I would like to write once more about Mexican painter and anthropologist Miguel Covarrubias, whom I rediscovered in 2007 while travelling in Singapore, where I found a book about his life and work in Bali, Indonesia, a book that opened to me the doors to his interest for Balinese performing arts and re-awoke my desire to witness them in person.
When I arrived to Bali in 2009 I thought I was going to meet a world disfigured by the civilization of tourism that, among concrete, pollution and technology erase every vestige of beauty and living cultural force of peoples, but it wasn't so. If you know how to unveil the curtains that hide the huge cultural life, you will be able to live what Covarrubias told us in words and pictures. So I lived my own dream with the passion for adventure of a tourist visiting the land for the first time, of a researcher, and of a child who enjoys the theater of different peoples as if it were a new toy.
I did not travel there, like I said, for an encounter with the Mexican master, but it was inevitable that, even with all the surrounding noise from the overwhelming tourism on the island, I would still find clearings of the great life that Bali, the Balinese and their wonderful theatre still enjoy. I explored some of the steps that one Mexican adventurer, working for the New York frivolous elite of the 30s of the twentieth century, expressed in drawings and filmed images, recording in the memory of the West everything that moved and was beautiful in his eyes, material which remains as one of the most interesting documents from the meeting of different cultures in the history of mankind.
I found his book on Bali, Island of Bali, in a common library; I saw the projection, at a café-theatre, of the documentary scenes on Balinese life and art that he filmed with the most advanced technology of that time, a handheld 8 millimeter camera. In a museum visit I found what is, apparently, the only picture by him on the island. Above all, I was a spectator and observer of Balinese theater, art and religion. I dreamt his dream, and lived it, which is why I now write to you.
Gustavo Thomas at the ARMA museum next to "Dressing the dancers" by Miguel Covarrubias. (July, 2009)
And so I start a long and intense series of posts on this visit to Bali. In them I'll show (in video and photos) a wide spectrum of performances and ceremonies which I witnessed, and I'll try to compare them by showing those that Covarrubias saw and documented (of which I managed to obtain a copy); I will also try to expose my point of view as a creator and researcher, as well as my pleasure for what I watched.
It's a plan that excites me a lot and I hope it will also arouse the interest of my cyber-readers, especially in Mexico and Spanish speaking countries where there is so little information and so few accounts on this kind of performing art.