Despite that inauspicious start to my shopping spree, I returned home with a suitcase full of sarongs, jewelry, carvings and other treasures. Most tourists travel to Ubud, Bali’s cultural center, to hike through rice paddies, meditate near mountaintops and drink in a beautiful ancient culture. I crossed 12 time zones for all those things, too. But most of all, I was there to shop.
Luckily for me, the Balinese see no conflict between spiritual and material pursuits. In the Bible, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Compare that with the Balinese belief that getting to the next world requires cremation in an elaborate — and expensive — sarcophagus.
At least, that’s what Anom Suryawan told me as he etched the image of a bird’s wing into a pale crescent of wood. One of the island’s greatest living maskmakers, Anom recently finished a set of temple masks for the royal family in Bali’s capital, Denpasar. The daughter of Indonesian president Sukarno once bought a mask from him, and folk art collectors often stop by his studio.
“He gets visitors from all over the world,” bragged Anom’s friend Maru Matthaei, an American maskmaker who spends part of each year in Bali. “Somehow, they find him.”
I never would have found Anom’s workshop without Maru’s help. I parroted her directions — “It’s next to the soccer field in the center of Mas” — to my driver, and he dropped me off on a street lined with woodcarving galleries.
Most villages in Bali have a characteristic craft; in Mas, Maru told me, it’s woodcarving. In fact, according to Anom, different districts in Mas specialize in different kinds of carvings, with one group of families making statues of duck farmers and another carving squat wooden frogs. For generations, Anom’s family has made sacred masks for dancing and for temples.
Anom, however, is an innovator. In his one-room gallery hang traditional dance masks as well as masks of his own design, such as a moon with a rocket lodged in its eye and a smirking girl with a crown of snakes and worms.