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  • Rua Bineda in Bali: Counterfeit Justice in the Trial of Nyoman Gunarsa
  • Jennifer Goodlander
Rua Bineda in Bali: Counterfeit Justice in the Trial of Nyoman Gunarsa. By Ron Jenkins. Jogjakarta, Indonesia: Indonesia Institute of the Arts, 2010. 330 pp. Cloth $60.00.

"I believe this life of ours is like a wayang play. Wayang is a light, an illumination, that gives us a model for how to look for the truth" (I Nyoman Gunarsa, quoted on p. 41). The first thing you notice about the book Rua Bineda in Bali: Counterfeit Justice in the Trial of Nyoman Gunarasa is that it is both large and visually stunning. The text on each page is split with English on one side in blue and Indonesian translation on the other in red. Throughout the book are full-color images of paintings, wayang kulit, and photographs from the courtroom, which provide a visual rhetoric that complements and complicates the text. It is a stunning book that teases apart the complex relationship between politics, visual and performing arts, and justice in Bali within the context of Indonesia. The book is equally at home on the coffee table or on a scholar's shelf, but in either location it begs to be opened.

At the center of the book's narrative is painter I Nyoman Gunarsa's eight-year legal battle over the forgery of his paintings. Dalang I Wayan Nardayana, better known as CenkBlonk, and a Brahmin high priest who is also a poet named Ida Pendanda Ketut Sidemen are also featured as the book weaves together "a story of art forgery, mystical shadow puppets, international crime syndicates, and divine identity theft as seen through the perspectives of three extraordinary Balinese individuals" (p. 14). The decision in court does not go well; the paintings are declared forgeries but the accused are absolved [End Page 316] of all responsibility or punishment. The book uses the fiasco of the copyright trial as a way in to examine the underlying relationships between truth and falseness as seen in Balinese philosophy and religion: "By inspiring the artistry of a painter, a puppet master, and a priest, the trial reveals the extraordinary ability of the Balinese to use their cultural traditions to make sense of the moral dilemmas that accompany the ongoing modernization of their island" (p. 19).

The first chapter introduces the key concept of rua bineda (also rwu bineda): the contradictory forces of good and evil, light and dark, and low and high that are seen throughout Balinese art and culture. Thus wayang kulit, or shadow puppetry, becomes a platform to express ideals of behavior and to expose contradictions. Rua bineda is expressed through the story, the importance of the clown servants as characters who hold wisdom, and the iconography of the dark shadows against the lit screen. It is the backbone of a system of beliefs and behavior that reaches across from artist to official.

The next chapter provides a detailed description of the trial and the ways in which authenticity and forgery were defined. An early witness was Gunarsa's wife, Indrawati, who Jenkins describes as "Like the comic servant Twalen, the most beloved of all Wayang characters, whose humble appearance belies his divine origins and uncommon wisdom" (p. 48), because Indrawati was able to cunningly deflect the defense's many attempts to discredit her as a dealer and expert on her husband's art. At another point in the trial Gunarsa left the witness stand during his testimony in order to demonstrate Balinese dance. His movements verified that the forgeries did not belong to him because the Balinese dancers in the paintings were holding positions that were not possible, they were unbalanced, and in real life the dancer would fall down. Through dance Gunarsa also expressed his connection with his artwork, it allowed him to present the "soul" of his artwork. Throughout he "is fighting for the vibrant Balinese traditions that are constantly evolving and responding to political, social, and artistic influences from Indonesia and abroad." His work is truly Balinese in spirit, and "He calls this blend a "local-universal" style" (p. 53).

Chapters 5 and 6 describe how Gunarsa visited his...