000-meter long calligraphic painting, together with two helicopters. This was his a universal call for peace at the end of the millennium. In 2002, at Crossing Lines, an exhibition with Stephan Spicher at the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland, Wianta engaged with ideas concerning post-modern constructs of physical, philosophical and cultural borders. This was also inspired by the transient nature of his existence as an artist, one who finds himself on a chain of unending travel and work arrangements. In 2003, at the 50th Venice Biennale, he presented the daring and confrontational installation titled Dreamland. Dreamland, amongst other materials, consisted of photographs of mutilated human bodies, actual blood of cows, rice, bamboo shrines, driftwood and human skeletons. Both works were urgent and almost desperate calls for introspection and discourse on the reality surrounding tragedies. This was primarily in response to the horrors of the civil unrest and race based attacks of May 1998 that exploded in various cities across Indonesia, and of course, the unforgivable terrorist attacks that were the bombings of Bali in 2002.


Wianta’s drive for dialogue could be traced all the way back to his body of ‘concrete poems’. The first, consisting of written works from 1975 to 1995, were bound in together in a book titled Korek Api Membakar Lemari Es, translated The Cigarette Lighter that Burns the Fridge, published in 1996. In the year 2000, he published another body of poetry through 2 ½ Menit or 2 ½ Minutes, a collection of 153 poems composed from 1977 to 2000. This was then followed by the publication of 262 poems as Kitab Suci Digantung di Pinggir Jalan New York or A Bible Hung on a Side Street in New York, published in 2003. For me, his poems and written works are like soliloquies, the reading of which are often both abstract and esoteric, with words sometimes laid out in patterns and deliberate visual formations. While a soliloquy could be described as the act of talking while alone, or speaking as if one was alone, I believe that Wianta was never alone and always connected. Collectively, his works suggest that Wianta has manifested episodes from a multitude of conversations, where whenever he is not in the company of another person, they would have taken place in the presence of the cosmic kind, which is not uncommon for a Balinese.

mount agung by ankhurr-chawaak.jpeg

Mount Agung, Bali by Ankhurr Chawaak @unsplash

This reflective, reflexive and spiritual character and lineage of Wianta’s work could be traced to time spent in Karangasem in the mid-1980s. Working for the Department of Agriculture, Karangasem was the regency where his wife, Intan Kirana had then been posted to. The quiet pastoral environment deepened Wianta’s relationship with the Balinese niskala, an invisible and eternal realm of spirits. This spiritual connection was definitely not new as Wianta’s father, aside from being a dancer and musician, had also been a temple priest in the village near Gunung Batukaru (Batukaru Mountain) in Tabanan regency where he grew up. Here, iconic, visual spirit renditions, for what has been described as his ‘subconscious’, gave birth to now important works on paper such as Ceremony for Happiness (1984) and The Symphony of Life (1985). While they affirm his Balinese identity, Karangasem also marks the point where Wianta’s desire to be represented beyond the confines of folk art purposefully began.


Featuring modulated compositions with triangles and square geometries, incorporating dots, calligraphy and tonal colour gradients, later works such as Triangle Meditation (1995) and Mandala Praying (2015) indicate his devotion and continued connectedness for the highly spiritual and abstract.

The Mystery of Flying Triangle Made Wianta.jpeg

The Mystery of Flying Triangle (2008), 120cm x 90cm, Oil and acrylic on canvas

Image courtesy of Galeri Zen1

Wianta possesses unique ways of seeing, feeling and processing which he then translates into the exceptional body of art we inherit today. He observes and responds to those which are invisible such as the niskala; the nature of society, their culture and idiosyncrasies; as well as what is understood in the Balinese philosophy as sekala, that is, the material. Within these scheme of things, Wianta manifests the unseen niskala into art objects such as paintings, sculptures, installations, books and performative actions - for which we may now confer as a part of sekala. Not dissimilar to Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862–1978), the master Balinese artist that came before him, Wianta also employed the use of materials, mediums and frameworks of modern and contemporary art attributed to western innovators. Yet, just like how we should decipher the works of Lempad, to divorce Wianta’s ideologies and aesthetics completely from Balinese philosophies in place of universal arbitration is to serve their artistic vision with sheer injustice.

Unformal Trees Made Wianta.jpeg

Unformal Trees (1993), 80cm x 80cm, Oil and acrylic on canvas

Image courtesy of Galeri Zen1

To a large extent, one would need to contextualise Wianta in the time, space and value connected to past and present living cultures and beliefs of the Balinese. Although his work is fairly modern in their outlook, one cannot be lackadaisical of knowledge on things Balinese to truly appreciate Wianta’s deliberate and calculated ingenuity at creation. The legacy he left behind for us is worth its salt and weight in gold. Even when absent, he continues to demonstrate that beyond the rhetoric of art, much more could be discovered if only we were to free ourselves from all forms of stereotypical dominion. His practice exemplifies our innate need to excavate meaning between lines and beneath surfaces, beyond those that are visible to the naked eye. The roots buried beneath are as critical as the tree and branches above it.


Wianta once wrote, “I do not eat at night, but I consume days.” [3]

First published by Galerie Zen1, Bali, June 2022

Revised Oct 2022


[1] Inclusive of and as indicated in Golden Legacy, The Nine Periodic Journey of Made Wianta, published by Galeri ZEN1, 2021, Bali, Indonesia.

[2] Transformation of Nature, The Art of Made Wianta, Pg 19, Dr. Urs Ramseyer, published by Wianta Foundation, 2011, Bali, Indonesia.

[3] 10 September 2001

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