Bali: We Now Devote Ourselves to the God of (US) Dollar

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My understanding of Karl Marx’s Primitive Accumulation is how people or humans serve money as the divine: money is the almighty. The tourism in Bali, Indonesia, has affected inherited, cultivated, and sacred lands. One such example is the rice fields — despite being the source of the nation’s staple food and where Dewi Sri[1] the rice fields Goddess, lives, they have been sold for easy money or changing their function into hotels, properties, and villas.

In Bali, the emergence of a new god called “The God of US Dollar” has arguably become a haunting figure that has overwhelmed the relationship of the people to the existing deities and the land. Yet academics, historians, and anthropologists continue to read Bali as “the island of the gods”, and do not seem to have acknowledged this transition specifically. Instead, it seems to have been visualised and developed by native artists. Visual culture becomes the critical discourse that summons the socio-cultural implications of worshipping this alternative deity into the general social consciousness.

Here I would like to find the common ground to this phenomenon, summoning it with three other artists from Bali: Gede “Sayur” Suanda, Made “Bayak” Muliana, and Genetik. They have created artworks sounding a resistance[2] to the effect tourism has in their native land, which has been seen no different to the Dutch colonials way of “managing” Bali as the ultimate paradise destination.

Savitri Sastrawan (SS): In the 1970s the tourism that was initiated to be developed was cultural tourism – keeping up the Bali culture high was prioritised and tourism should not eradicate it.[3] Has cultural tourism been applied, could not be done, was never done, or vanished in Bali?

GedeSayur (GS): In the 1970s we did have a healthy tourism current yet in the end its development created the Balinese self-righteous and destroyed the old system, all was too difficult to avoid.

Made Bayak (MB): Post 1965 is a domestication process on the people; in Bali the Balinese were being stereotyped as kind, hard working and expressive through the arts.[4] The “cultural tourism” jargon has made the veins of Bali a destination for such, which half of the cultures are created rather than the existing habits.

So the base to it is very vulnerable, as we ourselves don’t know well what is that culture, which one is the Balinese culture? That is the question that can be very debated. The results can be seen today: if there is cultural tourism won’t the agrarian be the vital base? If all the agrarian lands change function, then one cultural tourism support has vanished.

SS: Today we hear the phrase, “Kita sekarang menyembah Dewa Dollar,” (meaning “We now devote ourselves to the God of (US) Dollar”) instead of Dewi Sri or the other Gods and Goddesses that we have believed as Hindus. Where did the phrase originate?

GS: I think the sentence came up when the Balinese started being self-righteous or forgot their identity as the frontier and last defence to preserve the development of Bali’s tourism.

Genetik (GEN): It comes from: tourism, economy, and addiction.

Since the colonisers came to Bali, they introduced Bali to the world. Through trading it was also popularised by foreign artists (such as Le Mayeur, Walter Spies, Antonio Blanco, and more), from that foreign tourists came to visit and eventually settle in Bali. One way of doing so is through marrying a Balinese girl. Then, Bali did have cultural tourism, tourists wanted to enjoy the Balinese culture yet due to the rapid development Bali has become based around a thriving tourism industry and no longer based on culture, i.e. no longer cultural tourism.

Economy wise, the Balinese lived a simple life. Their routines included working in the rice fields, go fishing, trading in the traditional markets, and ngaturngayah (providing service without being rewarded for the ancestors and gods), and due to the developing tourism there were cultural exchanges. The Balinese that were bare chest now wear suitable clothes, as they wanted to be in the same level as the bule,[5] yet the bule is seen bare-chested at touristic spots in Bali. As there are drastic changing lifestyles, automatically the economic needs became more complex.

And lastly, addiction. From that changed lifestyle, it is hoped that more foreign tourists come to Bali. These foreigners are now the gods as they bring exchange value financially and there are those who think if they married a bule their caste is higher than Anak Agung (royal family caste) or Ida Bagus (priest caste),[6] hmmm, it’s like marrying a God. From that there’s the “consumptive religion believing in God of (US) Dollar”. It’s an addictive consumption, which I would state as “Bali is so exotic but lost in paradise.”

Fig 1. Savitri Sastrawan, Mother Earth Cries, 2011, batik and flannel doll installation ©DEA Savitri Sastrawan

Fig 1. Savitri Sastrawan, Mother Earth Cries, 2011, batik and flannel doll installation ©DEA Savitri Sastrawan

SS: “Mother Earth Cries” (fig. 1) was my artwork that responded to this notion. It showed how the Mother Earth of Bali cries being dispossessed by the raksasa-raksasa[7] (monsters), which wanted a part of it. Your artworks were also reflecting what have haunted us with the economy and financial growth that dispossess the Bali Island. Yet what made you create them?

Fig 2. Not For Sale at Sayur’s rice field, 2011, installation, reproduced from Gede Sayur/Luden House Ubud Documentation

Fig 2. Not For Sale at Sayur’s rice field, 2011, installation, reproduced from Gede Sayur/Luden House Ubud Documentation

GS: I created “Not For Sale” (fig. 2) to generate consciousness for everyone, especially the Balinese themselves on the importance of a rice field’s existence. Rice fields are the last defence — not only for the importance of tourism but also its spiritual values towards life in Bali or how the Balinese live. And this is one of the most important things to protect in Bali for the future. It is hoped that the Balinese will always be aware of their action towards the tourism current that comes to Bali.

