The Living Masks of Bali. The unchanged faces of history and the Mask Makers Who Keep the Traditions Alive.

Dewi Dian Reich
Dewi Dian Reich


Founder of Sawidji Artist Collective and Gallery.
Director/Curator of Sawidji & Co

This week, at Sawidji we welcome a new friend and colleague amongst us. Ketut Sukerta, Ceremonial Mask Maker of Mas, Ubud. The arrival of Ketut amongst us signifies so many wonderful things. The knowledge that he brings and shares with us about The Living Masks of Bali is precious and wonderful. This post is an introduction of what we will be exploring more in the weeks and months to come.

Ketut Sukerta

Ketut Sukerta’s expertise and mastery of his art is exceptional yet modest. With Sawidji, for the first time, Ketut is sharing his art and his knowledge directly from the Mask Maker. With invaluable insight to the living history that is recreated here every generation.

It is easy to see the artistry and skill in the Ceremonial Mask, However, the intricacies of the process as well as the teachings passed down through the generations is so overflowing with Life Wisdom, we are fortunate to have this to look forward to.

One of the areas we will be exploring is the history as well as the methods employed by Ceremonial Mask Makers in the creation of the Living Masks of Bali. Albeit, not strictly from an theoretical approach, but directly, through the living experiences of Ketut and his art.

It is one exploration that reverberates keenly with us. Our Mask Makers are the keepers of an ancient baton. They undergo years of training and follow strict principles for the creation of their art. It is perhaps because the Ceremonial Masks of Bali truly carry with them an amazing aura. Imbued with meaning and teachings.

And as the pinnacle of their efforts, our Mask Makers succeed in the creation of a True Mask that is alive, imbued with the spirit and history of hundreds of years.

A Living History..

Imagine, the same face hundreds of years ago, is what our Ancestors would have looked upon during the many ceremonies where the Mask would be awaked in dance. The same dance, the same characters come alive and tell the same story. It is so remarkable and poignantly beautiful how still, it draws the attention and admiration of each generation.

The Ceremonial Masks of Bali fall into three categories..The first of which is Sidakarya or ‘Topeng Babad’ or ‘Topeng Pajegan’

  • Topeng Keras
  • Topeng Tua
  • Penasar
  • Dedalem
  • Sidakarya

Topeng Babad is performed during important ceremonies. Also,’Pajegan’ comes from the word ‘majeg’ meaning’ to do everything alone’. And Babad, means history. Because the story told by these masks is very much part of Balinese history.

Topeng Pajegan Performance performed by one male dancer. Who will adorn in total the five masks to complete the storytelling through dance. The story itself is powerful. It is performed as a means of entertainment as well as comic relief on occasions.

When you witness a Holy Day in Bali and how the community comes together, you can easily see the power this one dance has. The fact that it also carries with it a story so rich with life teachings serving as a concrete guide on moral values and practice. It is evident how this traditional art form both in Mask Making and in Dance, is one of the central pillars that shape Balinese sense of community and union.

For something very powerful in keeping the continuity of our culture and traditions, we are grateful of the opportunity to explore the art of the Ceremonial Masks and share it with you.

Barong Landung

Join us next for the continuation of our Living Mask Series. Ketut Sukerta begins a new project and takes us through the steps.

Barong Landung: The Living Masks of Bali Chapter: 02

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