Tradition of Unity: Pita Maha – Balinese Artist Community of the 1930s

The tradition of uniting in a certain community has taken place in Bali for generations, be it based on a territory like banjar organisation, genealogy/clan (dadia), or solidarity amongst holders of certain special talents (sekaa). The three organisation models are noted as the social capital for the Balinese artist generation of 1930s that pioneered the establishment of a painter community.

On 29 January 1936, Pita Maha (ᬧᬶᬢᬫᬳ), a Balinese artist organisation was established with the founders being Ubud princes Tjokorda Gde Raka Soekawati, Tjokorda Agung Soekawati, artists Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet, and Gusti Nyoman Lempad. The name Pita Maha was taken from the Kawi language meaning “the great ancestor(s)”, referring to the Shakti of Brahma, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge.

The Pita Maha collective lasted for 6 years (abolished because of World War II) and boasted a membership of around 150. The group met at Walter Spies’s Campuhan house (now Hotel Tjampuhan, built in 1928) to share ideas and discuss projects with members, which included painters, sculptors, carvers, and undagis (priest-architect – such as Gusti Nyoman Lempad).

Video & photo: Tjokorda Gde Raka Soekawati