It is March 23rd as I am writing this. Today marks the start of the new Hindu year and people here in Bali observe the occasion with an island-wide day of silence. No cars or motorbikes are permitted to fill the usually busy streets, nor fire or artificial light for illuminating people’s homes. The airport in Denpasar has shut down for the day and work has been cancelled all across the island. For the stricter observers, there is no going outside and for the strictest, no food or water and no speaking aloud. To close the year, yesterday was the day of Ogoh Ogoh.
In the weeks prior, villages all over Bali had been preparing at their Banjar by building massive statues from styrofoam and wire-mesh. As with the majority of stories told in Bali, many of the characters and scenes depicted came from either the Mahabharata or Ramayan, religious texts epic in scope and adventure. This was not a strict requirement of the Ogoh Ogoh festivities, though, and a few of the statues definitely exhibited imaginations run wild. I took these photos this past week while taking mini Ogoh Ogoh sightseeing adventure with friends. I tried to pick some of the best shots for the ten photos posted above and, not-coincidentally, most that made it up come from yesterday’s parade in the heart of Denpasar where the best of the best from nearby villages came to compete for the prize of Ogoh Ogoh of the year.
I don’t believe that any Ogoh Ogoh statues were on display at the 1931 Paris World Exhibition where Antonin Artaud first saw the Balinese performances that would later lead him to write about Balinese arts and theatricality in such laudatory tones. Still, as I looked at all of these giant, fantastical creations, I was reminded of his writings on the Grotesque and that powerfully visceral visual poetry— separate from a play’s text— that he felt was so missing from then contemporary western theatre. The size of these Ogoh Ogoh dwarfed their on-looking public. Because of their light-weight and gravity-defying poses, many would shake in the wind, bobbing back and forth just enough make me think— if only for a moment— that they moved all on their own. Animation or no, the streets of Denpasar felt particularly alive all day, with Gods, Demons, and hordes of people coming out to celebrate the end of year and the Ogoh Ogoh.
This all culminated in the day’s main event, a evening competition that saw every village’s Ogoh Ogoh parade through their local area of Denpasar, attached to a slatted bamboo base and carried by around twenty men. Just about the entire village comes out in support their Banjar’s statue, moving en mass alongside their Ogoh Ogoh and accompanied by their own mobile Gamelon. It was quite the event.