Sets of Masks 

Topeng Tua - I Wayan Tedun

Topèng and Bondrès Masks

Bali theatre makes extensive use of masks in both religious and secular performance. Among the former, perhaps the most widely known are the masked figures of Rangda and Barong made famous by Cartier-Bresson's photography. There are however several different kinds of Barong and the Calon Arang plays, where these figures appear, use a range of masks, as does Wayang Wong, the masked version of the Ramayana. 

Among the forms of masked performance, two sets of masks are of particular interest for their role in popular theatre. The best known is masked dance-drama, Topèng, which utilizes a wide range of masks for different characters. The second is a repertoire of strange masks depicting a range of different kinds of face, usually comical, known as Bondrès. These have long been used to provide supplementary characters for Topèng, Calon Arang and other genres. Recently however Bondrès has become a genre in its own right because the masks, which mostly portray ordinary village Balinese warts and all, are highly suitable for demotic theatre. This trend was given added impetus by a popular series of television plays featuring leading Balinese actors called simply ‘Bondrès’. 

To give an idea of the range and imagination Balinese bring to their masks, below are sets of Topèng and Bondrès masks made by two of Bali's most famous mask-makers. Not only are the masks made by different craftsmen distinctive, but the same person may make quite different masks for the same role on different occasions, depending on the circumstances.

Two great craftsmen's work features below. They are I Wayan Tangguh with his son, I Madé Sutiarka from Singapadu. The other is the late I Wayan Tedun from Br. Lantang Idung, Batuan, whose masks are included in the definitive collection in the Bali Museum.

Balinese visual imagination applied to new kinds of character can be startling. Below are masks carved by Ida Bagus Oka from Delod Tunduh for a Topèng about the role of Western intellectuals in the making of Bali. Beside the more familiar figures of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson are Artonin Artaud and Gilles Deleuze, because the work of these last hinged in little recognized ways on how Western representations of Bali have permeated thought.

© Mark Hobart 2015