Bali’s invisible world made visible and rapturous, by Ron Jenkins

The aptly titled volume illuminates not only the exquisite lines of Lempad’s artwork, but also the intangible elements of Balinese identity that those lines represent.

Lempad’s depiction of the moment of birth, for instance, uses simple black ink lines on paper to portray a baby emerging from the womb, but the midwife and the father are not looking at the child. 

They are battling the otherworldly creatures that are scrambling to grab the newborn at the precarious moment when the first breath is drawn. The father embraces his wife with one arm while brandishing a knife at the fanged demon that is gnawing at her forehead. 

The midwife is holding the infant’s head in her hand as she positions herself to block the advance of another demon with a frog dangling from its toes. Offerings of fruit, flowers and coconuts are positioned directly below the child’s head, providing an element of supernatural protection in this ferocious struggle of life against death.

Bali’s invisible world is made visible in Lempad’s rapturous line drawings. With an astonishing economy of means, he brings to life the sacred and mundane elements of Balinese culture with all their contradictions on display.

Lempad dancer museum sweden

The tall mythic heroes of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are accompanied by their short squat servants. A lowly dog guides a saint on the path to heaven. A menacing ogre has a symbol of otherworldly power engraved on one of his fangs. On the other fang is the image of a tourist.

The virtuoso technique of Lempad'€™s drawings call to mind the masterpieces of Picasso, Leonardo, and Botticelli, but the style and subject matter bear the signature of inimitable genius. No one else could have created such unforgettable images of the heroine Kumasari. 

Raised in the forest by her widowed father, Kumasari embodies the feminine power of the natural world. When a jealous suitor sends an onslaught of monsters to attack her, Kumasari defeats them by standing still in a pose of silent meditation while her husband runs in the opposite direction. 

In another drawing Lempad illustrates Kumasari'€™s closeness to the nature by depicting her on the back of a tiger, the contours of her body almost disappearing into the shapes of the other wild animals that are defending her. Lempad'€™s Kusumasari is a tropical wonder woman, an Amazonian beauty whose enemies fall upside down from the skies at her feet, literally upended by the unseen force of her will.

The texts that accompany these extraordinary artworks were written by a team of scholars and specialists under the leadership of Bruce Carpenter. 

Each essay offers fascinating insights that are the result of impressive research. H.I.R. Hinzler'€™s archival detective work uncovers a letter that suggests the children in Lempad'€™s drawings of Men Brayut represent the 18 letters of the Balinese aksara alphabet. 

Bruce Carpenter refutes the myth that Lempad'€™s best work was inspired by his Western patrons. Soemantri Widagdo unearths a revealing story about a painter who asked Lempad why he sometimes worked on his drawings upside down. 

Lempad'€™s answered that he wanted to make the drawing perfect from all directions. This book provides ample evidence that he came as close as humanly possible to achieving that elusive goal.