The 41st Bali Arts Festival: Celebrate Bali’s cultural highlight

This year, Indonesia’s longest-running festival will once again turn the spotlight on this famous tourist paradise to unite art lovers from across Bali, and beyond.

The Bali Arts Festival, or Pesta Kesenian Bali, which takes place at the magnificent Taman Wedhi Budaya arts centre in the eastern part of Denpasar, showcases the island’s wealth of traditional performing arts and cultural highlights from neighboring islands.

The festival, originally conceived in the late 1970s, features daily exhibitions showcasing traditional and contemporary facets of Balinese culture, art competitions, cultural performances, carnivals as well as an array of other art-related activities every year – all of which are open and free of charge for the public.

The 41st edition of this one-month cultural treat begins on June 15th (traditionally the second Saturday of the month) with tens of thousands of Balinese artists slated to participate, and conclude on July 13th 2019.

This year, the arts festival carries the theme “Bayu Pramana: Memuliakan Sumber Daya Angin”, which means “Bayu Pramana: To glorify the Wind Energy as Natural Resource”. Another interpretation of the name, according to I Nyoman Suarka, the man behind the festival idea, is “the breath of life”.

In keeping with the theme, all of this year’s artwork will draw inspiration from the air element.

President opens the annual arts festival

Traditionally, the festival kicks off at 8am local time with a multicultural street parade featuring around 1,500 performers on Jl. Raya Puputan Renon Denpasar, surrounding the sacred Bajra Sandhi monument.

Immediately after the street parade, the festival is officially declared open by president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo – a 40-year tradition – on the evening of June 15th at the opening ceremony held at the Werdhi Budaya Art Center.

Jokowi stated in his opening speech last year before striking a traditional gong to mark the beginning of the parade.

A total of 17 art troupes took part in the 40th festival’s parade, all of which were closely related to the local banjar (traditional hamlet) and desa pekraman (traditional village), and therefore represented their respective community’s cultural pride and successes.

Last year’s festival also included pregina (art performers) from the Chinese province of Guangxi, the Lesser Sunda Cooperation Forum, the Japanese consulate and the Indonesia Arts and Culture Institute of Papua.

The Bali Arts has also showcased work from France, Tunisia, Japan and India. Overall, the 40th festival boasted over 10,000 performers.

What’s in store this year?

Among this year’s many performers is Denver-based gamelan ensemble Tunas Mekar, a 30-year-old non-profit, all-volunteer organization that plays traditional, contemporary and original gamelan music of Bali and Indonesian origin. The non-profit previously performed at the festival in 1996, making it only the second United States-based gamelan band to do so at the time.

In addition to watching Tunas Mekar mix the old with the new, spectators will also take in the rare sight that is the Gong Kebyar Gamelan performance, which sees troupes from different parts of Bali share the same stage for a single night.

Originally brought to life as a tourism endeavor by the island’s former governor Ida Bagus Mantra in the late 1970s, the Bali Arts festival plays a vital part in preserving traditional arts and culture, and in doing so, ensures both its endurance and significance in the 21st century. (Reuters)

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