Longing for the Unseen: Connecting to a Balinese Imagined Community through Offerings and Contemporary Art

  • Astara Light Cornell University
Keywords: Imagined communities, Balinese cosmology, invisible/visible, seen/unseen, sekala/niskala, Benedict Anderson, political critique, visual imagination


In this paper, I examine a group of painterly projects by the Balinese artists I Ketut Budiana, Cokorda Isteri Mas Astiti, and I Wayan Bendi, whose works visually convey offerings, ritual practices and ceremonies, and assert individual and communal identities. These artists employ visual imagination in their paintings to articulate personal views and underline problems in the socio-political environment around them. The theoretical concept of ‘imagined communities,’ developed by Benedict Anderson, can be used to consider how individuals within a nation, city, or province experience a personal connection to other members of their group or socio-political system, but also to worlds beyond the material one. Rituals and offerings connect individuals existing in the seen or material realm with beings from an unseen realm, including ancestors, spirits, and divine beings, to generate a larger Balinese imagined community. The Balinese artists discussed in this paper intervene in the framing of a national identity, by defining their beliefs and ritual practices through a unique cosmological perspective that embraces this notion of imagined communities as expressed in visual form.