Fig 3. Not For Sale at Ceking, 2014, installation, ©Seni di Hari Libur

Fig 3. Not For Sale at Ceking, 2014, installation, ©Seni di Hari Libur

So far I have placed this phrase on my own rice field, this has been done since 2010 and from then until now it has been changing depending on how we wanted to express it — so it is not monotone. The one in Ceking, Tegallalang, Gianyar, Bali (fig. 3) was an art project in order to create consciousness at that particular touristic spot. Even though it lasted only 24 hours, it was an achievement already, as we have fought for the farmers’ right.

MB: We have to remember that from 1965 to 1968 was the most dreadful Indonesian history and Bali, especially, lost so many of its civilians. At that time, new era is about to start politically, economically, socially, culturally, even religiously; and belief was constructed such as the PHDI (Indonesia Hindu Dharma Unity) have created the Bali today.

The cultural tourism field was formed by Soekarno (Indonesia’s first president), which then continued with the New Order government of Soeharto. It should be noted that Soekarno has continued what the colonials have left a “Bali programme” or the cultural politic to have created Bali be more Bali (Balinisation), sadly to create a living museum.

At the exhibition in Santrian Hotel, Bali, I bring up the severe complexity of Bali’s tourism. Artists are now mostly just working with the flooding orders, looking for an artisan. The paintings exhibited, I bought them from Sukawati market[8] and “vandalised” them but still leaving the original painters’ signature to show the mass tourism in Bali (fig. 4, 5). Since this exhibition was created, many criticisms were received and have opened possibilities on how to explore this notion further.

Fig. 4. Gubuk Terakhir,[9] 2011 (Before), 85 x 135 cm, oil on canvas ©Made Bayak

Fig. 4. Gubuk Terakhir,[9] 2011 (Before), 85 x 135 cm, oil on canvas ©Made Bayak

Fig 5. GubukTerakhir, 2011 (After), 85 x 135 cm, oil on canvas ©Made Bayak

Fig 5. GubukTerakhir, 2011 (After), 85 x 135 cm, oil on canvas ©Made Bayak

GEN: The style of my artworks and the Djamur community (fig. 6, 7) was more into the parody where we can deliver the issues through art better and to entertain.

Fig 6. Djamur Community’s "Gadis Bali dan Kuta Modern" mural sketch for walls at Kuta, Badung, Bali, 2014, watercolour on paper ©Genetik

Fig 6. Djamur Community’s “Gadis Bali dan Kuta Modern” mural sketch for walls at Kuta, Badung, Bali, 2014, watercolour on paper ©Genetik

[For example] I see Ronald McDonald (fig. 7) as a consumptive symbol, as in Bali some believed if you are able to eat McDonalds you have upgraded yourself to a higher class of the society.

Fig 7. I Lovin It, 2011, acrylic on canvas ©Genetik

Fig 7. I Lovin It, 2011, acrylic on canvas ©Genetik

Everything has its good and bad as in the Balinese philosophy stated “rwa kelawaning bhineda ten nyidang palasang” which means good and bad cannot be separated. From the change of cultural tourism, there are always positive and negative sides depending on ourselves — the foundation inside ourselves are strengthened by the art and culture, we have to be able to distinct which one is better and least better for us. For tourism itself, this is very blurry, yet as I said we have to think ahead and face it smartly.

Here we see expressing through art has become the common ground of creating a realisation to what have happened in Bali. It revealed that the people of Bali and its governmental bodies have changed perspective towards their way of living and seeing Bali. Tourism has affected the rice fields, the beach, the green lands of Bali — the vital infrastructures and foundations to live as a human being that have now been taken over by different buildings for tourism through architecture. With the common ground that has been shared, what will be at stake in structuring the famous, and important Indonesian economy source, island of Bali?



[1] Sri Owen, The Rice Book, (London: Frances Lincoln, 1993), 49-51

[2] See quote from Basil Davidson on secondary resistance is ideological resistance at Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, (London: Vintage Books, 1993), 252-253.

[3] BT/SS, “Life Times: Dewa Putu Merta Pastime”, The Bali Times, September 20, 2010, (Accessed 1/5/2015).

[4] Also referred at Agung Wardana and Roberto Hutabarat, forward to Melawan Lupa: Narasi-Narasi Komunitas Taman 65 Bali, (Denpasar, Bali: Taman 65 Press, 2012), xii-xiii, a book reflecting forgotten narrations of the 1965 anti communist movement in Bali and Indonesia.Bule refers to Caucasian in Bahasa Indonesia.

[5] Bule refers to Caucasian in Bahasa Indonesia.These castes are the two highest among the Balinese castes that have existed.

[6] These castes are the two highest among the Balinese castes that have existed.

[7]  Raksasa in Balinese wayang (shadow puppet) Kamasan painting characters are known as galak or temperamental. Wayang stories usually tell moral stories and all characters reflect human characters – hence Raksasa is a reminder of our bad character e.g. ego, see Senisavitri, “As I Have Left Netherlands By Now I Want to Share,” June 6, 2011, (Accessed 7/5/2015).

[8] Sukawati Market is a market at Gianyar, Bali famous for its affordable arts and crafts sold for tourists, including different kind of Bali sceneries paintings that people can buy cheaply.

[9] Meaning “The Last Hut”.

[10] Meaning “Balinese Girl and the Modern Kuta” reflecting Kuta as a famous tourist destination in South Bali.

DAE Savitri Sastrawan
A Balinese nomad, Dewa Ayu Eka Savitri Sastrawan is an arts and language freelancer. She completed Masters in Global Arts at Goldsmiths, University of London and previously studied Fine Art Painting at ISI Denpasar, Bali also Chelsea College of Art and Design, UAL, UK. Her research interest is to explore the interdisciplinary possibilities in the arts and language within the global society and culture.