This sculpture depicts one of the most popular characters in the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic introduced to the Indonesian archipelago around the eighth or ninth century. Sugriwa is the king of the monkeys and foremost among the allies assisting Rama, the hero of the tale, in his quest to rescue his beloved wife Sinta from the clutches of her abductor Rawana, evil king of Lanka. Often overshadowed in the retelling by Hanuman, the popular white monkey general, in Bali it is Sugriwa who is the central figure.
Sugriwa is shown here in full royal style, resplendent in regal jewellery and elaborate costume with one hand on the hilt of his ritual kris dagger. His long tail, itself decorated with multiple bands of gold and gems, extends up his back, ending in a lively swirl above his head. He wears an elaborate crown, from the back of which protrudes the head of the mythical Garuda bird. Although the surfaces of many of the gilded polychrome guardian figures of Bali have been ravaged by exposure to the elements, this figure is in brilliant condition, the luscious details superbly intact. This is likely due to the sculpture’s function within a palace interior where it served as a holder for a nobleman’s ceremonial sword.
A highlight of the recent Bali: island of the gods exhibition, Sugriwa is an exceptional addition to the Gallery’s rich collection of Hindu art from Bali. It admirably conveys the power and the excitement of the Ramayana epic to Gallery visitors. The sculpture also has an interesting historical connection with colonial Indonesia, having been in the collections of two prominent Dutch architects who worked on major projects in Bali in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Robyn Maxwell Senior Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 79, Spring 2014