Review of Bruna Rotunno’s astounding photo book featuring women in Bali; by Bhagawati.
Just by seeing its cover, I was immediately intrigued about this book – once I delved into it, it appeared to be a journey that goes on forever.
While centred on the presentation of local Balinese women and female expats who have been living on this tropical island for decades, this stunning photo book is homage to the entire female species.
Bruna Rotunno, photographer par excellence, together with Anita Lococo (aka Sunita) and Cok Sawitri, who both contributed the significant amount of textual context, created a piece of beauty and insightful observations on which she worked for eight years.
Why Bali? As Sunita says, ”Over the past three decades Bali has attracted both local and foreign women to embrace more fully this strong feminine energy of Bali. As a result, there is a large community of unique women who have contributed to the island. They have been captured by this essence of a timeless dimension of the spiritual power that has developed into a lifestyle with deep involvement, gratitude and respect for the Balinese way of life.”
Most female expats living on Bali were lured by the beauty of the island and an easy way of living when they visited by chance, on a holiday perhaps. As Bali is throbbing with strong creative energy, their tapping into this phenomenon resulted in many creative and artistic business endeavours which in turn also benefitted the Balinese.
Historically, the primary role of Balinese women is one of keeping harmony within families besides also participating working in rice fields and even fishing. Bali does not have a matriarchal society per se, but usually men and women work together as partners. However, in these modern times, the trend for women to become more emancipated because of much improved education, quite often clashes with traditional values. Many women are the main breadwinners of the family, especially in urban environments. Countless women run small businesses to support their family, become street vendors or market traders. Often a house has a small shop called ‘warung’ fronting the street, where small packed food and household items are sold to generate income.
As tourism has become a main source of income on Bali over the past three decades, many women were trained in the beauty industry and have become sought-after beauticians, massage and spa therapists, as well as qualified staffers in the hospitality industry.
But importantly, Balinese women are also involved in the arts, such as painting, dancing and even playing the traditional Gamelan music; they actively manufacture beautiful handicraft, clothing and fabrics, which are often designed by expats, creating key business relationships.
The most important aspect for the women of Bali has continued since Bali Hinduism has been introduced to the island in ca. 600 CE – the participation in temple rituals and the fabrication of the beautiful diverse offerings that are made according to ancient customs are of utmost importance. All of the many religious festivals are dutifully observed and participated in. Hindu high priestesses and female priest helpers create a natural balance among the worshippers, compared to other religions where mainly only men have such roles and status.
The photos of the beautiful women of all ages and from all walks of life that are presented in this book were taken in a variety of environments and vastly different backgrounds. Hence a striking vision of the natural beauty of Bali emerges as well.
All text is shown in English, Italian and French, making it available to be read by people of many societies. The quality of the photographs (both colour and black-and-white) and the luxurious paper used are excellent; with more than 250 pages showing spectacular photographs, the book is very substantial and invites to be visited again and again.
Italian-born Bruna Rotunno is a video maker and commercial director. After she received her degree in psychology, in 1986 she was captured by the magic of photography, especially portrait and fashion. She worked on a variety of international advertising campaigns and also teams up with international fashion magazines, including Vogue. Reportages are an important part of her work, through which she defines a cinematographic approach in stories telling of places and emotions. brunarotunno.com
American-born Sunita (aka Anita Lococo) has been living on Bali for decades. She took sannyas in 1982 in Rajneeshpuram, and is the author of ‘Living in Bali’ – showing Balinese homes in harmony with nature. She has just recently retired from running an exquisite Bali Tropical Villas venture. She is presently involved in community projects with the Rotary Club of Bali Seminyak (17-year member and Past President) and really passionate about painting and feeling free.
Cok Sawitri was born to an aristocratic Balinese family in Karangasem and was introduced to literature, art and culture already at an early age by her parents – “I am used to seeing art activities that occur every day in the home environment.” From 5th grade on she wrote poetry and many of her works have been published in the Balinese media. She is an idealistic woman who upholds the values of art and culture and has always been at the forefront when policies were introduced to the public that were contrary to her conscience.
Bhagawati is a regular contributor
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