Balinese masks (topeng) are seen most often in the scores of
regular dance performances in special tourist venues all over southern
Bali, as well as in resturants and hotels. For ritual purposes, the Balinese
use masks most often when celebrating temple birthdays. With over 20,000
temples on Bali, each with a different birthday every 210 days, there is
ample opportunity to see topeng in action. Masks are also displayed
"officially" in processions and trance rituals.
Sacred masks must be made from crocodile wood (pule), a tree that grows in cemeteries, the domain of the goddess Rangda. The whole tree isn't cut down. When the pule tree produces a knot, the maskmaker asks the spirit of the tree to be allowed to take the knot for a mask.
The most difficult part of the carving is removing the back, which usually takes a day and a half. Carving out the nose and getting around the knots can also be very time-consuming. The sand-papering of the average mask lasts about four hours. A plain natural wooden mask only takes around five days to treat because it is protected with just three layers of neutral shoe polish. On a painted mask, however, up to 80 coats (maximum number of coats in one day is four) are applied. This is really arduous work because the piece is held between the feet. For paint, calcified pigbone is used. It's pulverized for 12 hours to make a powder, then mixed with Chinese lacquer.
Finally, real hair and gold leaf may be used to embellish the mask. Once the mask is finished and before it is used by a dancer for the first time, a traditional ceremony is performed by a priest to remove the carver's spirit from the mask, enabling the dancer's spirit to enter.
A very good introduction to Balinese wayang topeng can be found in Masks of Bali (Chronicle Books, 1992) by Judy Slattum (photographs by Paul Schraub). This beautiful picture book includes 50 stunning photographs of Balinese masks, the first mask history, explanations on the process of making ritual masks, and the specific types and functions of making Balinese masks. Anyone who is shopping for a mask, or who already owns one, can find in this book the type of character it represents and for which rituals it is used. For more complete information on Balinese wayang topeng, see under "The Performing Arts" section of this chapter.
I Wayan Tangguh and Cokorde Raka Tisnu are perhaps the most accomplished traditional maskmakers working on Bali. I Wayan Tedun of Singapadu and I Wayan Muka and I.B. Anom of Mas also do good work. Prices for top quality masks run from Rp75,000 to Rp150,000, depending on the style, the wood and paint used, etc.
Oka Trevelyan Mask Makers was created by David Trevelyan, a Canadian artist, and Ida Bagus Oka, a master carver from Mas. The result of this remarkable fusion of talents from two different cultures is Tlingit Indian-style masks found in the northwestern United States. Visit their showroom in Mas in front of Anom's.
Besides Mas, the village of Puaya near Sukawati is a maskmaking center. Many shops along Ubud's Monkey Forest Road and Kuta's Jl. Legian sell attractive masks. Also, visit the Bali Museum to see a fine collection of Balinese topeng, and in the Mangkunegaran Palace of Yogya is a very complete collection of famous topeng from Bali.