Satya Cipta is many things. She is a modern Balinese woman and a mom.
She is a Balinese artist who uses traditional techniques in order to create contemporary concepts. She is a brave soul who is unapologetic about bringing the bold images from her imagination to life. And most importantly, she is a trailblazer who’s determined to change the perception of Balinese women and artists, both at home and around the world.
Satya has been a rising talent in Bali’s art scene for the past few years. Though Balinese by birth, she grew up outside of Bali throughout her childhood and observed Balinese customs from a distance. Thus, she was in for a slight reverse culture shock when she moved to Bali with her husband and young children after finishing her studies at the Jakarta Institute of the Arts.
“Even though I’m Balinese, I was shocked at first. When I lived in other islands, my parents taught me how to be a Balinese woman. But it’s kind of difficult and it’s very hard being a Balinese woman here in Bali. Because you’re attached to the traditional and the culture and society and the stigma to the woman. We can find similar stories in every village. When I meet the women, they usually tell me that they’re very tired living the life, even while they’re preparing the offering. Even the priestess says they’re very tired.
And I ask ‘why don’t you take your time, take a holiday? One or two weeks?’
And they say ‘I can’t. This is my duty as a Balinese wife.’
‘But you are not happy with that.’
‘Yes, but I don’t have a choice.’
They call me a bit of a rebel with that situation because I don’t want to do that if I don’t know what it’s for. Why are you using that offering? Why are you making this? Why are you making that? And when I ask them, they don’t know. This is our tradition. We just do this. I know we have to do that, but why? What is the reason? If you can explain to me, I will do that. But if you can’t, I won’t do that.” –Satya Cipta
Satya may be considered a rebel, but these days she’s better known for her unique spiritual and political art. She was trained in the traditional Batuan style of painting and mostly utilizes Chinese ink on pressed paper for her drawings. If you’re fortunate enough to catch any of her works on exhibit in Bali, you will see mystical drawings of women, spirits and scenes from nature, all connected by unique Balinese spirituality.
The explicit images in her work depict radical concepts around sexism, gender inequality and womanhood. Those who are averse to such overt, disruptive political imagery may dismiss her work as vulgar or distasteful. There have been galleries which refused to exhibit her work on the basis that it was too obscene; although overly sexual, phallic illustrations by male artists are frequently on display. She has also had local male artists exclude her from their groups and art dealers who wouldn’t admit her work as contemporary art because she uses traditional techniques. But those who are willing to engage and allow the work to have its effect, will be moved by Satya’s singular illustrations of nature’s beauty and the power of feminine spirituality.
“My style is surrealism: real surrealism. It’s like a combination of Balinese energy, because I just felt the energy right after I moved to Bali. Before, I didn’t know anything about the energy, the offering and the gods. Even though I prayed, I never felt that vibration. And when I walk the Monkey Forest I feel that. It impacts my work.
In Indonesia, they say that my work, because the image is too Balinese, they said it’s traditional art. I want to make them understand, even though I’m using traditional techniques, the idea is contemporary. It’s different.
Most people say that is too creepy and too vulgar but I feel like I honestly describe the energy and describe our body parts as a woman. I feel like I have the freedom to visualize it according to my imagination.”
Through her work, Satya expresses the complex nature of her Balinese identity: her love for the island’s spiritual nature and energy as well as her frustrations with women’s oppression in Balinese society. As expected from any disruptive artist, Satya has received criticism from all directions: from family members who don’t understand why she can’t just conform, from other artists who claim her art is neither traditional nor contemporary and from the Balinese community who constantly question whether she is truly Balinese. But Satya Cipta is a strong, self-appointed agent of change. She’s determined to get her art out in the world and start influential conversations about what it means to be a modern Balinese woman, citizen and artist.
“The woman’s position in Bali is very hard. I want the culture to change. But I don’t mean to change the roots. I want to change how to help those ceremonies and offerings, because the majority is done by the women. I hope that women can have their time and also freedom to speak. Because here, we just obey the rules, obey the stigma, and I feel like women here aren’t valuable. When you are a man, you always inherit the land from the parents. But there’s no land for the women. I want that changed. I want the same rights for men and women. This doesn’t happen in Bali only, it’s all around the globe.”