Revealing Chinese and Balinese Cultural Connections Through Art with Tjandra Kirana

Art In Bali | Written By, Richard Horstman |

One of the most charming characters within the Bali art community is TjandraKirana. Quick with a smile, and always ready to share a light-hearted joke, or a tale, he is gifted with a generous, and effervescent personality. 

Born in Denpasar in 1944, of Chinese Indonesian heritage, over the past six decades the well-known, self-taught photographer and painter has been a witness to change – of the increasing moderniSation of Bali. Tjandra began painting at the age of seventeen, while his love for photography started when he was fifteen, and then he commenced working as a professional photographer seven years later.

Painting by Tjandra Kirana

A collector of photographs, paintings, documents, artefacts, and memories of the development of Denpasar and Bali, Tjandra is a multi level identity – Chinese, Indonesian and Balinese. His years as ‘an amateur historian and an art and cultural ambassador’ have distinguished him within the Indonesian art community.

Celebrating the human spirit through the lens of his camera, Tjandra’s subjects range from cultural phenomenon, to everyday subjects of city and countryside scenarios, and from social and political identities to those who are marginaliSed. His studies of the Balinese culture, in particular the religious processions and ceremonies are highlighted by his eye for balancing the colour and festivities with the beauty of the natural landscape. His Black & White images perfectly capture the rich and dynamic atmosphere of Bali.

Photo Courtesy of Tjandra Kirana

In 1969 Tjandra opened a photography studio in Semarang, Central Java, specialising in advertising, wedding, and portrait photography, along with developing film and printing.  The founder of the Semarang Photography Club in 1977, he was also one of the founders of the PerhimpunanFotographi Bali (the Bali Photographers Association) in 1984. He has evolved with the various periods of photographic technological development – from black & white analogue images to mastering the digital age of technology. 

Tjandra has received dozens of national and international awards and titles, including the 2008 & 2009 Shanghai International Lung Jing Shan Photography Art Award: Gold Trophy, while he has received his Certificate of Fellowship from the Royal Photography Society of Thailand from the Princess of Thailand, MahaChakri in 2012. He is a member of the Royal Photography Society of Great Britain, and the Photography Society of the United States of America, to name just a few of his associations, and has exhibited both his photographs and paintings on more than three hundred occasions throughout Indonesia, Southeast Asia, China and India. Tjandra is constantly invited to represent Bali in exhibitions throughout Asia, and has recently returned from an art and  cultural event in New Dehli, India.

Photo Courtesy of Tjandra Kirana

Bali is renowned for being been open to, and embracing, influences from foreign cultures. Trade with China began about 300 AD and centuries of migration from mainland Asia to the Indonesian archipelago followed, while the Chinese began settling on Bali about one thousand years ago.

“Significant cultural influences are evident in the fields of architecture, art, carving and dance,economic exchange (kepeng coins), textiles, culinary, and within local customs and rituals,” Tjandra states. One of the most famous icons of the Balinese culture – the Barong – the benevolent lion character that represents universal good and plays a significant role within religious ceremonies is derived from the Chinese lion dance featuring a similar character – Barongsai.

Tjandra’s beautiful decorative paintings create awareness to the distinct facets of the Balinese culture that reveal Chinese influence via the use of unique iconography. “The influence of Chinese culture which is infused in various manners and daily habits is embedded in my memory. This longing for ancestral heritage can not escape the subconscious and within my paintings I wish to reveal that two cultures are present today in contemporary Bali,” he explains.

A New Spirit of Balinese Tradition – 2019
Tjandra Kirana Watercolor on Chineses Paper

When sharing some of his ‘secrets’ for a long and fruitful life, Tjandra says, “Life is to be enjoyed to the fullest, and having an open, and disciplined mind, is the foundation to success.” Tjandra has been a giver of many gifts, yet also the receiver.

“In 1998 life dealt me the most unusual circumstances. Suffering from heart complaints I was hospitalised. That night I lost consciousness and my heart stopped beating, and then kicked back into life on three separate occasions. I woke the next day surrounded by my family, but I had no comprehension of what had occurred during the night.” Tjandra immediately needed a series of operations to sustain his life, yet did not have the finance to cover the costs. A friend, however, then graciously gave him the required funds. “This gift gave me a fresh perspective on my life, and I clearly understood about my own sense of kindness, and how being generous was essential to a happy and fulfilling life.”

Tjandra’s upcoming solo painting exhibition will open to the public 28 June at GriyaSantrian Gallery, Sanur, 28 June. 

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Richard Horstman

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