White Onion:Bali Bride
Digital Media Installation
Made in collaboration with Ridwan Rudianto
Bali, Indonesia

White Onion:Bali Bride, Bargaining with the Ulul Bird, after Friend, Digital Photograph, Dimensions variable

The video White Onion:Bali Bride uses the transformative processes involved in being dressed and made-up as a Balinese Bride as a way to examine issues around ‘exoticism’ and ‘belonging’.

The work retreats behind the rituals of the actual Balinese wedding to the stages of preparation of being dressed and made-up prior to the wedding.  The bride in this instance, is not however, ‘Balinese’.  She is rather, a white woman ‘becoming’ Balinese.

Personal exchanges between individuals of different ethnic/racial/cultural backgrounds - specifically Balinese and ‘Westerners’ in this context - can be seen as part of the processes of cultural exchange and the changing socio-cultural landscapes in which we currently dwell.  These exchanges include mixed marriages that are lived out on multiple shores, where couples and families move back and forth and may ‘belong’ to more than one culture, one country.  White Onion:Bali Bride explores the sense and drive of ‘belonging’ to a culture as well as the ‘longing to belong’.

White Onion, Bali Bride (excerpt), video, Bali 2005, full duration 10min 46sec

Stills from video, duration, 10min 46sec

There is the longing of the foreigner, desiring to become part of her/his new environment.  This is not specific to our contemporary milieu, nor limited to Bali.  We all seek to belong to some social/cultural group.  In many cultures, as in Bali, belonging is paramount to ‘being’, to ‘existing’. If mixed marriages can be seen as a cross-cultural interaction, they are also a way to ‘belong’, to become part of the new social and cultural, albeit ‘exotic’, landscape.  Procreation creates roots.  We can go to great lengths to proactively belong to our new environments, from intimate relations with local individuals, to undergoing, in the extreme, cultural-religious conversions [with or without marriage] and name changing – Ni Kadek Victoria…

Ownership cannot be separated from a discussion of belonging, that is, cultural and social ownership.  And ownership implies capital.  White Onion:Bali Bride explores at a micro-level, the pre-wedding preparations and ritualised transformation into a bride.  In addition to the aesthetic and symbolic aspects of this transformation, the work alludes to the socio-gender-political implications of the transformations taking place – as the woman becomes social capital.  While a discussion like this naturally references [Balinese] woman as social capital within Balinese culture, it also provokes a question concerning the nature of the capital a ‘white woman’ might bring to such a marriage.

The digital photograph in the installation - White Onion:Bali Bride, Bargaining with the Ulul Bird, after Friend uses as a backdrop the section of a painting by Australian painter Donald Friend (1915-1989) who was active in Bali during the 1960’s and 70’s.  The work “Legend of the Ulul Bird”1, according to a Neka Museum catalogue2 is based on a Balinese folktale and tells the story of Dukuh Sangiandian, a man with many wives but due to his small penis is unable to satisfy his wives.  The caption in the catalogue describes how he scorns the appearance of the Ulul bird that he encounters, unaware that the bird has magic powers.  In revenge the bird grants him his wish to have his penis enlarged, but to such an extent that his penis is unworkable.

The story above may add another layer to the work, but the painting was chosen ostensibly to represent an outsider’s – Australian – perception and representation of Bali at a time when Western painters were constructing Bali through their own paradisical views and longings.

This work was presented at the Bali Biennale 2005: Space and Scape, at Sika Contemporary Art Gallery, Bali, Indonesia 2005.

1 “Legend of the Ulul Bird” Donald Friend, 1970’s, collection Neka Museum, 48 x 62cm

2The Development of Painting in Bali Selections from the Neka Art Museum, Suteja Neka & Garrett Kam, 1998, Yayasan Dharma, Seni Museum Neka, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia