"Dancers prancing about the Puras and demons screaming in the moonlight. An image so haunting, it obsesses me. Like the sound of distant gamelan in the dead of night. It beckons, making the heart beat faster. This fascination with the beautiful and the grotesque. From young Legong dancers, their bodies bound in gold brocade, gracefully dancing their tale of love, revenge and death; to Rangda, that mother of all witches, who in orgy of unimaginable terror, casts a spell on the kris dancers, forcing them to stab themselves. Only to be saved by the Barong, a mystical creature representing the powers of Good.
The eternal struggle of good against evil. The supreme epic of life, manifested in the form of dance. It is no irony that after their epic battle, the Barong and Rangda masks are placed side by side in the temple. Good and evil. Yin and Yang. Call it what you will, but one cannot exist without the other." (Ahmad Zakii Anwar, "Dancers and Demons" in Ahmad Zakii Anwar: Distant Gamelan, Art Focus Gallery, Singapore, 1998, p. 7).
Zakii writes with profound feelings on his trip to Bali in 1997 when he became enchanted and mesmerized by the dances, the masks, the puppet shows, the artists; in sum the various forms of arts and rituals that led to the christening of the island as a 'living museum.' It is a living when the divinity and secular mix and interact; the Balinese truly believes that the gods and demons are living amongst them.
To transform the impression onto the canvas is no simple task. Zakii chooses to approach his subjects with sincerity and to paint them in his preferred realistic style. Oleg Tambulilingan depicts 2 dancers against an intensely dark background which heightened the dramatic effect of the "bodies bound in gold brocade". The smudges at the sides of the dancers effectively translate the movement of the graceful dancers; one of them is shown with a side profile and with an intense gaze; and the other is being cropped of the face and is only shown with her curvaceous pose which evokes both strength and sensuality.
The Oleg Tambulilingan which is known as Bumblebee dance in English was created in 1952 by the celebrated Balinese dancer/chereographer Ketut Marya for a world fare. The Bumblebee Dance is a very sensual performance that mimics the mating dance of 2 bumblebees, the male obsessed with the female who elegantly and coyly keeps him away. She eventually gives in at the finale. The female role is especially complicated and sometimes 2 girls play the roles.
The Balinese experience was an overwhelming one for Zakii and it contributed to a portfolio of images for the artist, images as diverse from the dance to the soulful Ida Bagus Made (a renowned Balinese artist) and to the masks of Rangda and Barong. The artist himself commented "Bali is in danger of becoming a parody of itself. But even with rampant commercialization, I believe there is enough Taksu - the creative spirit - to inspire the artist. One just has to look harder". (Ibid) The result of this harder look is the exhibition Ahmad Zakii Anwar: Distant Gamelan held at Art Focus Gallery, Singapore from 22 May to 3 June 1998 from which the present work originally came. What is so captivating about Oleg Tambulilingan 4 is the dancers' apparent isolation to one another and yet the alluring interaction the isolation implies. Further, the altogether perfection of the figures' environment also contributes to unnerve the viewer, throwing the scene into a kind of hyper-reality, where perfection is rendered as realism. Zakii's craftsmanship is his ability to manipulate paint and palette in a form of realism that provokes as it fascinates, compels as it seduces.